The ‘Theology of Science’ developed in Faith and Wisdom in Science leads to a set of consequences for how science might find new resonances and recreation in the media, arts, education and the church (these are discussed in chapter 8 of the book – Mending our Ways, Sharing our Science and Figuring the Future). In particular, once the false mythology of a necessary conflict between science and the church is discarded in the face of actual history, practice and philosophy, and when it is replaced by an understanding of science as God’s gift, then all sorts of possibilities for a positive role for the church in science opens up once more.
An opportunity to experiment with ways that churches can support science and scientists is currently being provided by a large project based at St. John’s College, Durham University, UK. Funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, Equipping Christian Leaders in an Age of Science has five strands, one of which invites churches of all denominations to submit proposals for projects, costing up to £10 000, under the umbrella title Scientists in Congregations.
The first eight projects have just been announced, as varied in geographical placement around the UK as they are in approach. From a large cathedral-based project to mount spectacular science exhibits ‘from Dinosaurs to DNA’ in Ely, to café-style debates with scientists on the implications of their work around north Leeds, applicants have used their imagination. A title that has caught the attention of the media such as Christian Today (and by no means just the Christian media) was Take your Vicar to the Lab. ‘Why on earth would either you or they want to?’ was the question in the minds of many who heard about it. It was thrown at me in a live interview on BBC Radio York this morning, and the subject of a rather perplexed article in Computer Weekly.
So why would a vicar (pastor, priest, etc. …) want to ‘visit a lab’? The great Christian thinkers of former ages would have no problem understanding (once they had had explained the concept of a ‘lab’). Gregory of Nyssa, one of the formulators of the Christian creeds we know today, and the doctrine of the Trinity, writes of the way that our God-given minds evidence themselves by the way they think into to workings of nature. The deduction of the existence of invisible air, and the cause of the phases of the moon, are just two examples given in his remarkable 4th century treatise On the Soul and the Resurrection. The extraordinary English 13th century polymath, Robert Grosseteste, later Bishop of Lincoln, saw our re-thinking nature as part of a work of healing a relationship with the world dimmed by disobedience and Fall. And this very thought can be found at the birth of early modern science in the writings of Frances Bacon.
Talking of Bishops, another strand of the Durham-based project held a conference of senior Christian
leaders this week (some of them did indeed sport the purple shirt) considering the science of earthquakes and floods, including the social science of managing their aftermaths. Together with thinking together about evolution and the human experience of pain, this was theological thinking ‘on the wild side’. A visit to Durham University’s Institute of Hazard, Risk and Resilience created a productive forum for the church leaders and scientists to talk about the global and cultural pattern of risk, and how local faith communities might work better with international aid organisations. Practical action, amid the answerless and shared experience of loss – that sounded like a faithful continuation of some of the Biblical wisdom we read and studied together from the Book of Job.
So Vicars, Bishops in the lab, yes, and in the earthquake zone, the epidemic and the flood plain, and working along scientists, doctors, engineers and aid workers in mutual service of both God and fellow human being.