Discussion

The following dinner/discussion was held at St Edmunds College after the public lecture on 22nd October 2002. Brief biographies of the contributors are provided at the end.

David Wilkinson

Brian Heap asked me to summarize what I said in my lecture. What I tried to reflect upon was first of all the power of the media and some of the attitudes within science and theology that sometimes underestimate the power of the media and its importance.

I tried to raise the question of why the conflict hypothesis is so dominant in much of the discourse that occurs within the media and what implications that might have for education, for the attitude of the churches, and for the way we popularize both science and theology. I don’t think that popularization comes naturally, so it has to be worked on and it has to be thought about quite carefully. I then tried to raise the issue of the focus on the person that occurs within the media: personal stories, the cult of the personality, and what that means, specifically from a Christian perspective, where you have to contrast humility with a very person-centred understanding of the revelation of God. It is interesting that, as we were just talking about over dinner about, the doctrine of providence is intricately related to personal stories. The person is very important to Christian theology and proclamation.

After that I talked about the opportunities for exploring the relationship between science and religion in popular culture, the way that certain movies such as Star Wars raise issues which in any other context you find raised in a lecture series. I made a plea to hold together intellect and imagination, valuing both rather than separating them. My feeling is that Christian apologetics has often gone down the road of the intellect at the expense of the imagination. It is important to hold the two together in the communication of science, stimulating the imagination to excite people about science.

I then began to run out of time, as you might have noticed, and I wanted to say a little bit about how we communicate faithfully the complexity of the nature both of scientific models and the pursuit of truth, and religious claim for truth, and the methodology involved in that in contrast to various very stereotypical views that are often presented which are very simplistic. And then I tried to suggest that taking particular issues is a helpful way to get into the broader questions of science and religion and if I had had time I might have illustrated that with reference to the debate about the search for extra-terrestrial intelligence and say something about the end of the Universe, in which I have particular interests. I find that by exploring those as particular issues, then you open up a whole dialogue with people both in science and technology and popular culture and there are many ways to explore some of the fundamental questions.

Derek Burke

I would like to pick up on this idea of conflict. As you say it is very deep-seated in our culture. You notice it most obviously (you’ll have had experience of it and so have I), when you do a radio interview and the producer has to find somebody who disagrees with you violently. I had an experience over Genetic Modification when I was meant to debate with someone from the Natural Law Society, because that’s the only person they could find who didn’t believe in genetic modification. But he did believe in levitation, so it was an odd discussion.

I’m serious that that goes very deep into our society. We have an adversarial legal system, and in our Reformation one side was right and another side was wrong. That’s very much part of European and North American culture, that there is a debate to be had about who is right and who is wrong. That’s not true of all societies, but that’s another question. So in a way, David, I think we can’t avoid conflict because our society resolves controversial issues by setting up conflicts, and science works by resolving conflicts. Is there such a thing as cold fusion or not? There isn’t. So how do you avoid this flopping over into the science-faith debate, is my question?

Stephen Plant

Just a brief comment because it follows on from this: we’ve established as a matter of our culture that conflict is deep rooted. The second reason why it may be important to maintain the conflict model or at least to continue the conflict models as an aspect of science-religion debate is that there are some points, as I think you indicated in the lecture, where science and religion do offer what are essentially competing accounts of things. I don’t have the expertise that you have in the scientific side of that, but I am conscious when reading philosophies of science that there is a world view represented in the philosophy of science which, as you described it, maps the Universe and there are places where that map differs from the theological account.

John Lennox

Following on from that, I would want first to argue, as Colin Russell does, that there is no conflict between science and theology in principle. However, there is real conflict at another level – that of world-views. Atheistic naturalism clashes head on with theism. That the world-view conflict is not a conflict between science and religion is shown, amongst other things, by the fact that there are distinguished scientists representing each world view.

Denis Alexander

I was reflecting on what Derek Burke was saying about conflict. I would certainly agree that we live in a society where the media like conflict because it sells all the things that we’ve been hearing about this evening. But I am not so sure about the idea that our society is intrinsically adversarial and that this stance was nurtured by the Reformation, with conflict as it were ‘spilling over’ into the realm of science and religion. There was plenty of political conflict in early nineteenth century Britain, both within the Empire and between the Empire and the rest of the world, but at the same time science in Britain was still carried out within the framework of natural theology well into the 19th century. The idea of ‘conflict’ between science and religion was a relative latecomer to the British scene and did not become prominent until the late 19th century. Colin Russell’s name has already been mentioned in this discussion and it is of course Professor Russell who has drawn attention to the roots of the so-called ‘conflict thesis’ in the professionalisation of science that gathered pace in the latter half of the 19th century.

What is amazing to me is how the conflict hypothesis has kept going for so long. I doubt that any serious historian of science would dream of putting the ‘conflict thesis’ forward as an over-arching model to describe the relationship between science and faith, but getting that across to the media just seems very difficult. Changing a culture is, I suppose, a very hard undertaking.

Brian Heap: Charles – what about the North American perspective on this?

Charles Carrigan

One reason I am here is to better understand the range of popular views of British Christians with regard to the intersection of science and theology. I sense that there is much more agreement among them about how God interacts with His creation than there is among Christians in the US. There also seems to be a significant polarization or conflict in the U.S. between Christians and the scientific community, in general. Certainly, I would like to more fully understand the origin of that polarization. Given the conflict and the polarization that exists among Christians themselves, I was wondering if Dr. Wilkinson would have presented the same Templeton lecture to a U.S. audience. In America, we have the constitutional separation of church and state and I’ve already learnt some important lessons about how our government is perceived by U.S. Christians regarding its impact on teaching in schools and research in universities on topics at the interface of science and theology. There are undoubtedly other factors that contribute to this sense of polarization and I would welcome any comments from people that might provide some enlightenment about the differences between our two countries.

Adrian Louis

On this topic of conflict – I guess this idea you were bringing forward is that conflict sells papers. In addition, we need to simplify what we say, and focus on personalities. There is increasing pressure on us to become more media savvy. Just this afternoon all of us who are academic staff in the Chemistry department received an email from a journalist we apparently hired to help publicize our work. The department even has a glossy magazine which does a very good job of focusing on personalities, and thumping our own chest of how good we are. Now I believe that it works, at least we seem to be bringing in a lot of money from industry. Bus as a Christian and as a scientist I sometimes feel uncomfortable with this need to blow our own trumpets, to focus on selected personalities instead of the whole team, and on the trend to simplify to the point of distortion.Richard Carter: I’d like to make a link between conflict and some of the things you were saying towards the end of your talk about holding together intellect and imagination, the nature of science and religion, and I wonder if the conflict is more to do with popular perception of method between science and religion than anything else. The public still, I think, has a very strong faith in science even if its faith in, say, the medical profession has been a bit knocked in recent years; but the popular understanding of religious method, if you like, theological method, is very different and you seemed to be suggesting that they were much the same in fact.
Peter Collins: An extra dimension, I think, on this conflict discussion is the view that not only must there be two sides to each issue (and preferably not more because it’s too complicated), but that they are of intrinsically equal merit. I’ve stopped listening to the "Today" programme because it is so binary. Every view, however daft, gets equal time, and I can’t deal with that at six in the morning. We are worried about saying "this is better than that" and one of the reasons that the research assessment exercise creates such a stir is that it involves making explicit these judgments. I think it is characteristic of society now that we are afraid of value judgments and that’s part of the conflict.

Hyung Choi

I’m just following up what John Lennox says. We were talking about the fact that in the media world, the "conflict" themes really sell. But I would like to pay attention to what kinds of conflicts are being presented when the media is dealing with the issues of religion and science. If the media is to be more accurate and fair, the conflict it presents should not be between science and religion. Rather, it should be between different perspectives on the relationship between science and religion. Hence, I think it is vital for Christian scientists to do what Wilkinson has encouraged us to do, i.e., we need to make use of the media more effectively to present our perspectives on science and religion. Then, people will start to see that scientists have different ideas about the relationship between science and religion – so that they would see the issues as they are; not just as "science versus religion".

The other point I want to make is that, even in the media, there may be a stronger "sell" than "conflict". The fundamental marketing principle tells us that people will buy what they want to have. If one can offer things that people want to see and hear, then they will "sell" in the media. That is why sex sells, violence sells, and religion sells, etc. The question is whether we have what people really want to see and hear. I believe that we do. I believe that, in the hearts of every human being, there is a deep desire to know Ultimate Reality (or God) that might give them the true meaning of life. Christian scientists should "sell" their understanding of the ultimate reality and truth more to the public.

David Wilkinson

Yes, so many rich points here. Just to pick up on that one, we need to be careful in saying that only conflict sells. There is lots of good television and radio which actually isn’t about conflict. David Attenborough rarely indulges in conflict within say, ‘The Blue Planet’. There’s a great deal of good media that’s produced where the medium of conflict isn’t used.

The second is to be clear where we’re locating the conflict. I had conflict on Sunday night with my eight-year old son over his homework. Both he and I were convinced that it was a conflict over his writing; it took my wife to say to me that the conflict actually stemmed from the fact that both of us were very tired, and that was the secondary aspect that was going on. I think what I was trying to say in terms of conflict hypothesis is not that there aren’t real conflicts in world views, or that conflict is necessarily a bad thing, because I think there’s a part of Christian apologetics which is about the challenging of world views because it’s a matter of truth and conflict is involved in the arguing for truth. But it’s a misrepresentation of the history and the reality in the relationship of science and religion in the conflict hypothesis which I’m arguing against. And that draws away so much good dialogue and so much good work that can be done on where the real conflicts are at by this misrepresentation of the reality. Another thing I am fascinated in is this idea of equal merit, that all points of view are of equal merit and therefore you have to balance one against the other. Conflict is more engaging and fruitful if we get away from that and reflect the reality of the situation.

The point about method I think is very important, I think it links in with where you identify the conflict. If you move away to the reality of the nature of science and religion, you are able to see both the similarities in the method and the dissimilarities in method which are important to hold together in tension as well as the world views. The North American aspect I’ve not thought about. In practice in North America I wouldn’t give that talk for the reasons that you’ve articulated to me, which I hadn’t understood.

Derek Burke

This is very interesting, David, keep going - why wouldn’t you have given the talk in North America?

Brian Heap

How would you change it?

David Wilkinson

I think I’m making assumptions in this culture that we’re wanting to integrate science and Christian faith in a much greater whole, whereas with the North American culture there is that stand off, it seems to me, going on and to go to one side of the standoff, I’m immediately baptized into a certain community; now I think that’s what I am trying to say. I’d need to think about it some more.

Brian Heap

But the USA example, is very telling in this context because I think from the experience we’ve had with our discussions with the National Academy of Sciences, where there is great concern about the extent to which so many people in the USA are polarized on the creationist position that they have spent a lot of time in putting together documents trying to redress that particular problem with very limited success, I think.

Derek Burke

So it is an "I win, you lose" situation!

Brian Heap

A classic example of what we’re talking about, a conflict situation.

Ard Louis

There is a very fascinating book, "The Democratization of American Christianity" written by a historian called Nathan Hatch, where he describes how the American Church grew with the common man having much more influence than what we have seen in much of Europe. From my five years living there I would say that there’s a much stronger, populist, anti-hierarchal and anti-authoritarian attitude, so that if the National Academy of Sciences comes out and says this or that is true, few people sitting in the pews actually care.

Charles Carrigan

I think it’s even worse than that. Because of the state of polarization or conflict that exists between many U.S. Christians and the Government as represented by the National Academy of Science, pronouncements by that body on issues relatable to science and theology will often tend to be interpreted as being anti-religious or anti-Christian whether or not they are intended to be. Rightly or wrongly, it is also very difficult to listen to and accept views about the intersection of science and theology of an organization that may be perceived as being rather antireligious in its makeup (Note: see Nature v.396, p. 313, 1998). This may explain, in part, the difficulties alluded to by Professor Heap that the National Academy has faced in dealing with evolution and the origin-of-life issues.

Ard Louis

The other point is that at grass roots level, there is a strong feeling amongst many Christians that this separation leads to the marginalization of Christian views and practice in secondary schools. The science/Christianity debate is often the vehicle through which this uneasiness is expressed. Instead of being a more intellectual question regarding "What is the relation between science and Christianity?", the debate is conflated with questions like "What are my children allowed to be taught at school?" Such emotional overtones make the arguments much more heated and complicated than what we experience over here.

Charles Carrigan

It certainly does get complicated with regard to knowing when it’s appropriate to bring God into a public discussion that is not even particularly religious in nature. Depending on how the courts interpret the Constitution, it may seem inappropriate to mention God in almost any public situation, and this is interpreted by many to be anti-religious and that’s a concern.

Oonagh Corrigan

I just want to make a comment because I feel I’m slightly external to this, as a non-scientist, as a sociologist, so my observations are based outside so there I’m a bit more a public mediated by the media and also my religious Christian links are somewhat tenuous, so what I would see as being part of this opposition is a problem with the need to assert true claims. What I am intrigued by and would like to see more of, both within science and within religion, is an acknowledgment of uncertainty in this way. I think if we weren’t always looking for answers from scientists and if the scientists themselves didn’t always feel, because I mean from my limited social research in science I of course look at packings of scientific answers there is a great deal of uncertainty on lots of issues and there’s also a lot of contingency, but science and religion have been set up to have the answers so how does this sit well with the promotion of science , will we start saying "Well actually I’m not sure" if they were more humble what it is and less - well scientists often get extremely enamoured with their viewpoints. So I don’t know if that’s another way of looking at the problem.

Brian Heap

It’s an interesting point because one of the things that came out strongly at the Annual General Meeting of the Templeton Foundation which Sir John Templeton, at the age of 89 and very sharp, addressed himself personally, namely a big new idea that he wanted to see developed through the Templeton Foundation. It consisted of unlimited love on the one hand and adopting a position of humility on the other hand. It was quite a telling statement he made to about 80 people on his Advisory Group from all shades of religion, not just Christianity. That is one element we do not have represented here tonight round the table, that is the views that are reflected by other world religions in addition to Christianity.

Clare Netherton

I was just going to John Lennox - on what you were saying about the importance of accepting that there is uncertainty and I think you have to be patient for that to change because it has to occur within an educational context quite early on, and I think there’s wider ramifications for that. And it has to do with - some say that the public perception is that there has to be a right and a wrong answer and these are mutually exclusive and that the media’s saying that’s my conflict, that’s going to sell. At the same time I think we need to address that they can co-exist, but then if we do that we have to say at a school age level that it’s OK not to have a right and a wrong answer within the current educational climate, certainly within the UK and also from my experience in North America, although it’s different in terms of what the outcome measures are, it’s quite difficult to encompass that sort of uncertainty into measurable education and I think that sets the stall OK we can say that there’s conflict in society and that is where it’s based on and equally that is reflected within how we educate.

Bob White

There are some interesting similarities in the way we deal with truth in Christianity and in science. It is an absolutely essential and crucial cornerstone of Christianity that Jesus was the son of God and that he rose from the dead. As St. Paul said, if that isn’t true then Christians, of all people, are the most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:19). So there is a real truth claim in Christianity which may be uncomfortable for people to hear, but which is either true or it’s false: either Jesus did rise from the dead and was God, or he didn’t and wasn’t.

There are close similarities, I think, to science. For example, if you let go of a ball from up here it will fall to the floor, and it will do that time after time after time after time in exactly the same way. While I take it to be part of the graciousness of God that he’s made this Universe of His a consistent place in which to live, where the material world always behaves in the same way, nevertheless scientists have a truth claim to say that if you drop a ball it will always fall at the same speed. In the same way, Christians make a truth claim that Jesus is the son of God and rose from the dead. So there are close similarities in the way that scientists and Christians treat truth. They are actually much closer bedfellows than society at large, with its post-modern views, may think. The dominant present-day attitude amongst much of the public at large, including the media and also the academic post-modernists, is to say that "what’s true for you is very nice, I’m very happy for it, but that’s true for you and it’s not necessarily true for me". So it seems to me that the main conflict today is between the populist view in society at large of a lack of absolute values, and the Christian and scientists’ view that there is indeed absolute truth and untruth.

John Lennox

So you’re really saying Bob that, in the debate on postmodernism, Christians and scientists are very much on the same side vis a vis truth. As a scientist and a Christian I would want to maintain a critical realist’s view of truth – that there is truth out there and that, although our science never gives us a complete grasp of it, nevertheless, we are getting a better and better handle on it.

Of course that is not to deny that there are subjective elements in science, but to leap from that to the conviction that science is nothing more than a social construct, the "scientists’ story", seems to me to result (at least in part) from an unwarranted confusion between science itself and the uses to which science has been put. For example, a scientist may, because of a grudge against society, try to poison the water supply of a city. The grudge certainly has all the characteristics of a social construct, but the chemistry of the poison does not, as any unfortunate who drinks it will find out! It is an altogether extreme reaction to the (false) claim that science is completely objective, to say that it is completely subjective.

Oonagh Corrigan

I think it’s just another unfortunate polar position, isn’t it? And I would agree with Bob White, that science and religion do have far more in common if you begin to start posting it against post-modern pluralism, but even current thinking is beyond post-modernism. Basically there is a recognition of a more plural society and a more diverse society, without necessarily saying that there are no values that are stable or worthwhile holding on to. There’s a position between absolute truth and ‘anything goes’ and there’s always a position in between and unfortunately we don’t want to set up another polarization position.

Peter Collins

If there is a world outside my head, it exists quite independently of whether I believe it exists. That said, the questions that I ask as a scientist about that world, the agenda of my enquiry and the range of answers to which I am prepared to give house room in my head are conditioned by who I am, when I am and where I am. And in that sense our enquiry is affected by our social context, and even the absolute answers we accept in one generation and one century may not survive.

Jo Richardson

May I go back to the education point that you raised earlier: when I was at school our text books said that people used to believe in creation, however since we are now enlightened by science, we know that that we can only explain it by evolution (not that I want to get into the creation-evolution debate. But there was a scientist teacher telling the class that God was ancient history because science had explained it. Religious education was done very indifferently - I don’t know whether that’s still the case – so that there’s really no good voice who was really expressing the kind of things that we’re expressing now. I think that people at quite a young age already think "right, science has explained everything", they come to university, they’re not involved in questions like this that we’re answering, to them that question has already been answered. What the media perhaps tells them then is merely a confirmation of what they have already accepted, and so they’re not then prepared to consider perhaps the fact that science and religion are on the same side or that really Christians have a great message to tell them that they should listen to. So I think you’re right, we should really go right back to a young age and get Christians involved or religious education people having a strong voice that they express.

Brian Heap

Let’s just have one last comment on this conflict area and then move on to another aspect, because time’s moving on.

Richard Carter

I think it is misleading to try and talk about science as a whole, and religion as a whole. What we’ve seen from the contributions we’ve had about social sciences and natural sciences, if you put those together and call the whole thing science, there’s a huge spectrum, isn’t there? At one end, yes, the ball will drop to the ground, every time you’ve done it so far anyway; in the social sciences, human populations are not that well behaved.

Similarly in religion there are certain facts that as a holder of a faith one believes, such as the example Bob White gave of the resurrection of Christ. On the other hand, Christ taught in parables. He gave us food for thought, food for different interpretations, food for different ways of understanding the world, so I think within both science and religion it’s dangerous to describe the whole enterprise as one mass. I am particularly attracted to what David Wilkinson said about starting from particulars and I think that you’ve got to address yourself to particulars before you can say are you dealing with absolute values, or relative values, or anything else along that spectrum.

David Wilkinson

I’m fascinated by the point about truth and uncertainty. I had one experience of being on a live phone-in on BBC Radio Leicester, where I had spoken for about ten minutes or so, and the interviewer said "David, we’ve got 30 seconds before the news. The world is a terrible place with war, suffering, injustice and disease. As a Christian, what do you say to that?" Now I relate that, because it came into my mind when you were talking about humility and uncertainty and mystery, and I agree with Bob White about truth but there are also things that we must be clear about as Christians that actually we don’t have answers to. I don’t think that in this lifetime I am going to get an answer to the problems of evil. I was trying to think whether there’s a parallel to that in science where I have to admit at the end of the day that I don’t have an answer to it. As a scientist, quantum gravity is difficult but I feel we’re going to find a way, we’re going to work out the Universe, we’re going to keep going on it, and we’re always going to believe that there is answer to it. Now is there an element to science where you get that epistemological humility which is necessarily part of some of the questions that I can’t answer as a Christian. In terms of the Radio Leicester thing I said "I’m sorry, I don’t know". Now I’m not sure whether that was good radio or not, but I think it was trying to be honest. Is there a difference there between science and religion, and how do we represent humility and uncertainty in a media which wants an answer - but I think that’s important for us to do.

Denis Alexander

A related point, but this time in the realm of science rather than theology - I think it would be good to invite people into the average research lab just to spend some time there and see that what we all do much of the time is to just scratch our heads in total bewilderment. We have a lab meeting every week when sometimes we all just look at each other in despair. I think the public should be invited in to see this sociological phenomenon. The problem is that science doesn’t always come across in the media with that kind of slant. By the time the science is packaged and presented in sound bites in the media context – and in scientific papers for that matter – it’s become so compressed that the long and difficult path to discovery is obliterated. It might be useful if the media could have more programmes about how the scientific enterprise works in practice – this might highlight what a very human and fallible activity science is - and it might then also be made a bit clearer that neither scientists nor theologians have all the answers by any means to the questions we would all like answered.

Colin Humphreys

I’d like to follow up on something that David Wilkinson said. When St. Paul said we "see through a glass darkly" I feel this refers to a lot of the deep questions about life and about Christianity. I don’t feel that it applies in quite the same way to science. I certainly feel that at the present stage, there’s a lot in my subject that I don’t understand, but I am very confident that that knowledge will be with us in the next ten or twenty years. So I think that "seeing through a glass darkly" maybe has a different meaning in science than in life and Christianity.

John Lennox

I suppose one of those elements is that science is, to a certain extent, detached. But the problem of suffering and evil that David Wilkinson mentioned is not like that for those who are suffering. It’s part of our own deep personal experience.

Stephen Plant

But that’s why Christian theology is not based on experience alone but on revelation. It was an honest answer David Wilkinson gave in that radio interview, but the Christian tradition has answers to that question, not ones that can be summarized in thirty seconds, that’s certainly true. Sometimes there are theological issues where there are conflicts and those conflicts have biblical roots, for example, on political theology there’s a deep ambivalence on church-state relations that we were talking about a moment ago within the biblical tradition. But I think there’s much less ambivalence on the response to the problem of suffering.

Charles Carrigan

With regard to Colin Humphrey’s comment about St. Paul’s view of understanding theological truth as well as his optimism about his research area, I just wanted to say from the geophysical perspective that I don’t think we have the answers. We may indeed see theological truths with obscured vision, but to be fair, I also think we now see through a glass darkly in searching for physical or geophysical truths. In addition, we deal with the problem of non-uniqueness – the equations that we try to use to describe a system are severely underdetermined and so lots of solutions work, and we often don’t know what the right one is and that isn’t even taking into account the errors in the data. I am probably not as hopeful as Colin Humphrey concerning my field and what new truths it has for us in the future given the observational constraints of the present. Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy trying to get truth from geophysical systems.

Bob White

But that’s one of the glories of science, that it’s provisional and that we get better approximations to the truth, to reality, year by year. Newton’s theories were founded on incorrect premisses, which were totally wrong theoretically, but they work. You can get a man to the moon using Newton’s equations, even though his perception of space-time was wrong, and that Einstein’s equations are far better. But Einstein’s equations are just another step along the way. Science is always going to be like that – anyone who says that science has all the answers is deceiving themselves.

Peter Collins

Nineteenth Century physics is the warning against thinking that you’ve arrived at the limit. Nevertheless the prize in science goes to the guy who finds a question that’s just soluble, that he’s able to work out when nobody else can. But you don’t get a prize in science for dealing with something that’s not soluble, whereas (and we’re on dangerous territory here) - maybe in theology, that’s just when you do get the prize.

Clare Netherton

I work in child and adolescent mental health and we certainly don’t have all the answers. What I think is encouraging and what gives me hope and what I also think has importance in terms of the ongoing debate on faith-religion-science is that even without all the answers, we can still make a great deal of difference in peoples’ lives. And I think that’s really important within those contexts.

Brian Heap

I wonder if we can just for a moment turn to our younger colleagues, because an important feature of these Templeton dinners is to encourage students. I wonder from what you’ve heard from all these very eminent academics who are so despairing about hope for the future, how does the discussion strike you? Does it raise optimism or does it make you concerned about the future?

Yueng Tchern Lenn

Speaking for myself, I think that a key point that hasn’t been raised yet is that science and religion seek to answer fundamentally different questions. Science, at least in my view, seems to seek answers to questions in the tangible world, whereas religions seeks to answer questions in the spiritual world. Science requires repeatable observation and theoretical modelling of observations, but religion seems to be based more on love revelation perhaps unique observation, perhaps reached by consensus based on opinion rather than on experimentation. So I think from that point of view, while religion may cast light on the scientific world, as a Christian I would think that, science and religion are trying to answer fundamentally different questions. So that has to be recognized for the conflict to be resolved.

Brian Heap

Could we just ask David if he would like to make some final comments?

David Wilkinson

I think the only thing that I want to say that I haven’t said already is something about the style of engagement that we have with the media. Some of you will know the verse from Peter’s letters that we should always be ready to make a reasoned defence of our faith and, often when talking about Christian engagement, the verse stops there in terms of people who quote it. In fact it goes on: do so with gentleness, do it graciously. It seems to me that Christian engagement with some of these issues needs to incorporate the element of humility, and the element of uncertainty, as well as the element of conviction of truth and the pursuit of truth.

That’s inevitably going to involve argument for the truth but I am haunted by John Owen’s translation of John Calvin’s comment on that verse that it is a ‘most necessary admonition’. In our dialogue, in speaking to someone about the Christian faith, in this kind of world, we should do it with gentleness and graciousness. I think it can be done without sacrificing our commitment to truth.

Brian Heap

John Norton said that T.S. Elliot was once climbing into a London taxi and the driver said "You’re T.S. Elliot". Asked how he knew "Oh, replied the driver, "I’ve got an eye for a celebrity. Only the other evening I picked up Bertrand Russell and I said to him

‘Well, Lord Russell, what’s it all about?’ and, do you know, he couldn’t tell me!"

I must say in my readings recently that I have been tremendously struck by the extent to which Jesus was a scholar and the fact that he was referred to as a rabbi. But also he had incredible insights, not only into the Old Testament, but also into individuals. I found it particularly helpful tonight how David Wilkinson brought out many things for us, but for me he said that it is important that science is understood within our Christian communities, that is within our churches. I don’t know if you, like me, find that there’s a great suspicion among one’s fellow Christians within the church and although we’ve been talking about conflict between different world affairs and world states, there’s also a tension, I think, within the church itself. There is much work to do as Christians in churches so that we can help the development of this communication and interaction with people who are often very near and very dear to us. With that final comment, thank you again, David, for an excellent evening, you’ve kept up the standard of these meetings, in fact you’ve enhanced the standard of what we have come to expect and we greatly appreciate your contribution and hope that you’ll come back again one day.

Brief biographies of participants

Rev Dr David Wilkinson, Centre for Christian Communication, cosmologist, theoretical astrophysicist, St Johns College, University of Durham

Dr Denis Alexander, Fellow, St Edmunds, Chairman of Immunology, Babraham Institute, Cambridge, editor of Science and Christian Belief

Professor Derek Burke, Honorary Fellow, St Edmund’s, former Vice-Chancellor University of East Anglia, President Christians in Science, molecular biologist, broadcaster and government adviser

Dr Charles Carrigan, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, California, Visiting Fellow, St Edmund’s, physicist

Dr Hyung Choi, physicist from Arizona, Visiting Fellow at St Edmund’s, writing a book on science and religion, supported by Templeton Foundation

Dr Peter Collins, originally from Oxford, Head of Science Policy at the Royal Society, daily involvement with the press and science, advises the President and Officers of the Royal Society

Dr Oonagh Corrigan, recently moved to Cambridge to a new position in SPS, Director of Studies at St Edmund’s in Social and Political Sciences

Professor Richard Carter, Cranfield College, Silsoe, Beds., advisor East Africa Group of Tear Fund, Water management and appropriate technology

Sir Brian Heap, Master, St Edmund’s, biologist, member NATO Science Committee

Professor Colin Humphries, Professor of Materials Science, Cambridge, author of papers in science and Christianity

Yueng Tchern Lenn, student at St Edmund’s,

Dr John Lennox, Green College, Oxford, mathematician, formerly at Cambridge

Dr Ard Louis, Department of Theoretical Chemistry

Dr Simon Mitton, Fellow, former Head of Science, Cambridge University Press, astronomer

Dr Clare Netherton, Research Fellow St Edmund’s and Isaac Newton Fellowship, natural sciences, psychology-physiology intersection

Rev Dr Stephen Plant, theologian and science, writes in the Times on science and religion, deputy at Wesley House Cambridge

Jo Richardson

Dr Paul Shellard, Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics,

Professor Bob White, Fellow, St Edmund’s, chair in Department of Earth Sciences, prime mover of Templeton grant

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