The living world is beautiful, intricate, and highly ordered. Organisms flourish across virtually every location on earth, and biological scientists are constantly discovering more about them. These findings spark awe in those who study the natural world, and also raise questions about the meaning of what we see. What’s so special about life? Why are we here? Where is it all heading? This is the message of the Wonders of the Living World book which becomes available tomorrow (look out for discounts at the Faraday Institute shop, which will go live next week).
How can we communicate this sense of wonder and exploration in our churches? We have produced six free sessions for adult small groups that explore each the main topics in the book by looking briefly at the science, meeting someone involved in the research and hearing about their faith, doing some Bible study and unpacking the theological questions that are raised by the science. Each session is 60 minutes long, and uses a series of short videos as well as pointers for discussion and reflection. The material is free, but we suggest you get hold of at least one copy of the WOTLW book so you can follow up the parts that interest you most – as well as enjoying the illustrations and photographs.
The main question asked in the book is, is what we see through the lens of science compatible with the existence of a loving, purposeful God? Each chapter explores the living world at a different level, starting with tiny molecules and ending up with whole ecosystems. On the way we encounter some new metaphors, including artistic molecules, the map of life, and the snuggle for existence. These ways of thinking are a refreshing change from the sometimes negative way we are encouraged to think about the world in relation to questions of meaning and purpose.
The aim of the church study material is twofold. First, we want to help you revel in a little scientific exploration for its own sake, enjoying the beauty and wonder of creation and praising its creator. We also want to give you the opportunity to explore the bigger theological or philosophical questions that science raises but cannot answer on its own. Sometimes we get caught up in debates or hot topics on science and faith – which are important but not the whole story. We want to enable you to think about the big questions of meaning and purpose that can open up fruitful conversations with friends, family and colleagues.
The best place to start is with the three introductory-level sessions. These cover the topics:
- beauty (The Dance of the Cells/embryonic development);
- curiosity (One in a Million?/the genetic code);
- and hope (Living Cities/creation care).
There are three further (advanced) sessions for groups that are more confident with learning new material or are keen to explore in more depth:
- The Snuggle for Existence (cooperation);
- creation (Artistic Molecules/order from disorder);
- and purpose (The Map of Life/convergent evolution).
To run each session all you need are something to play the videos (YouTube or mp4 download), a copy of the leaders notes, a briefing sheet for each participant and – if you think they will help your group – one or more copies of the video transcripts. The study material hopefully provides everything you need in order to understand the science, but you might want to have someone with a bit of scientific background to hand in case there are any questions.
I’ll leave you with a sample video to whet your appetite: