Artificial Intelligence: Machines, Minds or both?

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CCO Public Domain. Pixabay

Is your smart phone really smart? Do you ever fear it will get too smart? Will it wake up one morning and decide to start running your life – deleting contacts it doesn’t like, booking holidays online that it wants to go on with you or shifting your calendar appointments to suit its tastes? Continue reading

Soli Deo Gloria

Michael & Christa Richert, http://www.sxc.hu/
© Michael & Christa Richert, http://www.sxc.hu/

For most Christians working in science, their work helps them to worship. The theologian Alister McGrath has written a number of books about the relationship between science and Christianity, but he also stresses that our response to what we see in science should not simply be intellectual. A Christian view of nature should recognise the intuitive sense of awe and wonder that we have when we look at the natural world, and our increased awe as our scientific understanding grows.[1] Our response to those feelings is rational, emotional and active: worship as well as theology.[2]

How does a scientist worship? In her writing on wonder, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Margaret Boden captures the experience of a Christian scientist when she says that ‘awe is a high degree of wonder, in which fear and respect are prominent. And worship is a deliberate expression of awe’.[3] Continue reading

10 things I wish people knew about my science and my faith

Copper(I) based inorganic compound. © Emily Dry

This is a first attempt at communicating the things that I’ve found are most important to Christians working in scientific research. The idea (and some of the content) for this post came from a visit to the one of the departments at Cambridge University, where a small Bible study group meets every Wednesday lunch-time. The passion with which some of them spoke about how they were misunderstood by many people, both in and outside of the lab, made me realise that there’s a dire need to communicate the reality of life in science for a Christian.

So here goes. Some of these points are issues the group I visited wanted to address, some are from scientific friends and colleagues, and some are my own. I hope that readers who are scientists of faith will add their own comments to this list. Obviously writing a piece like this involves many generalisations, but hopefully I have captured something of the personality and motivations of a scientist who also has a Christian faith.

  1. There’s a reason why I spend most of my life on this work. It’s not primarily to make money (I could earn far more in another profession), and it’s certainly not for job security. Exploring the world is my vocation. Studying this incredible universe is a demonstration of my gratitude to God who created it, and leads to the incredible benefits of technology.
  2. There will be practical outcomes of my work, but at times these may be very far off, difficult to explain or frustratingly intangible. My faith might motivate me to work on projects that lead to more immediate technological outcomes, but even then progress towards such outcomes can be painfully slow. My faith might give me the hope required to work in a field where possible outcomes may only be realised far in the future.
  3. My work has intrinsic value. I get a real sense of satisfaction from a job well done. Often this is a love of tinkering and getting an experimental system to work. This is usually a more important factor in my motivation on a daily basis than longer-term goals.
  4. I love the process of discovery. I have to be patient, resilient, and tenacious. This has helped me to grow as a person and in my relationship with God. What do I do when I realise that six months work has been lost, or my latest paper has been scooped? The lab is a crucible for spiritual development.
  5. I think my experiments are beautiful. One of my main drivers is the sense of wonder that comes from scientific discovery, and that leads me to worship.
  6. Another big driver is curiosity. Science helps me find answers to the questions that made my teachers sigh.
  7. In my experiments I deliberately limit my attention to a small number of factors.  This is unique to my scientific work, however. In the rest of my life I am open to different sorts of evidence – not least in the area of relationship with people and God.
  8. I can do my experiments without my faith affecting what I do (although it will affect my ethics). People of all religions and none can work in a lab, and that actually helps the process of discovery – you need many personalities to make a successful research group.
  9. There is a high level of creativity in my work. I need to have original ideas, solve problems, make do with what equipment is available, and present my data in a way that’s easy to digest. My creativity reflects my being made in the image of God, who is mind-bogglingly creative (just look at quantum mechanics!)
  10. My faith makes me open to new scientific discoveries. It was belief in an independent Creator that drove the first scientists to get out and examine the world in the first place – who are we to predict how things will be!?

In short, my faith inspires my science and my science inspires my faith.

I’m sure there is much to add, and clarify. Please do!