Paintings from Chauvet cave, southern France, dated around 30,000 years before present.

[photo: wikimedia commons]


[picture from Faithful to Science, p.85]

The jigsaw puzzle pieces will make either a fish or a cat, but only one of these constructions will fit correctly into the rest of the puzzle. In a similar way, natural processes can be interpreted in more than one way, making two different pictures of the universe: either meaningless and directionless, or meaningful and purposeful. Scientific analysis on its own will not tell you which is right. It is only when we take seriously the intangible but no less real context of our full experience that the universe can be interpreted correctly—the realities of justice and injustice, hope and fear, love and hate. We have to decide which of these is the truth of things, and which the distortion.
science and religion


[picture: NASA/WMAP Science Team, wikimedia commons]

This famous image does a good job of summarizing what is known about the large-scale history of the universe. A large amount of honest hard work and beautiful inspired thinking lies behind a diagram like this one. On the left you see the afterglow that is detected today by satellite and balloon-based cameras of fantastic sensitivity. The white net is an artistic way to capture the ideas of Einstein’s General Relativity, which describes space and time. The pictured stars and galaxies hint at the vast scale of the universe. The artist was right to make the whole look beautiful. It is beautiful.
Lemaitre Here is Georges Lemaitre, the astronomer and Jesuit priest who first proposed the theory of the expansion of the universe, deriving it from Einstein’s equations. He also proposed and estimated the constant subsequently named after Hubble, and he argued scientifically for the universe developing from a point-like beginning, the idea subsequently known as the “Big Bang”.
converted PNM file
The pale blue dot
[photo: NASA]
This is the thought-provoking image taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. It shows the Earth from a distance of 3.7 billion miles. Carl Sagan, the planetary scientist and eloquent writer (and atheist) expressed very well the sort of perspective that an image like this can give us. In his words:
“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every ‘superstar,’ every ‘supreme leader,’ every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there — on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot 1994

science and religion sudoku
If you search on the web, you can readily find some more beautiful images relating to the evolutionary story of life on Earth, but I picked this one because it does a good job of showing the fact that many branches come to an end, and it hints at the fact that the full picture is not tidy. No tree picture shows this perfectly; the full story has cross-links and complications, like a bush rather than a tree, but  a tree is the right metaphor for the main lines of the story. Here are some links where you can explore this further:

david_lack Here is David Lack, the evolutionary biologist and anglican. Lack wrote the landmark book, Darwin’s Finches (1947), which influenced modern views on natural selection. Lack was Director of the Edward Grey Institute of Field Ornithology (1945-1973), Fellow of the Royal Society and President of the International Ornithological Congress (1962-66) and the British Ecological Society (1964-65). Of him Ernst Mayr wrote, “The person who more than anyone else deserves credit for reviving an interest in the ecological significance of species was David Lack… It is now quite clear that the process of speciation is not completed by the acquisition of isolating mechanisms but requires also the acquisition of adaptations that permit co-existence with potential competitors.” A convinced Christian, Lack’s short book Evolutionary theory and Christian belief outlines a sensible approach to the interpretation of evolutionary biology.
[Sources: Larson, Evolution’s Workshop: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands. New York, Basic Books, 2001; BioLogos; Wikipedia]


Periodic table by f–l–A–r–k
This lovely artwork by f–l–A–r–k shows the periodic table of the elements, with each element evoked by a fractal or other image that suggests something of its chemical nature or ordinary form. For the original, see here.
coulson Charles Alfred Coulson FRS (1910 –1974) was Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University (preceding Roger Penrose), before becoming Oxford’s first Professor of Theoretical Chemistry. He was awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society, the Faraday and Tilden Medals of the Chemical Society and many honorary degrees. A Methodist lay preacher, Coulson served on the World Council of Churches from 1962 to 1968 and was Chairman of Oxfam from 1965 to 1971. His books include Waves; Electricity; Valence; Science, Technology and the Christian (1953) and Science and Christian Belief (1955). He discussed the integration of scientific and religious views in a series of BBC broadcasts, as well as in his written work. He brought much energy and good humour to his academic and other  work, and had a gentle style in his broadcasts.
Pisum-sativum-subsp.-elatius-5 Pisum sativum subsp. elatius: the common garden pea plant. [image source]
A scientific gathering in early 1860s Moravia
Friars of the Augustinian Abbey in Old Brno, Moravia (Czech Republic), early 1860s. From left to right: B. Vogler, A. Rambousek, A. Alt (mathematics teacher), T. Bratránek (philosopher, with a special interest in natural sciences), J. Lindenthal, G. Mendel (teacher of physics, meteorologist and botanist), V.Sembera, P. Krízkovský (musician and composer), J. B. Vorthey, Abbot N. C. Napp (expert in biblical studies and botanist), M. Klácel (philosopher, with a special interest in natural sciences). Mendel holds a fuchsia in his hand. [source: Mendel Museum of Genetics]
Some of the faithful: Galileo, Newton, James Clerk Maxwell, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), and Arthur Eddington
It is well known that Galileo was mistreated by the church of his day. However, it is worth remembering that he was a supporter not an opposer of faith in God, and the church reform he was seeking did in fact subsequently happen. Newton was passionate about his religious faith, and careful about its intellectual integrity, refusing standard formulations of Christian belief but committed to a sense of a creative and mindful reality that is expressed in but not fully captured by the physical world. Maxwell, Thomson and Eddington had the same independence of mind, and were persuaded of the case for a broadly orthodox Christian opinion, though, of course, expressed by them carefully and without necessarily buying into many of the popular superstitions that too often accompany it.
leap A notable feature of the leap shown here is that there is something nice and solid to land on on the other side.
schawlow2 Arthur Leonard Schawlow (1921–1999) shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in Physics with Nicolaas Bloembergen and Kai Siegbahn for their contribution to the development of laser spectroscopy. His work applied laser and other spectroscopic techniques to a wide range of problems in basic physics. Schawlow considered himself to be an orthodox Protestant Christian, commenting:
“I’m a fairly orthodox Protestant. I’ve been in a lot of Protestant churches… Recently my son and I both joined the Methodist Church in Paradise, California, and that’s the only one I go to now… I think the world is too wonderful to have just happened. And I think that orthodox Christianity is a good conduct for life, and I hope it’s true.”
[Arthur L. Schawlow, Optics and Laser Spectroscopy, Bell Telephone Laboratories, 1951-1961, and Stanford University Since 1961, an oral history conducted in 1996 by Suzanne B. Riess (Interviewer/Editor), Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (1998)]