Annie Russell Maunder: the Sun, the Heavens and their story


Annie Russell MaunderAnnie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell) (14 April 1868 – 15 September 1947) was an Irish astronomer and mathematician. She became a renowned observer and photographer of solar eclipses, and an expert in sunspots.

She was born in Strabane, a town in the county of Tyrone, in Northern Ireland, as the daughter of a Presbyterian minister. She had a university education, having sat the Mathematical Tripos at the University of Cambridge in 1889, but was not awarded a degree; this was not possible for women at the time. She started working at the Royal Observatory in 1891. As the telescopes at Greenwich were specifically designed for photographing the Sun, Annie worked alongside her colleagues in taking the photographs, making notes, developing the plates and reviewing the images in detail.

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Pope John Paul II: Science as an encounter with God


Pope John Paul II on Scientists growing in faith 13 Nov 2000

On 02 April 2005, Pope John Paul II, died. His was the third longest pontificate in the Church’s history. He led a sincere dialogue between the realms of culture and scientific research, and the documents he authored in this field represent the most extensive teachings ever produced in a single pontificate and involve all the principal spheres of rapport between science and the faith.

In an address to the members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 13 November  2000, he said, he reminded us scientists on the importance of growing in our personal encounter with God:

“Every scientist, through personal study and research, completes himself and his own humanity. … Scientific research constitutes for you, as it does for many, the way for the personal encounter with truth, and perhaps the privileged place for the encounter itself with God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Science shines forth in all its value as a good capable of motivating our existence, as a great experience of freedom for truth, as a fundamental work of service. Through research each scientist grows as a human being and helps others to do likewise. “

Kathleen Lonsdale: Crystallographer, mother of three, university professor, Quaker, pacifist and more



Kathleen Lonsdale (28 January 1903 – 1 April 1971) was an Irish-born British crystallographer. She was was born in County Kildare, Ireland, the youngest of ten children.

Lonsdale excelled in mathematics and science, and went to attend classes at the boys’ Grammar School because they were not offered at the girls’ school. She was only 16 when she entered Bedford College, University of London, and in 1922 she took her degree in physics, achieving the highest marks of any student for ten years. Professor William Henry Bragg then invited her to join his team researching X-ray diffraction at University College London. In 1927, she married engineer Thomas Lonsdale, and moved with him to Leeds, where as part of the chemistry department she conclusively demonstrated the crystal structure of benzene.

Though it may appear as if Kathleen’s career was destined to take a back seat to her husband’s, Thomas valued and enthusiastically supported Kathleen’s. He had not married, he said, to get a free housekeeper. They went shopping together, once a week, for supplies and Kathleen specialized in meals that took thirty minutes to prepare. Thomas set up some apparatus of his own design at home, with which to measure the torsional properties of annealed metal wires for his Ph.D. degree; while he experimented in the evenings, Kathleen did calculations. In 1929 their first child, a daughter (Jane), was born. Soon afterwards, the family returned to London where Thomas obtained a post at the Road Research Laboratory. Their second daughter, Nancy, was born in 1931, and their son, Stephen, in 1934. [1]

In fact, when Kathleen thought about the conditions which lead to her success, she noted:

 “For a woman, and especially a married woman with children, to become a first class scientist, she must first of all choose, or have chosen, the right husband.  He must recognize her problems and be willing to share them. If he is really domesticated, so much the better. Then she must really be a good organizer and be pretty ruthless in keeping to her schedule, no matter if the heavens fall. She must be able to do with very little sleep, because her working week will be twice as long as the average trades unionist’s. She must go against all her early training and not care if she is regarded as a little peculiar. She must be willing to accept additional responsibility, even if she feels she has more than enough. But above all, she must learn to concentrate in any available moment and not require ideal conditions in which to do so.“ [2]

In 1931, she returned to work with Bragg at the Royal Institute, staying there for 15 years. She was awarded a DSc in 1936, and in 1945, along with microbiologist, Marjory Stephenson, she became one of the first women Fellows of the Royal Society. She was Professor of Chemistry and Head of the Department of Crystallography, University College, London, from 1949 to 1968. She was the first tenured woman professor at that college, a position she held until 1968 when she was named Professor Emeritus.

During WWII, Lonsdale sheltered refugees, and in 1943, she spent a month in jail for refusing to register for civil defence duties or to pay the consequent fine of £2. After WWII, she became an anti-nuclear campaigner.

In the Arthur Stanley Eddington Memorial lecture (1964), Kathleen Lonsdale said:

If we knew all the answers there would be no point in carrying out scientific research. Because we do not, it is stimulating, exciting, challenging. So too is the Christian life, lived experimentally. If we knew all the answers it would not be nearly such fun.

In 1966, lonsdaleite, a rare form of meteoric diamond, was named after her. Wryly, she wrote to Clifford Frondel at Harvard University, who suggested the name:

“Certainly the name seems appropriate since the mineral only occurs in very small quantities (perhaps rare would be too flattering) and is generally rather mixed up!”

Lonsdale died in 1971 of cancer, possibly caused by her prolonged exposure to X-rays.



Quakers in the world: Kathleen Lonsdale (1903-1971) 

Kylie Miller and Stephen M. Contakes: Crystallographer, Quaker, Pacifist, & Trailblazing Woman of Science: Kathleen Lonsdale’s Christian Life “Lived Experimentally” in God and Nature, Summer 2014

[1] Hodgkin, Dorothy M.C. “Kathleen Lonsdale, 28 January 1903 – 1 April 1971” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 21 (1975) Hodgkin, Dorothy M.C. “Kathleen Lonsdale, 28 January 1903 – 1 April 1971” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 21 (1975)

[2] Lonsdale, Kathleen “Women in Science – why so few?  Laboratory Equipment Digest  February 1971, pg. 85, as quoted in Hodgkin, Dorothy M.C. “Kathleen Lonsdale, 28 January 1903 – 1 April 1971” Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society 21 (1975), pg. 474.


God: Deus ex machina or transcendent actor?


In the article “Bridging a false divide” (First Things, 2014), Bishop Robert Barron touches on several topics, but this thought touches on God’s nature and Divine Action in Creation and is worth sharing:

King David - Walter Habdank

“One of the characteristics of the books of Samuel is that God’s activity, though clear and definite, is never in competition with human agency. According to the author of these texts, the God of Israel never “intervenes” or appears as a deus ex machina.

In fact, the entire narrative — from David’s youth, through his adventures with Saul and Jonathan, to his accession to the kingship and his ultimate demise — makes perfect sense when read through psychological or political lenses. It is a coherent human story. But at the same time, the author insists that through all of this very human drama, through these ordinary events and activities, God is working his purposes out.

But such a state of affairs is possible only if God is not one finite cause among many, not one more item in a nexus of conditioned agencies. Only if God is construed as a properly transcendent actor could this sort of arrangement obtain, for otherwise he would be jostling for position on the same playing field with human agents.

And this, of course, is precisely what we find within the biblical context, wherein God is presented, not as an item, however supreme, within the world, but as the creator of the world in its entirety. Second Isaiah signals this truth with particular clarity by highlighting, over and again, the qualitative otherness of the creator God. Yahweh is not only greater than the other gods; he is incomparable to them.”

Note: this text was first shared in 2014 on the SMF facebook page.

Picture: King David by Walter Habdank

Previous post on this topic on our blog: Is God a Puppet Master?

25 March 1655, the discovery of Titan


On 25 March 1655, the Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens discovered Titan, the first known moon of Saturn. It is the only natural satellite known to have a dense atmosphere. Titan is primarily composed of water ice and rocky material.

The colorful globe of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, passes in front of the planet and its rings in this true color snapshot from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft taken on May 21, 2011 and released on Dec. 22.


Scientists reflect on their faith (VII)


Sy Garte

Dr. Sy Garte is biochemist and published more than 200 scientific publications in genetics, epidemiology, the environment and other areas. He has been a Professor of Public Health and Environmental Health Sciences at New York University, UMDNJ, and the University of Pittsburgh. He recently retired as Division Director of Physiological and Pathological Sciences at the Center for Scientific Review of the National Institutes of Health. In this position he had overall supervision of the review of about 15,000 biomedical research grants per year.  He is currently Visiting Professor of Toxicology and Pharmacology at Rutgers University and President of the Natural Philosophy Institute.

He is a fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation (ASA), he was a member of the Board of Advisors of the John Templeton Foundation, and has consulted and blogged for the Biologos Foundation.  He has contributed to the ASA publications God and Nature and Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith. He is the Editor in Chief of God and Nature. He is a Certified Lay Servant of the United Methodist Church. He blogs at The Book of Works and his twitter account is @sygarte.

Dr. Sy Garte is a colleague of mine as administrators for the Facebook group Celebrating Creation by Natural Selection and I have read – and shared on the SMF facebook page – many excellent contributions. Here comes a brief summary:

In the article Stochastic Grace (2015, resp 2010), he said:

What sort of journey led me from my youth of fervent atheism to where I am today? The answer is simple: God called me, insistently and clearly, though it took me decades to finally listen and hear.”

“But in order to fully accept the gift [of God’s grace], and to know that I belong to Christ, body and soul, I needed to reconcile this new faith with my scientific sense of reason.”

“We know from physics that our world is stochastic, not strictly deterministic. In other words, it changes according to seemingly “random” influences, allowing for—even insisting on—creativity and surprise at every turn. It is beautiful, not dull; highly complex, not simple. Biological organisms appear to have been formed with the innate ability to evolve. And human beings, organisms with a soul, represent the grandest mystery of all.”

In our facebook group, he said in September 2014 that yes, there is design in biology, but it is not intelligent design. it is Divine Design:

“Evidence certainly is consistent with design in biology. Of course we, and jelly fish and oak trees, are designed. But the design is not intelligent. Instead there is an unconscious design process that is inherent in Darwinian evolution. What we see on this planet is an amazing and unspeakably beautiful diversity of life, all of clearly designed to perform at a peak of function. This is far beyond mere intelligence. And then, when we consider the miraculous, majestic processes that govern how life evolves without any need for a creative act for each separate species of beetle or termite, we can only sink to our knees in worship at the glory of the creator of life and all of its processes. Therefore, what we see behind that Creation of the universe and life on this planet is better characterized as Divine Design. To call God, the ultimate designer, “intelligent” as if He were a clever engineer is insulting, making God too small.”

In his essay Evolution and Imago Dei (2012), he said:

“The concept of Imago Dei is under attack. Some militant atheists have tried to use evolutionary theory (among other things) to show that there is nothing at all special about human beings. Mistakenly thinking that science supports this view, some Christian philosophers have put forward the idea that Imago Dei is not limited to the creation of human beings but to all biological creation. I believe that this is not only bad theology, but also terrible science.”

Man, himself, is an exception to the primacy of genetics on behavior. The behavioral phenotype (or visible characteristics of organisms) of human societies has been changing continuously for at least 40,000 years, and while the direction of that change has been constant, the rate of change has been increasing in an exponential manner. At the same time, there have been very few changes in genotype to account for these phenotypic modifications. Humans have also brought about behavioral phenotype changes in domesticated species like dogs and cattle, through training, genetic selection, and breeding, and in some wild animals by environmental alterations.

To our knowledge, we are the only species that has done this. Our evolution is no longer genetic, but cultural. And our cultural evolution is driven not by our genes but by our unique brains. The ordinary processes of genetic evolution gave us these brains, but then the brains took over. As a result, the way we live is completely different from the way human beings lived 40,000 years ago. It is different from the way human beings lived 400 years ago, and even 4 years ago. For all other species, this is not the case. From what we can tell, the chimpanzees of today live exactly as they did 4 million years ago.”

In Science and Scientism in Biology: The Origin of Morality (2013), Sy Garte analyzes the limits of science in explaining morality:

“[T]he scientific consensus, especially in evolutionary biology, has always been that nature is morally neutral. We know, as scientists, that sharks are not “bad” any more than dolphins are “good.” The true evolutionary view (I always thought) was that fitness is related to success, not goodness.”

And to conclude, Sy is building bridges:

“I don’t believe in God of the gaps, but in God of the bridges. When science builds a bridge over a gap in knowledge, that’s where God is.”

(shared already previously on this blog)

sy garte divine design