Book Preview: Science and Humanity – reconfiguring the public understanding of science

lab-512503 copy pixabay
Pixabay

It is time to shake off a widely believed but mistaken idea of what science is and how it interacts with human life in the round.

For a long time now it has been the habit of science writers to present their discipline as if it was the be-all and end-all of knowledge, and everything else follows in its wake. Particle physicists have written about their forthcoming ‘theory of everything’ as if it amounted to the final word on the nature of reality, the very ‘mind of God’…The same fundamental error is promoted by neuroscientists who, waxing lyrical over wonderful magnetic images of the living human brain, have declared or implied that all the functioning of the brain is about to be laid open, with no input from the arts and humanities required.  Continue reading

Science is culture

A few weeks ago I heard writer Andy Crouch speak at the Everything Conference. His  premise is that Christians spend far too long either critiquing culture or simply going along with what is produced by others. We should be cultivating the good that is present in wider culture and creating our own cultures – not in a ‘head-in-the-sand Christian subculture way, but in a way that speaks to the whole of society. I was particularly struck by his talk on creating culture together. Some of the best projects start with two or three people around the kitchen table and expand as they bring others on board. It’s not about the genius alone in their study (though I’m sure lone geniuses – genii? – have their place).

New cultures can take time to develop. Andy quoted Patrick Shaw: ‘We greatly overestimate what we can do in one year, and underestimate what we can do in ten years’. A prime example is the growth of Christianity. On a global scale the resurrection of Jesus Christ had a minimal impact to begin with, but as churches were established and the effects on people’s lives became apparent, Christianity spread so rapidly that within a few hundred years entire nations called themselves Christian.

Of course science both operates within and impacts culture, and all of the above is extremely relevant to scientists, as Andy Crouch knows because he is married to one! Catherine Crouch is a physicist based at Swarthmore College who works on microphotoluminescence.

Catherine has written a ‘meditation on light’ (for BioLogos – no longer available online) that draws on her own work in physics as well as her Christian faith. It communicates beautifully the process of discovery leading to worship. Science clearly contributes to the creation of culture: new discoveries lead to deeper knowledge about the way the world works and helps us to develop new technologies. But, as Catherine so clearly describes, science also shapes other aspects of culture in subtle yet far-reaching ways: a deeper understanding of the world around us impacts the way we see the world and what we believe in.