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Calendar

11/1/2014
70th Anniversary Celebratory Conference, Oxford, UK

11/4/2014
“Popularizing Science: Clerical Engagement with Science during the Age of Enlightenment,” Wheaton,

11/5/2014 » 11/7/2014
“Is Life Going Anywhere?: Creation-Biology, Randomness & Purpose,” Wenham, MA

11/7/2014 » 11/8/2014
“Intersections: Summit on Origins,” Roseville, MN

11/11/2014 » 11/15/2014
“Theology and Science of Creation,” Madrid, Spain

CWIS: Christian Women in Science
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CWIS is an affiliate of the American Scientific Affiliation and is open to all interested Christian Women in Science.

 

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Forgotten Female Programmers

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Friday, October 24, 2014

 

If your image of a computer programmer is a young man, there's a good reason: It's true. Recently, many big tech companies revealed how few of their female employees worked in programming and technical jobs. Google had some of the highest rates: 17 percent of its technical staff is female.

It wasn't always this way. Decades ago, it was women who pioneered computer programming — but too often, that's a part of history that even the smartest people don't know.

I took a trip to ground zero for today's computer revolution, Stanford University, and randomly asked over a dozen students if they knew who were the first computer programmers. Almost none knew.

"I'm in computer science," says a slightly embarrassed Stephanie Pham. "This is so sad."

A few students, like Cheng Dao Fan, get close. "It's a woman, probably," she says searching her mind for a name. "It's not necessarily [an] electronic computer. I think it's more like a mechanic computer."

She's thinking of Ada Lovelace, also known as the Countess of Lovelace, born in 1815. Walter Isaacson begins his new book, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, with her story.

Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace, was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. The computer language ADA was named after her in recognition of her pioneering work with Charles Babbage.

Augusta Ada, Countess of Lovelace, was the daughter of poet Lord Byron. The computer language ADA was named after her in recognition of her pioneering work with Charles Babbage.

"Ada Lovelace is Lord Byron's child, and her mother, Lady Byron, did not want her to turn out to be like her father, a romantic poet," says Isaacson. So Lady Byron "had her tutored almost exclusively in mathematics as if that were an antidote to being poetic."

 

Read it all here.

 

Tags:  Ada Lovelace  computers 

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Notes from Ms. Frizzle

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, October 14, 2014

 

Delicate


Hello readers.  I’m Karen McReynolds, a professor of science at Hope International University in sunny Orange County, California. Hope is a small Christian university, so small that I should really say “the” professor of science.  (Well, we do have a couple of adjuncts this semester.)  We offer upper division courses only through our contract program with the Cal State campus across the street, so my full time responsibility here is science for the non-major student  meeting general education requirements.  I teach biology, environmental science and earth science – quite a broad spectrum for the college level. I like the variety of courses though. My childhood home in rural central California nurtured in me a love for birds and sky and wetlands, framed by the distant Sierra Nevada. Our parents wisely let us kids roam, and even encouraged me by supplying my own Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds, the adult version, when I was eight. Now I do my best to encourage my students to marvel, as I do, at God’s Second Book: the Book of Nature.

I like to tell the students the first day of class that my role model is Ms. Frizzle.  It’s always good for a laugh.  I hope to share with you occasionally some reflections on nature, teaching, and the intersection of the two, in the indefatigable spirit of Ms. Frizzle.  

Some years ago, my husband, my father and I were working as a team on a biological survey of a large property in the northern Sierra Nevada.  This was rather like having our cake and eating it too.  For three seasons in a row, our teaching schedules permitted several weeks in the summer at 6400 feet, making observations and collecting data on natural history while the heat of the San Joaquin Valley passed us right on by.  We found time to jump in the lake at the end of each day, and slept outside on tent platforms under the wide open, star-laden sky each night. 

One afternoon I took a path that was new to me and came across the remains of a fawn nestled in a hollow of pine duff.  More accurately, it was a fragment of the remains of a fawn: most of the rib cage, a bit of the spine, and the right foreleg of a very small deer.  It must have been out in the woods for a while, because the bones were nearly white and free of flesh.  The tiny hoof at the end of the leg was graceful and dainty, quite miniature in comparison to the numerous hoof prints of mule deer I had seen through the weeks of this project.  It had clearly been dragged in from somewhere else, as there was no sign of any of the rest of the body, but the way it was settled in its spot so tidily suggested that it had seen some seasons pass in that location.  The doe that returned to her baby’s ill-chosen hiding spot had made her fateful discovery some time ago. 


 .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .


I am a rather clunky woman, heavy of foot and inclined to drop things.  Perhaps in accordance with this, I frequently need to be whacked over the head by something before I will notice it.  I have developed reasonably astute observation skills after years of field experiences and practice, but it has taken intentional effort and is not my default character.  Perhaps this is why my discovery delighted me more than it made me sad.  It made me realize that if such a delicate specimen could remain, there is hope that I too might leave something behind that could speak of life in the midst of death.

There isn’t much about me that is delicate.  That is not a word I would think to apply to myself and indeed it is an adjective I seldom use at all.  It certainly would not seem to be an appropriate term to describe skeletal remains.  But nature subsists on inappropriate truth.  In all its grisly detail, the evidence I encountered that day of the early death of a young deer was indeed quite strikingly beautiful and delicate.   

 

Tags:  Karen McReynolds 

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The Faith vs. Science Mentality

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Sunday, September 21, 2014

 

Embracing Science
Let’s put the faith vs. science mentality to rest

While there certainly are arenas in which the interaction between faith and science may be difficult to parse out, those experiences of tension certainly don't mean science must be rejected as a matter of faith.

By Kelli B. Trujillo

If you were to listen to the views espoused by some of today's foremost "new atheists," you'd quickly draw a conclusion: We humans don't need religion, faith, or "God" any more. Science has answered(or is answering or someday will answer) our questions. Faith—akin to belief in a made-up fairy tale—has no place in a life of honest, logical scientific inquiry.

And if you were to listen to the views perpetuated by some Christians, you'd quickly draw another conclusion: we Christians ought not trust science or its conclusions or, for that matter, most scientists. The Bible, rather than science, answers our questions. Wherever they appear to be in conflict, faith trumps science every time. Science—which is just secular humanism in disguise, after all—has no place in a life of true, devoted Christian faith.

But is this really the case? Are faith and science mutually exclusive—archenemies, locked in a centuries-long battle for truth? Ought people of faith stay away from the sciences and view scientific findings with suspicion (at best) or utter disbelief (at worst)?

Read it all here.

Tags:  Kelli B. Trujillo 

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What a Wonderful World

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, September 09, 2014

 


What a Wonderful World
How science leads us toward -not away from -our Creator
By Dr. Christa Koval with Amy Simpson
 
You are fearfully and wonderfully made! With more than 100 known elements in the universe, you are made of only 4. Your body is 96 percent oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. And most other organisms share these elements with us. Isn't it amazing that such complexity and variety exist among living things as the result of combining only four elements in different ways?

Our bodies are just one mind-blowing element of God's impressive creation, all of which points directly to our Creator and teaches us about him. Hundreds of years of scientific discovery have revealed astounding depths of knowledge about our world, and yet in many ways we're still only just beginning to explore. Scientific exploration draws us toward a deeper appreciation of the unfathomable being who could create so much complexity—it moves us toward a deeper sense of awe and worship.

Consider plant life, for example. Plants use three of the elements found in our own bodies (oxygen, carbon, and hydrogen), plus the energy of sunlight to produce larger compounds. This process of photosynthesis is complicated and understanding it earned Melvin Calvin a Nobel Prize in 1961. But it wasn't until 1988, after 27 long years of additional research, that scientists understood the structure of RuBisCO, the enzyme required to initiate photosynthesis and the most abundant protein on earth (plants produce about 40 million tons per year). RuBisCO consists of a mind-boggling 37,792 atoms put together in a three-dimensional structure that will function only if every atom is in position. Our existence depends on this delicate balance.

 

Read it all here.

 


Tags:  Amy Simpson  Christa Koval 

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A Big God and a Crisis of Faith

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, September 06, 2014

 

Ginger Kolbaba

Several years ago I had a crisis of faith. It all began with a Science Channel television program on supermassive black holes, of all things. Basically the premise was that scientists have discovered giant black holes (like the size of an entire solar system) in the center of every galaxy, and each plays an important role in the creation and sustainability of its particular galaxy.

The scientists described the extreme order of these black holes in the whole universal space-time continuum and how it’s forced them to rethink physics. The narrator, summing up several scientists, said, “If, as it now seems, every single galaxy has a black hole at its heart, this can’t be a coincidence.” 


You got that right, I thought. It’s called—we’ve got a supermassive, supergenius Creator at work in the universe.


Then the screen exploded with all these multi-colored, multi-shaped, multi-gaseous galaxies. And my brain, for an instant, exploded with how awesomely vast and mammoth our God is. My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.


Read it all here.



Ginger Kolbaba

Several years ago I had a crisis of faith. It all began with a Science Channel television program on supermassive black holes, of all things. Basically the premise was that scientists have discovered giant black holes (like the size of an entire solar system) in the center of every galaxy, and each plays an important role in the creation and sustainability of its particular galaxy.

The scientists described the extreme order of these black holes in the whole universal space-time continuum and how it’s forced them to rethink physics. The narrator, summing up several scientists, said, “If, as it now seems, every single galaxy has a black hole at its heart, this can’t be a coincidence.” 

You got that right, I thought. It’s called—we’ve got a supermassive, supergenius Creator at work in the universe.

My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.
Then the screen exploded with all these multi-colored, multi-shaped, multi-gaseous galaxies. And my brain, for an instant, exploded with how awesomely vast and mammoth our God is. My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.
Read it all here.

Ginger Kolbaba

Several years ago I had a crisis of faith. It all began with a Science Channel television program on supermassive black holes, of all things. Basically the premise was that scientists have discovered giant black holes (like the size of an entire solar system) in the center of every galaxy, and each plays an important role in the creation and sustainability of its particular galaxy.

The scientists described the extreme order of these black holes in the whole universal space-time continuum and how it’s forced them to rethink physics. The narrator, summing up several scientists, said, “If, as it now seems, every single galaxy has a black hole at its heart, this can’t be a coincidence.” 

You got that right, I thought. It’s called—we’ve got a supermassive, supergenius Creator at work in the universe.

My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.
Then the screen exploded with all these multi-colored, multi-shaped, multi-gaseous galaxies. And my brain, for an instant, exploded with how awesomely vast and mammoth our God is. My finite brain couldn’t handle the size and power and strength of my Creator.
Read it all here.

Tags:  Ginger Kolbaba 

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CWIS Celebrates First Year

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Lynn Billman

"I don't have to filter what I say!" Sharon Petzinger, a wildlife biologist who studies birds for the state of New Jersey, said this to me with a light of joy in her eyes. Hannah Ryan, a grad student at the University of Colorado, echoed the sentiment.

We were at the 2014 Annual Conference of the American Scientific Affiliation, entitled "From Cosmos to Psyche," and this was the first conference for both these women -- a real highlight in their careers.

(Photos courtesy of Sharen Petzinger, left, and Hannah Ryan, right)

2014-08-06-SharonPetzingergwwa.JPG 2014-08-06-IMG_3153.jpeg

The American Scientific Affiliation (ASA) is one of my passions. In this organization, a Christian who does serious science can find camaraderie without literally having to "filter what I say." If you've ever gotten "the look" from your church friends when you mention that you are a scientist, or gotten a similar "look" from your lab friends when you mention that you go to church, you know what I mean. At ASA, we can be "out" about both loving Jesus and having passion for excellent science. We work with the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their "Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion" program. And we've been around since 1941 -- yes, it's been a challenge to be both a Christian and a mainstream scientist for a long time... well, since Darwin in the 1850s... OK, since Galileo centuries before, I suppose. Today at least we have this encouraging community to join!

Read it all here.




Tags:  CWIS  Lynn Billman 

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Legos for girls who love science

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, August 21, 2014
Months after a girl took the company to task for its female toy figures, Lego has released the Research Institute, a play set created by a "real-life geophysicist, Ellen Kooijman," the company says.

The set will let kids take on the roles of paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, using three female figures. It might also satisfy some of the demands set forth earlier this year by Charlotte Benjamin, a 7-year-old who wrote a scathing letter to the company accusing its female characters of being boring.

"I love Legos," Charlotte wrote. But, she continued, there aren't enough girls — and the ones the company has made just "sit at home, go to the beach, and shop," while the boy characters "saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks!"

The girl's letter attracted widespread attention — and within a week, Lego responded, saying "we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build."

The new research kit, which includes a telescope, a T-Rex model and a lab set, was selected by Lego Ideas, a program that lets customers submit their own suggestions for projects. In what could be a total coincidence, the company said it was reviewing the set for possible production just two days after Charlotte's letter began going viral.

We spotted the new playset in a blog post over at io9 this weekend. You can read Kooijman's review of the product she helped design, in a blog post that ends with the line, "Cheers to science and good play!"

The new Research Institute set costs about $20 — but it's currently out of stock, a look at the Lego online store shows.

The set continues a streak of more female-centric releases from the toy company — a trend that led NPR's Neda Ullaby to ask last year, "Girls' Legos Are A Hit, But Why Do Girls Need Special Legos?"

Back in 2011, Lego began a push to tailor more of its products to girls, introducing the Lego Friends series of toys. But a backlash ensued, complete with a petition posted on Change.org that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. It asked the company "to stop distinguishing between toys for girls and those for boys," as NPR'sTell Me More reported.

It seems the complicated question of whether boys' and girls' Legos should be different — and how — persists. A look at the Lego online store's "Girls" categorytoday finds that its recent releases include a horse stable, a play house, a shopping mall — and a "Model Catwalk."
From here.

Months after a girl took the company to task for its female toy figures, Lego has released the Research Institute, a play set created by a "real-life geophysicist, Ellen Kooijman," the company says.

 

The set will let kids take on the roles of paleontologist, astronomer and chemist, using three female figures. It might also satisfy some of the demands set forth earlier this year by Charlotte Benjamin, a 7-year-old who wrote a scathing letter to the company accusing its female characters of being boring.

 

"I love Legos," Charlotte wrote. But, she continued, there aren't enough girls — and the ones the company has made just "sit at home, go to the beach, and shop," while the boy characters "saved people, had jobs, even swam with sharks!"

 

The girl's letter attracted widespread attention — and within a week, Lego responded, saying "we have been very focused on including more female characters and themes that invite even more girls to build."

 

The new research kit, which includes a telescope, a T-Rex model and a lab set, was selected by Lego Ideas, a program that lets customers submit their own suggestions for projects. In what could be a total coincidence, the company said it was reviewing the set for possible production just two days after Charlotte's letter began going viral.

 

We spotted the new playset in a blog post over at io9 this weekend. You can read Kooijman's review of the product she helped design, in a blog post that ends with the line, "Cheers to science and good play!"

 

The new Research Institute set costs about $20 — but it's currently out of stock, a look at the Lego online store shows.

 

The set continues a streak of more female-centric releases from the toy company — a trend that led NPR's Neda Ullaby to ask last year, "Girls' Legos Are A Hit, But Why Do Girls Need Special Legos?"

 

Back in 2011, Lego began a push to tailor more of its products to girls, introducing the Lego Friends series of toys. But a backlash ensued, complete with a petition posted on Change.org that attracted tens of thousands of signatures. It asked the company "to stop distinguishing between toys for girls and those for boys," as NPR's Tell Me More reported.

 

It seems the complicated question of whether boys' and girls' Legos should be different — and how — persists. A look at the Lego online store's "Girls" category today finds that its recent releases include a horse stable, a play house, a shopping mall — and a "Model Catwalk."

 

From here.

Tags:  science education 

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More than atoms

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, August 09, 2014
Ruth Bancewicz

When atoms and molecules come together, the new structures or systems they form can have unexpected properties. This principle is called emergence, and some have claimed that it shows there is more to the universe than material things. Last month at the Faraday Institute summer course, the German physicist Barbara Drossel explained why she thinks emergence is a real phenomena, and why it is so important in discussions about science and faith.

Science uses reductionism to study a system. If you break it down and do what you can to understand the parts, you should understand the behaviour of the whole a bit better. According to Drossel, the reverse is also true. As complex systems come together, new and beautiful properties emerge that are every bit as fundamental as the forces that hold together the atom.

When you put a collection of molecules together, they start to do things that they couldn’t do alone. For example air exerts pressure on the sides of a box; when a fluid is heated from below it forms convection cells; and if you mix certain chemicals together they react in a way that produces beautiful patterns.

The more different the parts that are added together, the more complex the resulting system. Biological organisms are the most complex systems that exist, because they consist of multiple systems made of very different parts, all interacting together.

A closed system like an insulated box of gas has no interaction with the outside world, but an open system – like the human brain, operates in an environment that both feeds into its behaviour and receives its output.

Studying these higher levels of organisation can bring new insights into the properties of matter. This happens, said Drossel, because it is often impossible to derive the behaviour of large collections of molecules from the microscopic physical theories. Scientific laws and theories are only approximately correct, and a system is always open to outside influences.

This principle of unpredictable properties is known as ‘weak emergence’, and is quite controversial in physics. The debate is hot and interesting, but it’s really only a debate about the description of matter. What happens if you throw in a bit of philosophy?

Strong emergence is the idea that the higher properties that emerge from complex systems are not just difficult to predict, but they are actually completely new properties. The lower levels of organisation are important, but the final outcome is not determined simply by the behaviour of atoms and molecules alone.

If strong emergence actually happens, that means complex systems are not simply determined by the interaction of their components. Higher-order principles such as symmetries might determine the important properties of these systems, and there might be ‘top-down’ influences at work, not just the ‘bottom-up’ forces exerted by the parts of the system. According to the physicist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne, the unpredictabilities present in the microscopic world permit this openness to other causes.

So why might a scientist believe in strong emergence? Drossel gave several arguments in its favour. First, the parts have never existed without the whole. Since its inception, the universe has always had forces and symmetries, size and temperature, all of which affect the particles in it, so it’s almost impossible to speak of the properties of particles alone. Second, some of the details about the lower-level behaviour of atoms are not actually important in determining the behaviour of the whole system. There are issues with the predictability of forces and the movements of particles, but emergent properties are insensitive to these details.

The final piece of evidence for strong emergence is the fact that non-material things can have an influence over complex systems. Taking humans as an example, principles such as the rules of logic or moral values often affect our behaviour. If these principles are real (i.e. if they exist whether humans exist or not), then they cannot be determined by atoms and molecules. So the complex system that is a human being is not completely determined by the atoms and molecules of their body, or the physical properties of his or her environment.

Barbara was quick to point out that physics deals only with what happens within the physical matter of the universe. If God exists, he is an ultimate reality and exists outside of the world as well as within it. He could have created any kind of world he liked, so it’s impossible to argue for the existence of God from science. What we can say, however, is that there is good evidence from physics that we have freedom to act in the world.

Read Ruth Bancewicz's previous post on emergence in human consciousness hereThere is also a short paper explaining emergence on the Test of Faith website.

Tags:  physics  Ruth Bancewicz 

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Alice C. Linsley Responds to Alan Dicken on Noah's Flood

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, August 04, 2014
Alice C. Linsley

I did not attend the ASA/CSCA/CiS conference this summer. It was held at McMaster University where Dr. Dicken is a professor. I attended the 2013 conference in Nashville where I met Alan Dicken and we discussed the the cultural context of Abraham's ancestors. He asserts that they were Sumerians and I that they were Nilo-Saharans. Indeed, ancient images of the common folk of Sumeria reveal physical features and sun and cattle symbolism characteristic of the Nilo-Saharans. In fact, the term "fertile crescent" was coined by James Henry Breasted (1865–1935), a scholar of ancient Egypt and director of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago, in his 1916 textbook, Ancient Times: A History of the Early World. Breasted applies this term to a much larger area than the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. He had in mind the centers of civilization from the Nile to the Indus.

Read my response to Dr. Dicken's presentation here


Tags:  Biblical Anthropology  climate change 

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PhD Student Francesca Day on Symmetry

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, July 29, 2014
This article first appeared in Science and BeliefRuth Bancewicz's blog.


Symmetry or Fine Tuning?
Francesca Day

Why is there so much symmetry in nature? I shared some examples 
in an earlier post, and questioned whether there was a link between these and the ‘fine-tuning’ of the universe.
 I asked Francesca Day, a
PhD student at the University of Oxford, if she could investigate. Francesca’s own work is on 
the astrophysical signatures of dark radiation, and here she explains why she thinks symmetry might lead
to a more wonderful explanation of the universe than the mystery of fine-tuning.

Many argue that if the laws of physics had been just slightly different, life – or
at least life as we know it – would not have been possible in the universe. The fundamental laws and parameters of physics seem to have conspired so as to make the formation of life possible. To many it seems as if science is pointing to a designer of the universe who set all these parameters just right for us – as
if science is pointing the way to God.

Some scientists invoke a version of the “anthropic principle” to explain fine-tuning. The idea is that there are many universes (or many different patches of our universe) with different values of the fundamental parameters. It is not surprising that we live in the universe or patch with parameters that allow life. However, this argument is pretty speculative and, some would say, something of a cop out.

So where might fine-tuning come from? Why do the laws of physics seem just right for life? Has God carefully crafted and adjusted them to allow our evolution? Is God like a piano tuner, meticulously tightening the strings of the universe until everything is just so? Or did God make a piano that could never be out of tune? Does the apparent fine-tuning in the laws of physics emerge from deeper, more fundamental laws? I, along with many other physicists, think it might do, and that those deeper laws might be symmetries.

Over the past 100 years, symmetry has emerged as the principle that underpins the physical universe. For example, Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity is based on a symmetry between “inertial frames” – observers moving at a constant velocity with respect to each other. Einstein realised that the speed of light should look the same in all inertial frames – even if the observer is moving very quickly away from or towards the light source. This simple but counter-intuitive symmetry revolutionised our understanding of space and time. It forced us to realise that time is not the rigid path we once thought, but behaves as a fourth dimension whose progress depends on the motion of the observer.

Ruth Bancewicz explained how symmetries can lead to fundamental laws of nature via Noether’s theorem. In this way, the structure of the laws of physics is ruled by symmetry. The particles that make up all matter in our universe are also governed by “internal symmetries” – symmetries that do not depend on space or time but which govern the behaviour and interactions of the particles themselves. These symmetries determine much of the structure we see in the particle world.

Physicists today are trying to uncover deeper symmetries in the physical world – deeper symmetries in the behaviour of subatomic particles and deeper symmetries in space and time themselves. Perhaps these deeper symmetries lead to the laws of physics as we know them today, in a similar way to how rotational symmetry leads to the law of conservation of angular momentum via Noether’s theorem. Perhaps instead of fine-tuning each law of physics individually, God created the universe with a set of symmetries that naturally led to laws that are just right for life.

As a Christian and a physicist, I believe that God created a world that we have the power to explore and understand. This includes seeking deeper and deeper theories for why the fundamental laws and parameters are the way they are. Rather than the traditional view of fine-tuning pointing directly to God, I see it as part of an invitation from him. Why is the universe just right for life? With this question, God invites us to explore his creation and to discover the underlying principles He wove into it.

For me, symmetry is an intriguing and beautiful potential solution to the fine-tuning problem. These glorious symmetries on which creation is based could take us beyond our picture of fine-tuning and point the way to a deeper understanding of the universe.

Francesca Day won the Christians in Science student essay prize in 2013, and has also written for the Huffington Post.

Tags:  science education; physics 

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