Connecting science and faith
In the last 18 months a number of projects with strong Baptists links have been among the recipients of a funding stream that aims to foster a better understanding between science and faith.
Our incoming President Dave Gregory was an early recipient of Scientists in Congregation funding for Messy Church Does Science, and was subsequently on the panel that awarded funding to other local projects.
Church Scientific, based in Baptist churches in Leeds but open to all, sees science students and professionals from congregations across the city give talks leading into discussion sessions. In preparatory workshops, the speakers explore how Christian perspectives have been important historically and may enrich their scientific work today. There was a conference last summer. All the presentations are available on the project's website.
When it launched in 2016, the Revd David Humphries, then minister of Blenheim Baptist Church in Leeds, was a project co-director alongside Dr Richard Gunton, a research fellow in the School of Biology at Leeds University and a Blenheim church member.
Richard, who has now moved to Hitchin, said, 'Church Scientific was organised to help connect Christian researchers to their church communities by building deeper understandings of how science works, and how it fits into a Christian worldview. The ambitious vision is that a Christian philosophy could actually help people do better research - hence the strapline: "Helping you explore how a Christian worldview can enhance science".
'It works with early-career researchers through workshops and then public café events where these scientists can explain their ideas and raise questions in a safe space with fellow Christians. Church Scientific got off to a good start in its first year in Leeds, with 15 scientist participants gaining new insights into their own work, and sharing some of these in five café evenings.
'In the second year, the project is running an improved set of workshops and involving last year's participants in honing the materials to bring blessing to more young researchers.
'You could call it revolutionary discipleship for scientists... If we're taking seriously Jesus' call to follow him, then surely the very best discipleship ought to improve our careers?'
Church Scientific is now run by Paul Coleman and has offered regular workshops at Blenheim Baptist Church in 2018, as well as a conference on 24 June.
'Big Questions - Any Answers?’
'Big Questions - Any Answers?’ was a series of talks arranged for the Tyne Valley area, in which leading scientists who are Christians tackled some of the big scientific issues of today and what the Christian faith has to say about them.
It was run by Professor William (Bill) Clegg, Emeritus Professor of Structural Crystallography at Newcastle University and a member of Stocksfield Baptist Church, and supported by the Revd Peter Jorysz, Bill's minister.
The funding enabled Bill to attract world-recognised experts as speakers and hold the talks in convenient venues around the area, while making all the events completely free for anyone to attend.
He said, 'We had 9 talks in various places from Hexham to Blaydon and Ponteland - halls, churches, schools - and attracted audiences from about 30 to over 100, probably depending on the topic, speaker, day and weather! There were some excellent discussions and a lot of positive feedback, even from those who identified themselves as atheists.
'We had some truly excellent and eminent speakers, both local and from as far away as Cambridge, Warwick and Southampton. The subjects were very topical, including environmental issues such as climate change and extraction of natural resources, but also genetics, natural disasters, artificial intelligence, and there were the standard challenges of miracles, evolution, the beginning and age of the universe, and the supposed conflict of science and religion.
'We used a lot of the funding for effective publicity and setting up a website that's still there and being developed (bigquestions-anyanswers.org) and includes recordings of the talks.
'We encountered very little negative reaction and have established potentially useful contacts with a number of local high schools.
'Although the funded project is over, our engagement with the science-faith interface in the north-east will keep going. We hope that we have positively challenged and helped people to engage with science and faith issues, and that they have been encouraged to move forward on their faith journey with or towards God.'
Re:Think Worcester aims to communicate the complementary nature of science and faith to young people at 6th form and undergraduate level, equipping them to make their own decisions about what they believe about science and faith, and how they relate to one another.
Several presentations have been made in city centre locations. They have dealt with the Science/God debate (“Has science killed God?”), Artificial Intelligence (“Rise of the Intelligent Machines, Future Battleground?”) and the Predictions of Science Fiction (“Humanity becoming gods?: the dreams and fears of science fiction”).
The project is run by Dr Kim Stansfield, member of the World Mission Task Force at St Peter’s Baptist Church in Worcester and Senior Lecturer in Systems Engineering at Warwick University, and Jim Smith, a Methodist from Bromsgrove.
Scientists in Congregations is a grant scheme open to all mainstream Christian churches, and part of a three year project at Durham University run in partnership with the Church of England.
A shortened version of this article appeared in the summer 2018 edition of Baptists Together magazine.