Christians in Science


CiS Northern Conference 2017

Saturday 13 May
Church of St John the Evangelist
Kingston Park, Newcastle upon Tyne
An event for all who are interested in science and medicine from a Christian perspective

For further information and registration (£25/£12 including lunch) click here

New CiS members please note – If you have joined CiS within the last 12 months, either as a student or a standard member, you are able to attend your first day conference “free of charge”. The provision of lunch is not included in this offer. Please contact Bill Clegg directly to register, and he will let you know how to pay for your lunch.

Below are the details for the upcoming student conference:

9:30 onwards: Registration
9:50-10:00: Welcome and introductions
10:00-10:45: Rhoda Hawkins – Order and Disorder
10:45-11:30: Anna Pearson – Believing the Unbelievable: Quantum Mechanics and Faith
11:30-12: tea/coffee break
12 – 12:45: student contributions
12:45-1:45: lunch
1:45-2: Emily – CiS update
2-:2:45: Neville Cobbe – Chance and Necessity: on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology
2:45-3:00: Tea break
3:00-3:45: Chris Oldfield – Theories of Everything
3:45-4:20: discussion groups
4:20-4:30: Closing remarks

Abstracts and Bios for the speakers:

Order & disorder
Abstract: I will discuss the role of order and disorder in science and in Christian theology.  After some introductory definitions, I will give a broad brush of several different scientific areas including thermodynamics, statistical physics, stochastic processes, chaos, quantum mechanics, astrophysics and biology. After discussing the emergence of order from disorder in various systems scientifically I will make connections to order and disorder in creation. I will consider open theism, causation and the question “is God in control?” I will conclude with thoughts on how emergence of order can lead to wonder and worship.

Biography: Dr Rhoda Hawkins is a lecturer in the Department of Physicrhoda-pics and Astronomy at the University of Sheffield, and a visiting lecturer at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Her research involves using theoretical physics approaches to shed light on problems in biology, including how the cytoskeleton determines cell movement and deformation. She obtained her undergraduate masters degree in physics (2002) at University of Oxford and her PhD (2005) in the department of physics and astronomy at the University of Leeds under the supervision of Prof Tom McLeish. She did postdoctoral research jobs at the FOM Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics in Amsterdam, Institut Curie and University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris and the University of Bristol before moving to Sheffield to take up her lectureship there in 2011. Rhoda has been involved with Christians in Science since her student days and is currently serving on the national committee for the second time. She is a speaker for the ‘God & the Big Bang’ schools project and has given numerous science-faith talks to a variety of audiences. This year she was awarded the Oliver Barclay lecture prize for her science-faith communication.

Believing the Unbelievable – Quantum Mechanics and Faith
Abstract: When dealing with quantum mechanics one is often confronted with things that just don’t make sense. The truth just doesn’t seem believable. It doesn’t make sense. This leaves us with two options – either that’s just the way it is, or, one day, once we can see and understand the whole picture the paradoxes will make sense.

Often a barrier to people engaging with Christianity is that it just doesn’t make sense. It’s simply not believable. Miracles are too much to swallow, a good and all-powerful God wouldn’t allow so much suffering in the world, the list goes on. Objections acknowledged. However, is only engaging with ideas that make sense, or that one can fully understand the best way to decide upon one’s outlook on the world?

headshotannaBio: Anna Pearson is a second year DPhil student in the Materials department in Oxford. Her project aims to find out a bit more about the little understood boundary between the strange world of quantum mechanics and the classical world of our everyday experience. Prior to this she studied Physics at Royal Holloway and was involved with starting a CiS student group there and in central London. Last year she was a doctoral fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics and is also involved with the God and the Big Bang project.


Chance and Necessity: on the Natural Philosophy of Modern Biology
In this presentation, taking inspiration for its title from a famous essay by Jacques Monod, the different views of various biologists and influential popularisers of science will be discussed in the context of a current understanding of evolutionary processes, followed by reflection on how this might relate to Biblical views of divine action.

Bio:knit-for-neville Dr Neville Cobbe is currently a research fellow at Queen’s University Belfast, having previously worked for several years at the University of Edinburgh and the University of Liverpool.  His main research interests have been the evolutionary and functional analysis of proteins that contribute to chromosome behaviour, cell division, and cell migration.  His latter work in Liverpool used fruit flies as models for ovarian cancer and a revised understanding of the evolutionary relations between kinases in humans and flies, with related undergraduate teaching, whilst his current project in Belfast is focused on elucidating interactions between endocytic proteins in order to better understand their potential role in relation to cancer.

Neville is a STEM ambassador with a longstanding interest in various aspects of communicating science and its relevance to society, having initially organised exhibitions for the Edinburgh International Science Festival over successive years as well as participating in workshops for young people or adults on various bioethical issues.  This in turn led to invitations to give public presentations to diverse audiences on behalf of the UK Research Councils, the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Cancer Research UK.  He founded the Liverpool Christians in Science local group, which he led for several years before moving to Belfast.  Otherwise, he has previously helped to run church-based youth clubs for the local community in Dublin and Edinburgh, has volunteered with the Salvation Army and the Missionaries of Charity in Edinburgh and Liverpool respectively, and is currently pursuing a vocation towards ordained ministry within the Presbyterian Church in Ireland.

Theories of Everything
Abstract: ‘Everything’, wrote C.S. Lewis in 1948, ‘is a subject about which there is not much to be said’. Not that you would get that impression today. Talk of a ‘theory of everything’ being within our grasp is extremely common – in both academic literature (e.g. Hawking 1988, Chalmers 1996, Nagel 2012) and popular imagination. Even Eddie Redmayne has something to say about it. But what exactly is a theory of everything? And what exactly is at stake, theologically speaking, in the faith that such a thing exists? We shall discuss some influential pictures of what a theory of everything could/should/would look like, and ask what (if anything) God might have to do with the idea, let alone the thing itself (should we ever find one).

chris-oldfieldBio: Chris Oldfield is a research associate of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. He has studied at Bristol, Oxford and London Universities, and is currently writing a PhD at King’s College London. His research focusses on interpretations of physicalism – a widespread and influential idea – that everything is (in some sense) physical, or that everything can (in principle) be explained in terms of physical facts. Chris is a lecturer in philosophy at Fordham University’s London Centre, and teaches on science and religion at Roehampton University and St Mellitus’ College. He has also worked for Prospect Magazine, the UCCF and the IFES. He is married to Elizabeth and lives in Peckham with Edith (2) and Auden (0.2).

We have added another sister organisation to our list – Brazil’s Cristaos na Ciencia. The full list can be found on our Resources page.

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Two CiS members reflect on the challenges brought about by the recent referendum on EU membership and how we can address it as both Christians and scientists . The views expressed are those of the individuals concerned and are not intended to provide an agreed CiS position on Brexit.

Dr Rhoda Hawkins: Rhoda is a lecturer in physics at the University of Sheffield and a member of the CiS Executive Committee. She is a visiting lecturer at the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences. Prior to taking up her lectureship in Sheffield she spent several years elsewhere in Europe doing postdoctoral research in Amsterdam and Paris.

For much of the UK scientific community Friday 24th June was a dark day. Feelings of shock, upset, fear, shame, confusion, rejection, anger, anxiety or despair have haunted many since then. Brexit threatens to be seriously damaging to UK science and UK Universities, although the full extent of this will depend crucially on what damage limitation the coming years of political renegotiations will bring. Right now there is so much uncertainty, but we are already feeling negative effects. Collaborations with colleagues across Europe are suffering. We do not know how many of our top scientists will choose to leave and how many will be forced to leave. We do not know how many of our Universities will survive loss of EU funding, economic hardship and recruitment restrictions. We do not know what long term effects changes to EU legislation may have on our environment, health or society. We sense that our world has changed profoundly. There is a growing fear of isolation from the global scientific community and increasing uncertainty   as to whether our “ivory towers” will remain intact.

The referendum result also starkly revealed aspects of our society that we’ve long tried to hide from: politicians and media that propagate lies, xenophobia, racism and deep divisions of class, education and socioeconomic backgrounds. We can no longer fool ourselves that we are a modern, global, tolerant, progressive, world leading country. We are a fragile rock in the North Sea at risk of fragmentation and isolation. And we find ourselves with many questions. Where is God in all this? How does our faith affect our response? We trust in God, not in humanity. What can we do as Christians in this situation?

Many of us and our colleagues are facing identity crises – stripped of their European citizenship or their right to remain immigration status under threat and their expert views rejected as ‘elitist’. For us as Christians, devastated as we may feel, we do have a deeper identity. No referendum can take away our heavenly citizenship [Philippians 3:20, Romans 8:35]. We are all only temporary residents on this Earth, yet we are confident that we are God’s children and that our true home is in Heaven. Can we hold on to this hope in these difficult and uncertain times? Can we reach out with this hope to colleagues around us who are in despair? I myself have had some opportunities to talk about my faith in conversations with colleagues following the referendum. One said he admired my faith. Maybe we are called to support our colleagues, to stand up for those who are EU immigrants or non-EU immigrants or to seek to influence policy over the years this will take to sort out. For some their calling will be to leave the country and seek more welcoming shores where they can carry out their world class research. For some their calling will be to stay in the UK and help try to make the most of the situation. Some CiS members may feel too young or too old to contribute much. Some may feel optimistic, some pessimistic. But we all have a role where God has put us. How does he want us to respond? What does he want us to do? Who does he want us to reach out to? And are there lessons to learn for the future about how we communicate more effectively with society at large?

So much of our ‘outreach’ both in science and in faith is to self-selected groups. How can we reach out to people we don’t normally engage with? We are good at lecturing and preaching but should we try to listen more? How diverse are our churches and how much do we chat with people in our churches who are not like us? How can we be welcoming and inclusive to foreigners in our midst who may feel the UK does not want them? How can we live in unity with those who do not share our views? There are so many challenges for us now but, in the midst of this dark world, let us not miss the opportunities God gives us to reach out in love. Maybe this situation will give us, as scientists who are Christians, a unique role in building post-Brexit bridges.

Professor John V Wood, CBE, FREng: John is Secretary of the Association of Commonwealth Universities and an adviser to both the European Commission and individual governments on international science policy especially large research infrastructures. He is the chair of ATTRACT which is an activity led by CERN and other EIROFORUM members and also chair of the Global Research Data Alliance involving researchers from 110 countries. John is also Chairman of the CiS Board of Trustees.

Identifying with one’s people despite the bleakness of the situation reminds us of Jeremiah going with his people into exile despite his warnings of the outcomes. The Brexit vote reverberated around the world where our colleagues in Africa, Asia and the Americas were aghast at the impact this would have on UK science and our world standing. Yet there are opportunities and many advanced countries are focusing a significant percentage of Science, Technology and Innovation research funds on the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. Commissioner Moedas’ Open to the World policy focuses on Science Diplomacy and Delivery of the SDGs. Indeed in the UK, some research council’s money has to be directed to the grand societal challenges. Even if UK scientists cannot benefit, we should rejoice that those peoples of the world who live in poverty and tremendous inequality may receive a better quality of life than now.

Greater emphasis is now being put on our long term relationships outside Europe such as with the Commonwealth and in June 2017 the 3rd Commonwealth Science Summit in Singapore is likely to focus much more on collaboration with our old partners. There is now an urgent need to both preserve and increase the number of Commonwealth Scholarships and Fellowships in addition to the Chevening Scholarships for the rest of the world. Our responsibility is to act as citizens of the world, to actively try and influence political and fiscal decisions which may feel uncomfortable at times. To overcome evil by good. We should remember that while Europe itself has abandoned the Christian base of the Schuman declaration, which was the founding document of the European Union, perhaps we should now be proactive in seeking to express our faith in a way that many of our Commonwealth friends will understand much more than citizens in the UK.