This week I am enjoying my first ever visit to Vancouver to give a series of lectures and discussions on Faith and Wisdom in Science and the ideas and actions that flow from thinking through a Christian Theology of Science. There are a few science lectures thrown in (in biophysics of protein dynamics – at Simon Fraser University, and the molecular rheology of polymer melts in processing – at UBC), and a final Friday night at St John’s (Graduate) College, UBC, on Medieval Science and the Ordered Universe Project. Last night saw a fruitful and friendly welcome at Regent College.
The question sessions following the science/theology talks so far have been fascinating
and inspiring (the questions that is – I can’t speak for the answers). The central section of the presentations, focussing on drawing resource from Biblical wisdom literature, draws on the close reading of the Book of Job that forms the central chapter of Faith and Wisdom. So one of the questioners wanted to know about Jesus’ sayings about nature in the gospels, and their significance. As in the cycles of speeches between Job and his comforters, way before the probing questions of the Lord’s Answer in chapter 38, the gospels, too, are full of nature metaphor and action. The calming of the waves, the wind-image of the Spirit, the liking of the ‘signs of the times’ to the signs that the coming of the Kingdom is close – all these speak of a relationship with the natural world that reflects the Godly Wisdom of a deep seeing, an inner understanding, and an investment of significance into the material, natural world. More thinking required here!
Another question searched the dilemma facing the church in sharing both the positive narrative for science and its consequences for an ethical, hopeful and fruitful managing of nature in future. Given the explicit Creation-Fall-Election-Incarnation-Resurrection-Ministry of Reconciliation-New Creation story within which science and technology make sense as God’s gifts, how is all this worked through in a world that largely does not recognise that big story? It reminded me of a wonderful question from an atheist sociologist at one of the first ever university-based discussions of the Faith and Wisdom in Science idea: ‘I wish I could share in your vision and hope, but as an atheist I can’t begin to share your assumptions: what can you give me?’
I think that the answer is not ‘nothing’ by any means. Back to St. Paul and his brilliant summary of the work of the Church – the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ of 2 Corinthians 5. To talk about our work being that of ‘healing broken relationships’ is something that everyone knows about and everyone wants. To point to ways in which we can hope to reverse the mutual harm that we and our planet are inflicting on each other, by framing the challenge in those terms, and then by proceeding as one does in the healing of any broken relationship, is a practical way ahead that anyone can buy into. Replacing ignorance with knowledge, fear with wisdom, and mutual harm with mutual flourishing – this is a framework for political and social care that has already generated practical outcomes, such as the Responsible Research and Innovation policy in the UK and Europe.
I hope to be able to say more about the work that new theologically-generated narratives can do in our managing of science and technology at a Harvard STS-Programme seminar next week (on the day of the US presidential election!), Narratives of Hope: Science, Theology and Environmental Public Policy . But that is for next week. Today there is more at UBC with Investigating the Deep Structure of Modern Science: the Search for Wisdom.
I am extremely grateful to the Canadian Scientific and Christian affiliation for supporting the visit, and to my kind hosts and organisers for all their tremendous hard work.