Uniting science and religion

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SCIENCE and religion are being imaginatively brought together in the Diocese of Oxford. the Door reports on events and initiatives that are making this happen in schools, churches and science centres.

by Berry Billingsley

“How do we know what’s true?” “How do know what’s real?” “Can robots ever equal or surpass us?” When we were teenagers some of us enjoyed science fiction as a way to escape with some of the big questions of life, the universe and everything. Inside each story there seemed to be coherence and logic about what was taking place. lasarconf2016-photo4

Meanwhile, at school, lessons followed lessons in a jumbled, disconnected series of subjects and, at the end of the year came an exam. Once the exams were over you could put aside everything you’d learnt. Today, schools, and educationalists more widely are realising that it’s not enough to help children pass individual exams in science, English, maths and a language; we also need children who can be insightful and critical about what is presented to them as truth and knowledge.

To develop this kind of insight, young people need opportunities to work across disciplines – and also to learn about the natures of our disciplines and their different strengths and weaknesses.
In this new field, those teachers and educators who have given thought to how science and religion relate, and to how those relationships can be best explained to young people are arguably leaders among those grappling with this issue.

Perhaps this helps to explain why a conference held at the end of October in Oxford on “Science, Religion and Education” drew a capacity audience of more than 90 delegates and featured presenters from eight countries (pictured right). The event was organised by the LASAR (Learning about Science and Religion) Project at Canterbury Christ Church University and the Department of Education at Oxford.

A common theme was that the teaching of science and religion are kept very separate. Science teachers – even if they have faith – are not comfortable with bringing or addressing questions that relate to religion into their lessons as they fear they would go beyond the scope of the subject. Meanwhile teachers of the humanities subjects often don’t feel at home with scientific concepts and language.

So how do we convey ideas about how science and religion relate to children – and are some analogies and metaphors more helpful to them than others? One metaphor that stood out is the metaphor of the kettle – and the question, “Why is the kettle boiling?” One answer is that the element is heating the water. Another is that I want a cup of tea. Those aren’t the only answers – and once we start to think there could be lots of answers which don’t necessarily compete and which indeed add more richness to the answer in one discipline alone. A similar question for younger children is: why did my doorbell ring?
This event was the beginning, we hope, of more collaborations and international discussion.

Professor Berry Billingsley is a Professor of Science Education at Canterbury University and the lead investigator for LASAR. Email berry.billingsley@canterbury.ac.uk or go to www.lasarproject.com The Revd Mark Laynesmith, Chaplain at Reading University, and Dr Keith Chappell, a lecturer at Reading whose own research has included ecology and science and society, particularly science and religion, are involved with LASAR.

Starting with a bang – the big one – at Christ Church Cathedral

by Jacqueline Holderness

Christ Church Cathedral Education Department recently hosted God and the Big Bang (GTTB). Magdalen College School and the Oxford Academy visited the cathedral for the event. This national initiative originated in Manchester in 2011, motivated by the findings of LASAR (see above).

Youngsters experiment with science at the Christ Church Cathedral LASAR day.

Youngsters experiment with science at the Christ Church Cathedral LASAR day.

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GTBB is now being led by Michael Harvey, who launched Back to Church Sunday in 2004. Michael now works with scientist Stephanie Bryant from the Faraday Institute, Cambridge, and enjoys encouraging Christians to care for the natural world. GTBB is now being led by Michael Harvey, who launched Back to Church Sunday in 2004. Michael now works with scientist Stephanie Bryant from the Faraday Institute, Cambridge, and enjoys encouraging Christians to care for the natural world. GTBB is funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation. The project involves schools across the UK and supports teachers of science and RE to help students grapple with current ideas surrounding science and faith. GTBB inspires young people to embark on their own journey of discovery, creating a generation of excited, curious thinkers who will remember the event for many years to come.

Earlier this year, more than 120 students from the two Oxford schools gathered in a marquee for a full-day, conference style school event, which started with a keynote talk by Andy Fletcher, the President and CEO of “Life, the Universe and Everything” – a non-profit organisation dedicated to working with international schools and communities, offering seminars on 20th and 21st century physics. His talk was challenging, entertaining and inspirational and certainly started the day with a bang – the big one.

The students were then divided into four groups of 30 for workshops on topics including quantum mechanics, fractal geometry in nature and building earthquake-proof structures. Speakers included Tim Middleton and Anna Pearson (University of Oxford) and Naomi Brehm (University of Durham).

They explained their own journeys through science and faith and covered questions such as: “Why does God love science?” and “Where is God in an earthquake?” The workshop sessions were interactive and involved resources, from marshmallows and skewers, to flowers and one penny coins.

The students engaged well with the complex content and asked very profound and intriguing questions. In the final plenary the discussion was so lively and meaningful that a few students lingered on, reluctant to relinquish this opportunity to consider the big questions of life.

As well as the staff from each school, we were joined by Professor Allan Chapman of Wadham College, Edmund Newey, Sub- Dean of Christ Church, and Samantha Cragg, Director of the Oxford Schools Chaplaincy. Everyone was so impressed by the quality of the event it is hoped that GTBB will return to Oxford next year.

If your school is interested in hosting GTBB in collaboration with Christ Church, contact the Cathedral Education Officer: Jacqueline.Holderness@chch.ox.ac.uk.

 

‘Cosmic Chemistry’ with ‘Crossing the Gap’ in Harwell and Chilton

AS the Door went to press, the organisers of a project that attracted national Church funding were getting ready for an event that would see Professor John Lennox talk on whether science and God can mix.
John is an Emeritus Professor of Maths at Oxford University and an internationally renowned speaker on science, philosophy and religion. He was due to speak at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory on “Cosmic Chemistry” as part of the “Crossing the Gap” project organised by the Harwell and Chilton Churches. Funded by the national Scientists in Congregations initiative, “Crossing the Gap” is a project with three strands.
Dr Carina Lobley, a protein biochemist and one of the organisers, said: “On the last Friday of every month in term time we meet for Family Science Club. We have already met twice and spend time doing some hands-on science followed by reflecting on how this helps us understand a passage from the Bible in a new light. On alternate Thursdays we run a science discussion group which is a space to explore the relationship between science and the Christian faith and understand how a variety of people view this interaction. Each term we will have one keynote lecture, which is the opportunity to hear from well-known speakers to underpin our confidence in the compatibility between science and Christian faith.”

Dr Carina Lobley, a protein biochemist and one of the organisers, said: “On the last Friday of every month in term time we meet for Family Science Club. We have already met twice and spend time doing some hands-on science followed by reflecting on how this helps us understand a passage from the Bible in a new light. On alternate Thursdays we run a science discussion group which is a space to explore the relationship between science and the Christian faith and understand how a variety of people view this interaction. Each term we will have one keynote lecture, which is the opportunity to hear from well-known speakers to underpin our confidence in the compatibility between science and Christian faith.”

The Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey, the Rector of Harwell with Chilton and a practising GP, said: “We live in an area that is famous for cutting-edge science and technology, and many of our church members are practising or retired professional scientists. We realised, though, that many people, both church members and in the wider community, are uncertain about the relationship between science and faith – there is so much in the popular media about how they are supposed to be in conflict. We strongly feel this is not the case – science is a very Christian activity to be involved in, exploring and stewarding God’s wonderful creation, and discovering more about God in the process. Many leading scientists in history today are full of faith, and convinced that both the discoveries of science and the Christian faith as revealed in the Bible are true. Through our ‘Crossing the Gap’ project we hope to help people of all ages and levels of knowledge to explore how this can be.”

Professor John Lennox speaks at 7pm on Tuesday 29 November. Admission is free but book at http://tiny.cc/cosmic. There will be a buffet from 6.30pm. The Laboratory is on the Harwell Campus, OX11 0FA.