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8/17/2015 » 8/21/2015
“The Origin and Concept of Life,” Galapagos Islands.

8/27/2015 » 8/29/2015
“Science and/or Religion: A 21st Century Debate,” Vienna, Austria

9/4/2015 » 9/5/2015
Patents on Life: Through the Lenses of Law, Religious Faith and Social Justice, Cambridge, England

Science and Faith: Are They Really in Conflict, Tampa, FL

“Conflict or Harmony? Historical Perspectives on Science and Religion,” Norfolk, England

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Religion among UK Biologists

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Saturday, November 22, 2014


By Ruth Bancewicz

2% of biologists in the UK are female, with an average age of 37, and 47% are not from the UK. Not many labs keep a stock of funky pink lab coats, but the cartoon here is a reminder that the iconic picture of a Caucasian male (preferably with a mop of white fuzzy hair) is no longer representative of the average lab worker.

On the other hand, when sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund and her collaborators surveyed the population of British biologists, they found that gender, age, rank and institution seem to have no effect on whether a person is likely to feel a sense of religious belonging.* Some of the preliminary findings of this survey were presented at the Faraday Institute’s Uses and Abuses of Biology workshop in September, and it’s worth reading the full paper, co-authored with Christopher Scheilte.

Ecklund’s earlier study on religion among scientists in the US showed that there are a significant number of scientists who describe themselves as ‘spiritual but not religious’ (see earlier blogs). In the UK this group does not seem to exist. Perhaps, suggested Ecklund, the Church of England is so widely accepted as a cultural institution that people do not feel the need to distance themselves from religion.**

Read it all here.

Tags:  Biology  Ruth Bancewicz 

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Notes From Ms. Frizzle (2)

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Thursday, November 06, 2014


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Close Encounter with a Bimac


By Karen E. McReynolds




It had been a glorious day.  Our whale watch excursion in the morning was exhilarating and yielded enough migrating gray whales to satisfy.  After a picnic lunch on the wharf, we drove a little further down the Monterey peninsula to placid Pacific Grove, home of migratory monarch butterflies as well as fabulous tide pools.  It was not the season for butterflies, but tide pool creatures are impervious to terrestrial seasons; they remain year round, so off we went to see what we could discover.  All of these natural treasures were new to my non-major general biology students, and they were easy to impress this day: perfect weather, great creatures of the deeper sea, and now smaller creatures of the rocky shore.


I had selected a date that offered us a minus tide in the afternoon, and the tide pool creatures were abundant.  As our time drew to a close, I gathered all the students together so we could compare notes and assemble our organism count for the tide pools.  In reviewing the list of hoped-for organisms that I had prepared ahead of time, I noticed that there were a few that we had not seen.  This wasn’t surprising – after all, it’s not the Discovery Channel, as I frequently remind students – but it was still a bit disappointing.  Secretive habits, camouflage, and nocturnal preferences successfully hide some creatures from curious humans quite effectively.  One of these was the Two-Spotted Octopus, Octopus bimaculoides, referred to in marine biologist’s slang as a bimac.  This is not a rare denizen of the rocky shores along the eastern Pacific, but they hide well and prefer darkness, so they are not easily observed.   I had only seen one of these on one previous tide pool trip, and it was a fleeting glimpse: a small cephalopod, immediately zipping out of view and into a crevice in the rock underwater, where it steadfastly remained.  On this day, however, we had indeed seen a good variety of organisms, so our time at the tide pools had still been valuable. 


Within seconds of my comment lamenting the absence of a Two-Spot, one student blurted out, “There’s an octopus!” And lo and behold, we all looked down at the small pool he was standing in front of, and there was indeed a slithery octopus, heading to the deepest edge of the tide pool to hide.  Impulsively, the student poked at the general direction of the creature with the point of his pencil, and then the fun began.  This octopus, unlike the shy specimen I had seen on a previous trip, was apparently an extrovert.  He or she scuttled across the tide pool, shooting a stream of dark brownish ink as it went, and headed up toward the surface at the opposite end of the pool.  When it got there, it ascended the rock surface with no hesitation and climbed right out of the water.  I can only describe its terrestrial mode of movement as “schlooping,” a word I admittedly made up on the spot, but it seemed to suit the creature well.  The octopus schlooped up the rock out of the pool and across a bed of barnacles, skirted a clump of greenish algae, and crossed a fair amount of red-brown rock before it descended into another more satisfactory tide pool.  As it moved over each different background, its color changed instantly so that it always matched its surroundings.  Its total journey out of the water, as witnessed by a class of gaping students and their equally astonished instructor, was about five feet.  It disappeared into the depths of its new tide pool residence shortly after its arrival and didn’t make any further appearance.


What a show! This creature of the not-so-deep gave us a tiny glimpse of creation that none of us had experienced before.  And what perfect timing.  The Psalmist says, “Yonder is the sea, great and wide; creeping things innumerable are there, living things both small and great.” (Psalm 103:25)  None of those students will ever think of “creeping things” in the same way. 


Thus, we learn the value of field trips.  Textbooks and lab assignments are not the only materials that come to life once we leave the classroom.  Nature provides illustrations of scripture as well: in this case, a small, schlooping thing, rainbowing its colors as it scuttled through our lives.   


Related reading: Notes From Ms. Frizzle (1)

Tags:  biology  Karen McReynolds 

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Christian women in STEM are not to be labeled

Posted By Alice C. Linsley, Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Emily Sturgess on Labels

How does a scientist define themselves when their work isn’t their primary identity? This month’s guest post is from Emily Sturgess, a biologist who has found a niche in Oxford.

It took me a while to realise that when you introduce yourself to someone you don’t have to define yourself with a single label. As if the supplies in the stationery cupboard were rationed, I felt for a long time that I was allowed only one label to stick on myself to describe what I do. I am the Development Officer for Christians in Science, so I spend a lot of time with people who describe themselves as ‘scientists’. That makes a lot of sense: they actively participate in scientific research, are employed by science departments in universities, and think ‘scientifically’. It is their profession, and the label is wholly applicable.

All the same, I have always been slightly uneasy about declaring myself a scientist. Aside from the fact that due to an archaic honours system I actually have a BA not a BSc, I do have undergraduate and masters degrees in science subjects (Biological Sciences, and Species Identification, respectively), but I’m still not convinced. Logically, some of this could stem from the fact that I am not actually employed in research. In reality, it’s probably because I don’t want to commit to a single label until people see that ‘scientist’ encompasses so many traits!
I certainly was not the classic ‘born scientist’, but I fell in love with biology as a teenager and pursued it as far as I could. My masters was no strategic career move – I just really wanted to learn to identify plants, animals, and shockingly to all including myself, moss. Honestly, there’s no beauty quite like watching a desiccated moss sample being revived with a few drops of water. The cells dry up when you keep them as herbarium specimens, but that makes them almost impossible to identify because the shapes of the tiny leaves are distorted. If you drop water onto the specimen, however, even if it has been dried and hidden away for years, by what seems some wonderful magic the leaves spring back to life, unfurling under the microscope before your eyes.

So when I speak to other biologists, I also am a biologist. But when I speak to other writers I am a blogger; when I speak to students I am a student leader; when I speak to someone who needs something organising I am an administrator…and through all of those things I am also a Christian, following Jesus whole-heartedly, and hoping that will impact those around me.

So what do you do with an identity that seemingly isn’t tied up in one field, but flits happily between several? Which label are you allowed to wear, when in some ways you’re a scientist but in other ways you’re not? Thankfully for me, I am lucky enough to have found a job that allows me to be a scientist and a Christian, at the same time as everything else.

Working for Christians in Science has been a big release for me, because I love and understand the subject matter and am hungry to know more about almost every aspect of the science-faith dialogue. My role also allows me to be creative and administrative, and gives me time – which I wouldn’t have if I was actively involved in research – to get things done practically for the organisation. Being able to resource so many research scientists, students, teachers, and others, in their walk with God is a real privilege.

It is always humbling to see God taking the eclectic strands of our lives that had previously been wisping all over the place, and weaving them together. It is encouraging that God sees our whole selves – all the facets of our being that he prompts us to invest in – and finds ways to work them together. It always reminds me how much wiser he is than me! He sees our science and our faith and knows how to bring them together. But he sees all the other elements too: our leadership skills, pastoral hearts, discernment, creativity, logical thinking, and everything else that we consider gifts and skills but perhaps haven’t quite known what we are meant to do with them in our professional lives.

As Ruth has blogged before, there is a great call for creativity in science. I believe that there is also a place in science for all our other gifts: being wise when we give advice to others, gracious in our set-backs, and discerning and pastoral in the staff-room. We don’t have to be given a role that specifies those things in the job description to work them into our professional lives.

So for me, defining who I am and what I do was never just a case of how I brought my science and my belief together. More than that, it has been about how I am able to bring all of myself together: in my pursuit of science, in my pursuit of fulfilment, and most importantly in my pursuit of God – covered in as many labels as possible.

Emily Sturgess blogs sporadically at, and is based in Oxford.

Reproduced with permission from Science and Belief.

Tags:  biology  Emily Sturgess  STEM 

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