Yesterday 22nd September was the Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere. It signals the end of the Spring and Summer half of the year and the start of the Autumn and Winter half; when the nights are longer than the days and temperatures fall. This is because of the combined result of the angle of incline of the earth’s axis and its annual orbit around the sun.
For a photograph I’ve chosen a view of the River Cam in the City of Cambridge England, taken a few days after the Autumn Equinox in 2015. This is an image iconic of Cambridge University, both one of the oldest and also one of the leading research-based universities in the world today. The well-kept grounds and gardens of many of the historic Cambridge colleges back on to the river in an area of the city known as “The Backs”.
I’ve chosen this photograph of Cambridge for the connection with Sir Isaac Newton (1642 -1726). Of the many influential scientists in the history of Cambridge University he is perhaps the most famous of all. It is Newton who provided the principles enabling us to understand and predict the earth’s orbit and the pattern of ‘wobble’ of the earth’s axis which affects the timing of the Equinox .His astronomical work, with his understanding of gravity and motion, and work on optics, places him with Galileo in importance.
Newton is also a significant figure whose thought repays being studied for a better understanding of possibilties in the relationship between science and religion. For Newton greater scientific knowledge of the world enhanced rather than detracted from his belief in divine creation.
Many people today would see a leading centre of scientific research like Cambridge University as determinative of the question of whether God exists; and the latest opinion on this question of its most famous contemporary physicist and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, is eagerly sought.
Nonetheless Cambridge University also includes many leading modern scientists of religious faith. The Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University until he resigned his Chair to study for the Anglican priesthood and become a significant exponent of a mutually positive relationship between science and religion. He was President of Queens’ College Cambridge for 8 years.
Today Cambridge is also the home of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion an interdisciplinary research centre which also promotes public understanding of science and religion. It is named for another hugely influential English scientist, Michael Faraday (born on 22nd September 1791, died 1867) a person of Christian faith who had a profound sense of the presence of God in nature.