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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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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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"Flourish Atlanta" September 13

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, July 28, 2014

Join us at Flourish: Atlanta

Facebook Page:

The Atlanta Advisory Council for InterVarsity's Women in the Academy and Professions will host a gathering on September 13 at Emory University called "Flourish: Atlanta."

This will be a gathering of women graduate/professional students, faculty and professionals around calling, courage and confidence – three topics most often brought up in conversations, blogs, print materials etc. when women think/write about and discuss issues we face as we follow our passions.

This event will serve as an opportunity to support and encourage local women as they seek to be faithful to the call of God on their lives and as a pilot project we can learn from as we consider doing something similar in other parts of the country. Please consider joining us. Mark your calendar!

Date: Saturday, September 13, 2014

Place: Emory University

Time: 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Rosalind Picard, MIT

Cost: $75 for graduate/professional students and $150 for faculty and working professionals. Scholarships are available. 

Continental breakfast, coffee breaks, and lunch will be provided.


A couple of professional conferences will be held in Atlanta that weekend. Dr. Picard is presenting a paper at one of them. There will be a number of ASA folks at these and it would be wonderful if they could attend all or part of Flourish since they will already be in town. 

For more information, contact:

Karen Hice Guzmán

Director – Women in the Academy & Professions

Graduate and Faculty Ministries

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship


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Prayer for the 2014 ASA Conference in Hamilton

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Wednesday, June 25, 2014


It is not too late to register for the ASA-CCAA conference in Hamilton, Ontario scheduled for July 25-28. This promises to be a very good conference and a place to connect and reconnect.

Some of us will not be able to attend, but we can join in spirit by remembering to pray for all the participants and for the speakers. Here is a prayer that we might pray together daily from July 24 through July 29:


Almighty and eternal God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness as people of science, that we might make known the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection.

We beseech you to be with us as we gather and as we depart. Keep us safe from all harm.

While we are together grant us grace to serve one another, to listen to one another, and to encourage one another. May we drink from the fountain of wisdom, which is your Word and Christ our Lord.  

You have filled the world with beauty, O Lord. Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that we may learn to serve you and all humanity with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were created and are sustained, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Tags:  ASA 

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Mayim Bialik On and Off the Screen

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, May 26, 2014


Mayim Bailik
Photo:  Cydney Scott

Mayim Bialik earned her undergraduate degree and a PhD in neuroscience from UCLA and plays a neuroscientist on The Big Bang Theory. She minored in Jewish Studies and Hebrew. She spoke at Boston University’s Graduate Women in Science and Engineering luncheon May 17. 

There were many fans of the popular nerd-centric TV sitcom The Big Bang Theoryat the BU Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE) luncheon Saturday with guest Mayim Bialik, who plays a neurobiologist on the show. But the 50 or so students and professors at the event, hosted by Beverly Brown, GWISE advisory board member and wife of President Robert A. Brown, also appreciated Bialik’s lesser known bonafides—she holds a doctorate in neuroscience and is a champion of science, technology, engineering, and mathematic (STEM) education for girls.

Having launched her television acting career at 14 as the quirky, hat-loving Blossom Russo in the early 1990s NBC television sitcom Blossom, Bialik (Hon.’14), who received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at Sunday’s Commencement, has won over a new generation with her portrayal of The Big Bang Theory’s Amy Farrah Fowler. The loopy, brilliant Fowler joined the cast at the end of season three and is now a regular. Bialik’s performance has earned her two Screen Actors Guild nominations and two Emmy nominations.

Born in San Diego, 38-year-old Bialik played the young Bette Midler in Beaches at age 12 and has made guest appearances on such TV shows as HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. A character actress who pokes fun at her bookish non-Hollywood appearance ("These glasses are real,” she told the GWISE audience of her outsized black horn-rims), she earned a bachelor’s from the University of California, Los Angeles, in neuroscience in 2000, and in 2007 completed a PhD in neuroscience, also from UCLA. Her research examined the role of oxytocin and vasopressin in obsessive-compulsive disorder in adolescents with Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic abnormality causing life-threatening obesity. "I’m a chromosome 8 person,” she said, to a chorus of knowing laughter.

Read it all here.

Tags:  Mayim Bialik  STEM 

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Homage to Mary Anning

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Today's Google Doodle pays homage to one of the great women in Science, Mary Anning.

Mary Anning homage on Google today.  Image credit: Google Inc.

Google Inc paid homage to the 215 anniversary of the birth of Mary Anning on May 21 2014 with this Doodle on the homepage. Image credit: Google Inc.


Mary Anning (1799-1846) by the age of 12 had already discovered in rocks of the English countryside fossils that she would later describe as a plesiosaur. She spent more than 30 years collecting and describing fossils mostly in rock of Jurassic age. Anning along with William Buckland, who was well aware and an admirer of Mary’s work and described the first true dinosaur, and Cuvier who described and wrote about dinosaurs were instrumental in developing a picture of life in the Jurassic. It eventually lead to Cuvier’s specific proposal that there had been an "age of reptiles.” This was a time when reptiles would have been the dominant animal in all places on earth versus the mammals that we have today. Like the discovery of deep time itself over the previous century this idea of earth’s changing biota over time presented a serious challenge to established views of creation. (Read more here.)

Mary Anning was a British fossil collector and paleontologist who became known for important finds she made in the Jurassic marine fossil beds at Lyme Regis in Dorset, where she lived. Her work contributed to fundamental changes in scientific thinking about prehistoric life and the history of the Earth. Mary's work drew considerable attention in England as most people believed in a young Earth and regarded this to be a Biblical view.

Fossil collecting was a popular hobby in the late 18th and early 19th century, but gradually developed into a science as the importance of fossils to geology and biology became better understood. Anning searched for fossils in the area's Blue Lias cliffs, particularly during the winter months when landslides exposed new fossils that had to be collected quickly before they were lost to the sea. It was dangerous work, and she nearly lost her life in 1833 during a landslide.

In 2010, the Royal Society included Anning in a list of the ten British women who have most influenced the history of science.

Mary Anning, though raised Congregationalist, regularly worshiped with her family in the Anglican Church.

Tags:  fossils  Mary Anning 

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Talking Science and Bible with Prisoners

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, May 17, 2014
Multiple security doors separate prisoners from the outside world.

"I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me."--Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:37)

Alice C. Linsley


There are 14 women in the Saturday afternoon Bible study at the local prison. This is not a Bible study in the traditional sense. Only a few even bring a Bible. Instead we discuss what the Bible has to say about life issues. The women want to talk about anger, forgiveness, addiction, abuse, and guilt. They also want to hear about salvation, healing, God’s provision for them and the gift of eternal life.


As a Biblical anthropologist, I tend to be scholarly in my approach to the Biblical text. Maybe that is why God opened this prison ministry to me. This brings me balance and reminds me of what really matters. The women in prison want something to carry them through the week; something to remind them that God cares about them and can be trusted.


We keep it basic. We keep it real.  They share their experiences of God’s presence in tragic circumstances and in emergency rooms where they were taken when they overdosed on drugs. They understand that the Bible is not the only way that God communicates. Many have never read the Bible and some have had bad experiences in churches. We are learning to hear God’s voice in non-Biblical terms, but always in terms consistent with Biblical revelation and doctrine.


None of the women has ever asked about Darwin or the age of the Earth. None has asked about the extent of Noah’s flood and the geological record. These issues don’t seem to matter. Their need for God is basic to being human. They want to know why God delays in answering their prayers. They want to hear about something good and hopeful in the midst of their suffering. Why didn’t God stop my father from abusing me? Why couldn’t I say goodbye to my mother before she died? Where was God when my boyfriend attacked me? Can I trust God to take care of me when I get out of prison?


Sometimes I share a tidbit from science. Once it was about how Nineveh was discovered and found to be as great a city as described in the book of Jonah. Another time I shared how analysis of the Biblical kinship records show that Jesus was a descendant of Ruth, a near-homeless woman who loved her aging mother-in-law so much she stayed by her side. The African American women are interested in knowing about Abraham’s Kushite ancestors. A few have asked whether or not God made some people homosexual.


Each time I go to the prison I learn about the Bible from these women and I realize that the big debates that take place in scientific circles really are not big in the grander scope of things. For a person serving time, billions of years or 10,000 years are far less important that the number of days they have left to serve their prison term. Whether God created in six 24-hour days or through a long gradual process of evolution means little to someone yearning for God to create in them a new and contrite heart.


Please pray for this prison ministry which meets on the third Saturday of each month.

Related reading: Haunting Pictures of Women Prisoners

Tags:  Alice C. Linsley  Bible  science 

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How Emily Ruppel Came into the Science-Faith Arena

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Emily Ruppel, Associate Director of Communications for the American Scientific Affiliation, tells about her unusual route into the science-faith arena, which began with a nun.


A few years ago while studying in the science writing master’s program at MIT, I heard about something rather brilliant from a friend at Harvard University. Brilliant things happen at Harvard all the time, of course, but this was ‘brilliant’ in a different way—unexpected, illuminating, and challenging, for the people it happened to. It opened up a course of conversation previously unavailable to its participants. It was controversial, too, in a quiet way.

What happened is this: a graduate student studying astronomy sent an email to her department announcing her imminent departure from the program. She had no qualms with administration nor academic difficulties to my knowledge. It’s just that, in her life, at that time, it had become impossible to ignore the calling to become a nun, rather than an astronomer. To study service and the word rather than cosmic forces and the vast heavens. Her love of Jesus, she wrote in her letter, was very important to her, and this path she was about to embark on, it seemed, would be the only truly fulfilling work she could spend her life doing.

I don’t know much else about the letter or its writer—whether the decision was sudden and easy or difficult and drawn-out, or maybe a mixture of all these things. I do know that surprise and chagrin rumbled throughout the astronomy department, where folks questioned what seemed an illogical and perhaps ill-fated decision.

Read it all here.

Tags:  Emily Ruppel 

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King's Ridge Christian School Hosts STEM Event

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Alice C. Linsley

On January 25, 2014, the Atlanta chapter of Young Women In Bio (YWIB) conducted a STEM outreach event for middle and high school girls at King’s Ridge Christian School in Alpharetta, Georgia. The event was aimed at motivating young women to aspire to science careers, especially in life sciences. The event was led by women scientists with specialties in Molecular and Developmental Biotechnology, Microbiology, Genetics and Neuroscience. The workshop involved hands-on classroom activities where students learned about the human skeletal system, different kinds of viruses, the human brain and the neurological processes behind human vision.

Hunter Chadwick
Quizzes were given along with prizes for the winners and the day concluded with a panel discussion featuring women from diverse STEM backgrounds and at different stages of their careers.

The Atlanta chapter of WIB was founded in 2012, to cater to the women in the life sciences sector. WIB-Atlanta provides women a space to interact and exchange information and ideas, through a wide range of social gatherings and educational workshops.

Hunter Chadwick, Principal of the High School, said, "The opportunity to host such an event was extremely rewarding and special for us. We hope we can offer similar events in the future and appreciate the time and education of those involved.”

The successful event at King’s Christian School can serve at a model for CWIS and ASA in considering similar events. We could begin by encouraging local Christian schools to host a Science Day. Such events can help to dispel the notion that Evangelical Christians are anti-science.

Tags:  science education 

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A Scientist and a Christian: One Woman's Perspective

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Sunday, April 06, 2014

Lynn Billman

What If a Woman Wants to Believe in Both Jesus and Science?

This may seem a strange question to many of you, but it is not strange to a young Christian, “on fire for Christ” as we say, who is also on fire to know the what, how, and when about the natural world.   As Tim Stafford pointed out recently, such a young person from a conservative church background is at high risk to lose her faith in the pursuit of scientific knowledge. In fact, some bloggers or commentators today simply cannot understand how anyone with a rationale mind (i.e., a scientist) could accept the teachings and divinity of Christ or accept the Bible as a sacred and vital book.  

I was once in that quandary – well, sort of, because my path was the other way around.  Science came first.  I loved science in high school, and graduated with highest honors in chemistry at UC Berkeley.   As a chemist, I loved working in the analytical lab of a major oil company, identifying unknown substances, trying to figure out why this engine part failed, and so on.  It was mystery, logical thinking, and discovery. 

But by mid-life, my personal life was in deep difficulty – unhappy marriage, three little kids, no help, nowhere to turn.  Churches were familiar from my young childhood as places of solace, although I never did get the Jesus “thing.”  When I finally tried church again in mid-life, people were indeed friendly, and someone watched the kids for an hour for free. Then, at a women’s retreat I was desperate enough to try, total strangers loved so unconditionally, in all my pain.  I decided then that I wanted to see what this Jesus thing was really about – this Jesus that the women claimed was the source of their love for me.

That was 24 years ago.  I began to read anything I could find on Christ, the Bible, and living as a Christian.  I dug into apologetics and the “5,000 answers to tough passages in Scripture” with the same fervor I dug into analytical problems in the lab.  I asked the tough questions – I still ask the tough questions --  and, yes, fundamental Christianity caused some cognitive dissonance.  I remember asking myself, do I have to give up believing that life evolved in order to have the love of Christ that I so craved?   

Through my journeying, I have found that I can indeed believe in the scientific process with its flaws, in the Christian church (writ large) with its flaws, and most wholeheartedly, in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.  But I no longer hold “religious fundamentalist” views, in the general sense of the term.  My constant seeking of Jesus has taken me to experience many different Christian traditions, and some non-Christian, and my spiritual views have broadened.  But I see myself as a good example of how it is very possible to be a Christian and a scientist, without schizophrenia or other dissociative disorders!

There are others of us, too.  More than ten years ago, I found the American Scientific Affiliation.  It is a great place for people like me. ASA is a fellowship of Christians involved in all areas of science, engineering, and related.  We don’t take positions on issues, but try to provide a place for respectful discussion and scholarly investigation of science and Christian faith.  ASA members include Nobel Laureates and common lab rats, students and theologians – but all Christians, and all doing or involved with respected science.  We even have a new group within ASA called Christian Women in Science (CWIS link), because Christian women have even more issues pursuing a career in science, engineering, and related than do Christian men. ASA has a scholarly journal; as an example, here is an issue devoted to papers on evolution.  We also have an e-zine on God and Nature, with many types of interesting essays and insights for the less scholarly reader.  Lastly, anyone is welcome to join us at our annual conference, held every summer over a weekend, with inspiring speakers from a variety of science disciplines (coming up:  July 25-28, 2014, Hamilton, Ontario  link). 

Also, another great organization for those who pursue serious science and serious Christian faith is BioLogos.  BioLogos differs from ASA in specifically focusing on the issues about evolution, and striving towards a mission “to help the church develop a worldview that embraces both of these complex but complementary ways of understanding the world and our place in it.” 

So if you want to believe in both science and Jesus, you’re not alone.  Come, join us for fellowship and shop talk!

Tags:  Lynn Billman 

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Rhoda Hawkins: Talking About Science and Faith

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Monday, March 24, 2014

Rhoda Hawkins, a theoretical physicist from the University of Sheffield, recently spoke on ‘Should we mind, and does it matter?’ at the Christians in Science student conference. Here, she asks how much Christians should be involved in discussing questions of science and faith.

Why should we engage our minds in science and religion issues? Why should we engage with the big questions of mind and matter? Firstly Christians who are scientists are whole, integrated people – body, mind and spirit – so to be true to ourselves and to God we should hold together the different aspects of who we are. Engaging our minds in such deep issues is both fascinating and enriching.

In my experience, questioning and doubting strengthens my faith. Contemplating the mysteries of creation increases my wonder and worship of the Creator. A greater awareness of the philosophical foundations of science, its limitations and its possibilities is important, and grappling with its ethical consequences is our responsibility.

In my research I study living matter. I want to understand how it behaves and moves. What are its material properties, how does it self-assemble and what makes it alive? Sometimes studying a bacterium, a eukaryotic cell, or even a single protein molecule, it can seem as if it has a mind of its own. There’s an intriguing mystery here. How does it work?

Striving to describe, explain and understand this complex behaviour that emerges from the properties of matter is exciting. When understanding is achieved, I am amazed. Far from taking away the mystery, this process of enquiry opens our minds to glimpse something of the mind of God.

At the level of the brain, how the material properties of neurones can lead to emergence of behaviours as complex as our own minds is an exciting scientific question that merges with philosophy. Is there more to the conscious mind than just matter?

A merging of science and philosophy also happens in quantum mechanics. Is the world really indeterminate at the smallest scales? Are there hidden variables that control subatomic particles, communicating instantaneously across non-local distances?

Are there many universes? Is there life on other planets? What is the origin of life? How did life first emerge & evolve? Scientific research may find partial answers to some of these big questions within our lifetimes but I expect many mysteries will remain.

The Bible talks of us as matter, mind and spirit, and says that we should use all these aspects of ourselves to worship our creator God in spirit and truth. For me such holistic worship includes using my mind to seek truth by investigating created matter using science as well as searching for spiritual truth about God.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind

Luke 10:27


More by Rhoda Hawkins: WonderingQuestioning.

Tags:  Rhoda Hawkins  science education 

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