Summer PreCiS Interview with Rev Prof David Wilkinson – Part 2

This is the second part of an interview with Rev Prof David Wilkinson – Key speaker at our 80th Celebration conference in October

 

Could you tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing until now?

Well, I did research in theoretical astrophysics, that’s what my PhD is in, and then I felt a call to full-time Christian Ministry. I struggled a little bit with that in terms of whether it was better for me to be a professional scientist and witness as a Christian, but I did have a sense for a vocation to Christian leadership.

I trained for the Methodist Ministry, spent nine years looking after a church in inner-city Liverpool, and then quite unexpectedly and surprisingly was offered a post back at Durham University in Christian apologetics, teaching theology. That was quite a jump for me, from science through church ministry back into teaching theology. I taught in the department of theology at Durham, and for the past 17 years was also Principal of St. John’s College, one of the 17 colleges that make up the University.

During that time I set up, with Tom McLeish, a project called Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science (ECLAS). In the last year, I’ve been able to move on from the Principal role at St. John’s and concentrate full-time as director of ECLAS.

What challenges if any have you come across as a Christian interested in science?

Well, I think there are some challenges about the diversity of belief within the Christian Church. There are a number of Christian friends, some of them who have a scientific or technology background, who take a very different view to me on a number of issues, perhaps particularly how to read the early chapters of Genesis, and whether the universe is billions of years old or whether, as the picture of Six-Day creationism puts it, it’s only a few thousand years old.

I think respecting fellow Christians who take different views and finding areas where we can talk together and move the conversation on is important. In particular, reading the Bible together is a challenge, because often those who take a six-day creationist view have invested in this as a badge of orthodoxy, so it’s very difficult to engage in a way that we can learn from each other.

Funnily enough, I would say that there are fewer challenges from those who aren’t Christians towards me being a Christian interested in science. Particularly in physics, I found atheists respectful and generous and willing to engage particularly in big questions.

As a Christian I take time to listen and to try and understand and not simply try and claim that my view has to be the view of everybody.

What do you do for fun? What are your major interests outside work?

My wife and I are Newcastle United season ticket holders, so we go to St. James’s Park and at the moment enjoy it immensely. There’ve been times when it’s been awful, but that’s an important regular part of what I do!

I’ve just become a grandfather, so children and grandchildren are a really important phase of life at the moment. My wife and I love movies and watching TV. In particular I love The Simpsons and The Walking Dead. A number of Christians would say well, I’m not too sure about either of those, but both of them explore the nature of what it means to be human. I also enjoy all of the good science fiction stuff, so of course, I love Star Wars and Star Trek.

Where is life taking you now at the moment?

I’m leading a project called Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science. We’ve been working with senior Christian leaders in the UK for over a decade – helping them, we hope, to encounter science not as a threat or something to be feared or ignored, but something that you can engage with in joy as a gift from God.

At the moment, we’re trying to take that approach into a global context. We’re working with partners in Singapore, Poland, India and Kenya – not to export what we’ve learned in the UK, but far more importantly, in our opinion, to set up a global community of enquiry and practice.

We’re looking at how we equip Christian leaders in an age of science, but in different national and political settings, theological contexts, historical legacies, and cultures – so that we can learn together about how Christian leaders in different parts of the world approach and engage with science.

Is there an area of science and faith that works well together?

For me, I think what works well together is the area that I’ve worked in! Each scientist will probably say that, because you live it day by day. You have to make it work well together. It happens naturally.

So, for me, astrophysics is the area that I’m particularly delighted to explore, with some of the big questions of the origin and end of the universe, the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, the intelligibility of the laws underlying the universe, and this sense of awe at the wonder of the universe.

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We hope you enjoyed this interview with David, our Keynote speaker at our 80th Celebration Conference October 25th and 26th in Birmingham. See you there!

from all the team at CiS