Walk two beginning in Banchory
Preamble: The relationship between science and religion.
“In most of science we cannot prove that a theory or a model is correct, but we can ask is it consistent with our observations? In a similar way, I can’t prove that God exists, but I can ask, is Gods existence or non-existence more consistent with my experiences? For me, as a Christian, the existence of God is more consistent, and so I have chosen to live my life for the time being with the assumption that God does exist; trying to follow the example of Jesus in my life; studying the Bible, being part of a Christian community and listening to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Four possible relationships between science and religion have been suggested which are: in conflict, independent, in dialogue and integrated. Science and religion can intersect along a long fuzzy boundary where different questions are asked by science and religion about the same reality. Science and religion are immersed in an underlying unity that shares the same features of creativity community, beauty and wonder. Different questions can be asked about the same event. “Is the earth warming?” is a scientific question but “What should we do about climate change?” is a non-scientific question.”
Grosvenor Essay, Eric Priest
A number of facts about nature and the word in which we live such as the importance of the recycling of resources such as the decay of timber and the growth of bracket fungi and the power of nature as seen in the wind blow of trees.
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.”
Ecclesiastes 3, 1-8, 14
“We talk about DNA as if it is a template like a mould for car parts in a factory. But DNA isn’t like that. It’s more like a script. Think of Romeo and Juliet. Several productions have used Shakespeare’s script and yet have produced very different movies. Identical starting points: very different outcomes. That’s what happens when cells read the genetic code that’s in DNA. The same script can result in very different productions. The implications for human health are very wide ranging. Without anything happening to the DNA blueprint of people, their DNA didn’t mutate and yet life histories can be altered irrevocably in response to environment. Audrey Hepburn was one of the 20th centuries greatest Movie stars. Her beauty was created by terrible hardship. She was a survivor of the Dutch hunger winter the after-effects of which, including poor health, stayed with her for the rest of her life.”
Introduction in ‘The Epigenetics Revolution’, Nessa Carey
“Science is just as prone to mood swings and fashions as any other human activity. There was a period when the prevailing orthodoxy was that the only thing that mattered was our DNA script but the same script can be used differently depending on its cellular context but DNA remains important. Even if the script is perfect the final outcome can be awful if the interpretation is poor Genetics and epigenetics work together. DNA carries the code for all proteins, which carry out the activities, which keep us alive.”
Life as we knew it in ‘The Epigenetics Revolution’, Nessa Carey
Something for Hope
“At the present rate it must come to pass, and that right soon, that the meadow sweet and steeple bush, not good to eat, will have crowded out the edible grass.
Then all there is to do is wait for maple, birch and spruce to push through meadowsweet and steeplebush and crowd them out at a similar rate. No plough among these rocks would pay so busy yourself with other things while trees put on their wooden rings and with long sleeved branches hold their away.
Then cut down the trees when lumber grown and there’s your pristine earth all freed from blooming but wasteful weed and ready again for the grass to own.
A cycle we will say of a hundred years thus foresight does it and laissez-faire a virtue in which we all may share unless a government interferes.
Patience and looking away ahead and leaving some things to take their course Hope may not nourish a cow or horse but “spes alit agricolam” ‘tis said.”
(hope sustains the farmer)
from ‘Steeple Bush’, Robert Frost
Integration of man and nature; the breadth of view and the scale of human impact on visible creation. We make us of Creation in many ways such as by improving the species content of grassland, burning heather moorland so as to keep the heather young and vigorous and integrating our agricultural and forest practices. We now increasingly use the wind, which blow across our hills as a source of energy. Our Scientific knowledge helps us to make use of the riches of God’s creation.
“A body is not a single organ but many. Suppose the foot were to say because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body, it belongs to the body none the less. Suppose the ear, were to say because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body. It still belongs to the body. If the body were all eye how would it hear. If the body were all ear how could it smell. But in fact God appointed each limb and organ to its own place in the body as he chose. If the whole were a single organ there would not be a body at all. In fact there are many different organs but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand I do not need you. God has combined the various parts of the body giving special honour to the humbler parts so that there might be no divisions in the body but that all parts might feel the same concern for each other. If one part suffers all suffer together if one flourishes all rejoice together.”
1 Corinthians 12, 14-26
“The reduction of forest cover from about 90% of the land surface to less than 10% must have had a roughly proportional effect on many species. It is estimated that today there are about 35,000 pairs of greater spotted woodpecker in GB. This species is dependant on large trees for food. The original population was around 300,000 pairs. The Skylark has benefited from agriculture and must have been rare in pre-agricultural Britain, probably under 100,000 pairs while there are now around 4,000,000 pairs. The destruction of forest has reduced the total amount of woodland habitat and it has broken up the original continuous area into fragments. Thus populations reduced by habitat become fragmented although genetically connected with variability retained which matters if populations become genetically isolated and so inbred with a loss of variability and of the ability to adapt to changing conditions so becoming vulnerable to extinction.”
from ‘The Bird of Time’, NW Moore
The London Plane
“They felled the plane that broke the pavement slabs.
My next-door neighbour worried for his house. He said its roots had cracked his bedroom wall. The council sent tree surgeons and he watched. A thin man in the heat without a shirt.
They started at the top and then worked down. It took a day with one hour free for lunch. The trunk was carted off in useful logs.
The stump remained for two weeks after that. A wren sat on it once. Then back the tree men came with their machine. They chomped the stump and left a square of mud. All afternoon the street was strewn with bits. That night the wind got up and blew it bare.”
From ‘The Cinder Path’, Andrew Motion
Regeneration, new life and distant visions. Being able to see the tops of hills gives perspective to the landscape. We see change as the land goes upwards and away from us. The existence of hills makes us wonder why there are hills and how they came to be and why they are where they are. We are reminded of geological history and of how rocks came to be and of how they differ. The geology of Deeside is rich with evidence of volcanic action but also of the power of water and of glaciation all processes far beyond our control. As we look around we see evolutionary history laid out for us There are mosses such as Polytrichum which have been with us for as much as 500 million years, ferns with us since the Devonian and the mycorrhizal associations, obvious on the beech trees, which helped large plants exploit the earth’ crust. We also see a variety of wildlife exemplified by a range of butterflies.
“The message of the cross is sheer folly to those on the way to destruction but to us who are on our way to salvation it is the power of God. The folly of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God stronger than human strength. My human friends think what kind of people you are whom God has called. Few of you are wise by any human standard, few powerful or of any noble birth. Yet to shame the wise God has chosen what the world counts folly and to shame what is strong God has chosen what the world counts weakness.”
from 1 Corinthians 1, 18-18, 25-27
“Although the term mycorrhiza would seem to imply the association of fungi with roots the relationships are found between hyphal fungi and the organs of higher plants of whatever morphological origin, which are concerned with the absorption of substances from the soil. Mycorrhizas are the chief organs involved in nutrient uptake of most land plants The presence of the fungal associate of Mycorrhizal systems in the root region, on or in the root tissues and surrounding soil inevitably ensures that it influences the absorption of soil derived substances by the host and is influenced by substances exuded or lost by the host. In this respect the mycorrhizal fungus is a specialised member of the root region or rhizosphere entourage of micro-organisms Mycorrhizal infection usually increases the efficiency of nutrient absorption by its host from which the fungus directly obtains carbon compounds The essential difference between mycorrhizal associations and the general association of organisms with the root surface lies in the closeness of the relationship In Mycorrhizas there is always some penetration of the tissues or a recognisable structure conforming to one of the common patterns The difference of the mycorrhizal condition from disease depends on it being the normal state of both partners in at least some ecological situations. The partners are dependant upon one another and interchange of material takes place between their living cells.”
from ‘Mycorrhizal Symbiosis’, JL Harley and SE Smith
“Arbuscular Mycorrhizas have existed since Ordovician times and the presence of this root symbiosis in most families of extant land plants can only be explained by the maintenance of compatibility systems as new species appeared during evolution. Identification of molecular codes driving the co-ordinated development of plant and fungal partners provides not only the basis for deciphering implied cell programmes but also a starting block for optimising manipulation and management of the symbiosis for sustainable crop production. Establishment of the arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis follows a conserved sequence of developmental steps, which are independent of the fungal and plant species involved. One the first interface of contact is established plant accommodation of the fungal symbionts drives root penetration.
Cell to cell interactions leading to the finely tuned re-adjustments in plant and fungal tissues during mycorrhizal development must be the outcome of sophisticated signalling events between the symbiotic partners The first events occur in the rhizosphere where plant exudates not only stimulate or inhibit microbial activities through the production of metabolites but also act as messengers which initiate molecular dialogues between root and micro-organism.”
from ‘Mycorrhizas: Functional Processes and Ecological Impact’, Vivienne Gianinazzi Pearson, Marie Tollot and Pascale Seddas
The adaptability of nature.
Plants adapt to the environment in which they find themselves even after stressful natural events such as high winds. Birch trees had been pushed over by high winds but had regrown from a horizontal position This reminds us that difficult times happen and can be adjusted to although often with evidence that there have been serious issues.
“Listen Job to this argument stop and consider Gods wonderful works. Do you know how God assigns them to their tasks, how he sends light flashing from his clouds?
Then the Lord answered Job out of the tempest. Where were you when I laid the earths foundations?
In all your life have you ever called up the dawn or assigned the morning to its place? Have you taught it to grasp the fringes of the earth and shake the dog star from the sky; to bring up the horizon in relief as clay under a seal, until all things stand out like the fold s of a cloak, when the light of the dog star is dimmed and the stars of the navigators line go out one by one.
Which is the way to the home of light and where does darkness dwell? Can you then take each to its appointed boundary and escort it on its homeward path? Doubtless you know, for you were already born how long is the span of your life!
Can you command the clouds to envelope you in a deluge of rain? If you bid lightening speed on its way, will it say to you I am ready? Who put wisdom in depths of darkness and veiled understanding in secrecy? Who is wise enough to marshal the rain clouds and empty the cisterns of heaven when the dusty soil sets in a dense mass and the clod s of earth stick fast together?”
Job 37, 14-15, 38, 12-15, 19-21, 34-38
The living soil
“The soil is as a matter of fact full of living organisms. It is essential to conceive of it as something pulsating with life and not as a dead or inert mass. There could be no greater misconception than to regard the earth as dead; a handful of soil is teaming with life. The living fungi bacteria and protozoa invisibly present in the soil complex are know as the soil population. This population of minute existences pursue their own lives. They come into being, grow, work and die. They are divided into groups fitted to exist under all sorts of conditions
This lively and exciting life of the soil is the first thing which sets in motion the great wheel of life. Not without truth have poets and priests paid worship to mother earth. The source of our being. What poetry or religion have vaguely celebrated science has minutely examined. It is this life which is continually being passed into the plant.”
from ‘Farming or gardening for health or disease’, Albert Howard
“Loveliest of trees, the cherry now is hung with bloom along the bough and stands about the woodland ride wearing white for Eastertide.
Now of my three score years and ten twenty will not come again and take from seventy springs a score it only leaves me fifty more.
And since to look at things in bloom fifty springs are little room about the woodland s I will go to see the cherry hung with snow.”
From ‘The Shropshire Lad’, AE Houseman
The wonders of God’s creation are there to be seen wherever we find ourselves but for many they are most evident in our wilder areas. Here the impact of man is at its smallest. Man may have modified the landscape through forestry and agriculture but these tend to act as a mere superficial clothing on the fabric of creation and of the evidence, which exists of the care of our creator for his creation over many millions of years. When we walk along the course of the River Dee in Aberdeenshire we cannot but be impressed with the evidence of the working of natural processes over geological time and over a period when we as a species have been present for such a short time. What we see is the result of processes in which we have had only a marginal influence. We experience species which have been present for as much as a thousand times the life of our species and which seem likely to be present after we have evolved into what we know not. It is through this sense of awe and smallness that we can approach scripture and all it tells us of our creators continuing involvement with his creation and all he has done for us. Over the past half millennium we have used the scientific method to help us to explain what we see and how things work. This however for most of us is not an alternative explanation to how things are but can help us in our reading of scripture by pointing out the complexity of Gods creation, the wonder of how things have been developed to work. It also reminds us that we can see things with very different eyes depending from the direction from which we look. These readings are offered as an aid to understanding just how a pilgrimage journey along the river Dee can help us in seeing the multiple ways in which science can add to our faith and what we gain from our reading of scripture.