Online Conference August 2020

God and Pandemics

This was an online Conference held in August 2020


Monday : Prof Bob White, FRS – Plagues and Pandemics: perspectives from science and faith 

YouTube link for Bob’s talk –

Bio: Bob is Professor of Geophysics at Cambridge University and Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. His passion is showing that science and Christian faith are two ways of looking at the same world which give a richer and deeper view of it than either on their own. He is thrilled that as a geologist he has been paid to study God’s creation as his professional career.

Abstract: Pandemics are frightening. They can spread unseen through a human population with devastating consequences. In the modern, interconnected world, viruses such as Covid-19 travel around the globe at, literally, the speed of a jet airliner. Yet throughout most of history people have lived much closer to death than we do, and much more aware of the fragility of life. At least in the high-income countries today we have developed the hubris of thinking we can control our world, that we are in charge. So when something like the Covid-19 pandemic hits us, there is almost nothing we can do except isolate ourselves. It’s a shock to our whole way of thinking, to our individualistic lifestyles, and it exposes the inequalities and injustices in our world. There is much we can learn from this, and some specifically Christian perspectives that may be helpful.

Tuesday : Dr Mirjam Schilling – Viruses as part of God’s creation?

YouTube link for Mirjam’s talk –

Bio: received a PhD from the Institute of Virology, Freiburg, Germany in 2016 and is now working as a Postdoc at the University of Oxford. Her research focusses on the interplay of viruses and the innate immune system.  In her free time, she has been studying Theology part-time in Stuttgart, Freiburg and Oxford and is currently working on her DPhil in which she explores the theological aspects of viruses.

Abstract: Ebola virus in 2014, Zika virus in 2015, SARS in 2019 …  Every couple of years there is a virus outbreak somewhere in the world. Once in a while we catch a cold in winter. In the mean time we forget that viruses exist. This year a virus is affecting all of us dramatically. But what exactly are viruses? Are they as evil and vicious as we like to portray them? Modern technology has begun to open up another universe that we were quite unaware of for a long time. What do we know about the virosphere around us? The role of viruses in our ecosystem? Or how they relate to us?

Wednesday : Dr Simon Kolstoe – The Ethics of Evidence in a Pandemic 

YouTube link for Simon’s talk –

Bio: Originally a Biochemist, I am now a Senior Lecturer in Evidence Based Healthcare with a particular interest in Research Ethics, Integrity and Governance. I chair Research Ethics Committees for the NHS, MOD and PHE, and also sit on the Department of Health’s Confidentiality Advisory Group. I was on the CiS committee between 2007 and 2012.

Abstract: Science is broadly concerned with the creation, evaluation, testing and publication of evidence. Historically the Philosophy of Science has been a source of rich theoretical debate, but in recent years the debate has moved on to pragmatic considerations using a framework based upon concepts including research culture, ethics, governance and integrity. Drawing upon recent academic research, and practical work with various ethics committees and advisory groups, I will consider the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has created within this framework. I will consider the processes and attitudes needed for reliable, rigorous and transparent science, and how these can sometimes conflict with wider societal needs. I will reflect on how a Christian world view can contribute to this dialogue.

Thursday : Anna Pearson – Oliver Barcla Lecture 

YouTube link for Anna’s talk –

Bio: Anna Pearson in the process of finishing her DPhil and starting a postdoc in Quantum Information Thermodynamics at the University of Oxford. She has a longstanding fascination with quantum mechanics. During her DPhil she did experiments looking at two foundational questions within quantum mechanics “Do trade-offs pertaining to the thermodynamics of timekeeping, derived in the quantum domain, hold for a larger more complex system?” and “Is the gravitational interaction classical rather than quantum?” When not doing physics she enjoys playing the piano, singing and spending time in nature, preferably wi,th friends.

Abstract: When looking at science and faith, one often looks at how faith has inspired and continues to inspire scientists to do their work for the glory of God. This can provide great encouragement and motivation, but what can one learn from looking at it the other way around? How can one’s approach to science help with one’s approach to faith, specifically with respect to looking at unresolved questions? This talk will consider this, focusing on introductory level quantum mechanics (one of the most hotly debated areas of physics of the past century), and will draw parallels to an approach one can take when it comes to unresolved questions within faith.

Friday : Panel Discussion with the 4 speakers – Prof Bob White, Dr Mirjam Schilling, Dr Simon Kolstoe and Anna Pearson

YouTube link for Panel Discussion –