Wednesday, 29 April 2009
The website looks good and has some solid stuff there and I am quite impressed with and excited by this new outreach. There is also an expanding Q+A section on the wensite dealing with many of the common questions concerning science and religion and especially creation and origins.
The project has some pretty substantial backing both in terms of finances and people involved so I am looking forward to seeing its potential make a real difference in the Christian community.
Friday, 24 April 2009
Fossils - New find of a transitional fossil for seals (paper, news article) and new tyrannosaur predecessor found (paper, news article).
Space Molecules - Water from an ancient black hole (news article) and complex carbon-based molecules found in star forming regions of our galaxy (news article)
Brains - Simulated brains based on real brains a step closer (news article).
Genetics - Cow genome sequenced (paper 1 and 2, commentary, news article).
Thursday, 23 April 2009
Many of them seem to prefer to substitute doctrines and regulations drawn up from the most tenuous and often simply false extrapolations from Biblical texts rather than taking a more informed and studied viewpoint of the theology and science involved in a particular issue.
And oh look, it shows up in a measurable way as well in the attitudes of their congregations. Here is just the latest example of this. Leaders lead even to the detriment of others. This opposition can happen even in the face of total support from the scientific community. Human-induced climate change is the example here, but it crops up elsewhere in areas such as biology, nanotechnology and even what should or shouldn't be on the science curriculum's in our schools. It's a worrying trend that shouldn't be.
If we Christians are promoting viewpoints that are going to be actively working against the wider good of society and people I think we need to seriously think not only about how we come to our conclusions on a particular issue, but also about eliminating this more general very late 20th century suspicion to science and technological advancement that has arisen within our churches.
If we do so we can look at the available evidence on an issue fairly and then work on better ways of bringing genuine Christian thought onto an issue. If we don't we risk not only increasing suffering and anguish around the planet, but also isolating the Church from future wider debates and thus increasing the polarisation between science, society and some sectors of the Church.
As the theologian Ted Peters has pointed out at the end of the 20th century it was the scientists who actively sought out the opinions of religious leaders on new biotechnologies. Somehow given the general attitude towards scientific input in Church populations today I don't see them doing that again.
That said there are exceptions such as the Church of Scotland's Science, Religion and Technology Project that are striving to make a difference. I wouldn't say I personally agree with all their positions, but what I like is that they are active about real and genuine engagement rather than simple black and white, yes or no answers. Hopefully and prayerfully things will change in other parts of the Church as well.
The huge potential benefits of new technologies should mean that we need to consider them seriously and realistically. In general we don't and that is why I am passionate about science and the church. To hijack a phrase my pastor uses "it is a problem that shouldn't be."
Tuesday, 21 April 2009
Monday, 20 April 2009
Hmm. I wonder if spiders are susceptible to solar sneezing....
Friday, 17 April 2009
This video is an example and particularly good.
Sunday, 12 April 2009
I entered this into a competition sometime last year. Didn't win, but here it is for your very own enjoyment.....
Brains are at the heart of who we are. Through our body’s five senses and its nervous system they receive and transmit messages to and from the brain, connecting us to the universe around us. Our brains place us into our environment and they integrate us into society and all our relationships.
Paradoxically however they are also subject to those same experiences. The brain is not just a simple control computer; it is a fully integrated part of the body. It feels emotion and sensory feedback. It loves as well as giving love. It cares as well as receiving care.
For these reasons as well as others such as the nature of consciousness and self awareness the workings of the brain are a great challenge still to be solved. For all the many strides brain researchers have taken in recent decades, many of them have simply lead to the realisation that our brains are far more complicated than we previously thought.
Fortunately the tools with which we can investigate the brain have rapidly advanced in recent years causing a total shift in not only the amount of information we have about the brain but also how we acquire that information.
Powerful new imaging techniques such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) or Positron Emission Tomography (PET) allow researchers to access the live workings of the human brain in action. These new technologies reveal small differences in brain structure and function that are sometimes linked with vast differences in resulting behaviour.
Now equipped with these new tools scientists are working hard to further improved ways to use them and see a bright future ahead for new applications. New techniques such as molecular imaging - the tracking of biomarkers at the cellular level - are being developed by scientists from many different disciplines such as physicists and biologists with a healthy dash of chemists in the mix.
This not only leads to new ways to diagnose and treat medical conditions, but also to new understandings of how the brain functions with consequences for who we say we are as individuals and as a wider society. For example if our brains are hard-wired for certain behaviours, are we responsible for those behaviours, even when we might consider them criminal?
However the human brain is not the end of our research. Brains and the nervous system are somewhat ubiquitous in nature. Almost every organism has ways of sensing and feeling its environment giving a massive playground for future researchers to indulge themselves in.
Animals already in use are ones in which you would expect to find commonalities with humans such as apes or even rodents. Think a bit more and you might also investigate something more unusual such as dolphins or songbirds. You still might not think of more exotic examples such as worms or spiders. Some of these species are now beginning to be seriously studied, both through more traditional methods such as through visual perception tests, but also through utilising the power of modern scanning such as with MRI scanners.
What can we hope to learn from such creatures? We can hope to gain insights into how nature puts brains together, what allows them to function and what it is that makes our own so unique. Evolution has provided a broad spectrum of brains for us to examine and it would be perhaps foolish not to examine the broader context to help us understand ourselves.
In addition to studying the natural brain one of the legacies of the 20th century has been the computer revolution that has given us several new directions in understanding how the brain works.
Although only at a somewhat crude level at present it is possible to construct self-learning, artificial brains. Robots such as Kismet or Cog, who learn by experience and by interacting with humans, are products of a line of thinking about how the human brain operates within the wider world. By observing how these simple constructs face the world we learn more about ourselves as well.
As can be seen from the huge range of techniques available, subjects to study and opportunities to apply the knowledge we gain research into the workings of brain is just beginning.
Saturday, 4 April 2009
However, perhaps theological thinking needs to be a creative and exciting experience itself? We can use it to not only draw us closer to and increase our understanding of the character and nature of God but perhaps also to gain something by the experience of actually engaging with the development of theology itself?
Theology needs to have a certain amount of prescriptive character about it as we live in a very real world and not some dream world in our heads. Because the real world is constantly in a state of flux and changing (as it was always meant to be) it should be unsurprising if it didn't open out further avenues for theology to grapple with. If our theology is too disconnected from an understanding of the reality about us it should be unsurprising if unhelpful friction (rather than considered thinking) then develops between particular (often unimportant) aspects of theology and new real world questions such as the use or misuse of new technologies or understandings of people and societies.
In this sense we need a more open theology. It needs to be solidly grounded in the ability to embrace and acknowledge new ideas and critical thinking while still being respectful to what has come before it but not being submerged by it. It is far too easy to allow theology to become restrictive, dogmatic and defensive when challenged by new ideas. The old is usually more comfortable, more familiar, but this doesn't mean it is necessarily correct when shone upon by new information or situations. When this happens it may need modification or even total replacement.
This might sound a bit scary but it might be what is necessary not only for some form of theological thinking to survive into the future but also for it to maintain its real world connections. Even if we totally disagree with something from theological principles it is likely that if there are other good reasons to do something then people who do not share our theology will end up doing it and we will still have to consider it. It does us no good to simply stamp our feet on some theological ground and say no, especially if the ground we stamp those feet on is shaky when put under a new light.
A good example of theological development would be the rise of monotheism by the early Israelites. They emerged from a society that worshipped myriad gods and went through a process over centuries to get to the point where they acknowledged that I AM was the one true God and that there were no other gods except Him. Their realisation and actioning of this was not an overnight process and the development of this theology can be traced all the way through what we Christians now call the Old Testament. In fact for the Israelites to lurch from one extreme to the other overnight would probably have been highly damaging to them and this can indeed be seen in their constant attempts to rebel against God during their foundational years all the way through to the time of the prophets.
Although tough with perhaps difficult decisions to be made along the way this way of thinking on theology as an ongoing and creative activity should be rejoiced in and its exploration enjoyed. God gives us minds to use, intelligence to put to work and guidance from Himself and the world around us to help this process along just as he did with the Israelites and indeed the early Christians as they started to absorb and understand the ramifications of Christ 2000 years ago.
Theology should never be dogma, but rather should be a joyful exploration and creative development which God works hand in hand with us on.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
If you're in the UK it can be viewed on iPlayer here.