Yesterday I gave a talk at St. Paul's Cathedral, as part of their Sunday Forum series (https://www.stpauls.co.uk/learning-faith/adult-learning/sunday-forum). I spoke about science and religion in general, and then discussed the role of the human in the future of the subject. The audience was engaged and responsive, and I am very grateful to Elizabeth Foy and others who work at the cathedral for giving me this opportunity.
I enjoy speaking; it's an opportunity to learn more and improve. But it is facing the Q and A that I find most tricky but (if I quell the panic, listen and reflect), I know I can learn most about the field, which is nothing if it is not communicated outside of itself and used to help make positive changes in the lives of the faithful.
The questions I faced yesterday were all excellent, revealing the problems and opportunities of engaging with the world of science and religion. Here are a paraphrase of five which chimed, and five short reflections:
1. Is there still room in science for a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible to lead to insights about the world today?
As a committed liberal (in the strict sense of the word) I am predisposed to answering questions of fundamentalist interpretations of scripture negatively. However, these questions are asked earnestly, and good people of faith are worried about engaging with science and religion for fear of the conflict into which they might enter. We need a way to have these conversations safely, humbly and with love.
2. A person doing their GSCEs asked how they answer people who say that science has all the answers?
How we educate young people (from preschool upwards) about science, theology and forms of knowledge is key. How do we encourage free and confident thinking while teaching within the strictures of curricula and examinations? How do we help teenagers, who are so predisposed to black and white answers, to play in the grey areas and experiment with ideas? And how to we help them do it with confidence?
3. The Christian who doesn't see science and religion as a problem to be solved - if God created the world, and all of science, surely, there is no 'science and religion' field and no conflict?
I think that this is a marvellous position, one which, in theory, reflects where I am. However, there are a number of real conflicts to be faced. These include the perceived conflict which we must challenge even if we don't accept that it is true; the conflicts in the ethical outcomes of science; and the very human need (and I wonder where this comes from) to seek unity, and that includes unity in the details of science and religion.
4. Give me hard facts, for example about the number of Christian scientists.
So this isn't a question, but a call for foundations, for numbers, and for certainty. And this desire is completely understandable. We are, for want of a better image, at war. The media is keen to print anything that disporves God; people buy New Atheistic books in droves; and the myth of conflict abounds. We naturally want evidence and a tribe of fellow seakers to back us up in the idea that science and religion are not in conflict.
5. Given the history of scienctific discoveries and theory change and looking at the role of uncertainty in Quantum Mechanics, should scientists not show a little more humility?
This is a question about the nature of knowledge, and which kinds of knowledge are recognised as being important. Historically, scientific knowledge has been in the ascent, with others types of knowledge, including thoelogical and philosophical, being politely shown the door. However, after recent scientific scandels, public trust is wavering, and it is an important question how other forms of knowledge step back into the public arena. Theological knowledge needs to play its full part, and science must take its place amongst many forms of knowledge if we are going to find balance and use all forms of knowledge open to us.
Facilitating, education, empowering - these are the answers to the future of science and religion for theists.
I heard the other day, that a four year old asks on average 75 questions per day, while a 45 year old asks 6. And while it is perhaps the test of every parent to put up with such an onslaught, it is the 4 year old who is wise in their approach to the world. Thank you for your questions - and I join with you in the quest to find answers and let them deepen my knowledge of God's world.