Revelling in Science, Flourishing Spiritually
Dr Ruth M. Bancewicz reflects on her appointment as the first Church Engagement Director for The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion.
"Oh no, I'm nothing", said a woman in her eighties when I asked her, "Are you a physicist?". I had suspected she had a scientific background because her reaction had been so positive when I explained how order can emerge from random processes. After hearing my biologists-eye view of how this applies to one aspect of the cell's inner skeleton, she had turned delightedly to her friends for an animated discussion of what this meant for the role of God in creation.
It turned out that this person was not a science graduate at all. I didn't ask any more questions about her qualifications, but I often find that many older women in the UK were not taught much science. I love introducing people like this to science. They are fascinated, inquisitive and enjoy discussing the implications of new discoveries.
Everyone naturally asks question of meaning and purpose when they learn about scientific discoveries. Of course I objected to someone describing themselves as "nothing", but when science and faith are being discussed people can be quick to write themselves off. The science may seem dauntingly technical at first, and many people don't know much philosophy or theology, but that doesn't mean that this is a subject only for the elite. I find that if a topic is explained clearly and at the right pace, with examples that the audience can relate to, everyone has something to say and questions to ask.
One of the frequent questions in the science-faith discussion in a Christian environment is evolutionary biology and how it relates to the Biblical doctrine of creation. I led some sessions in a local church last year where some of the group members were a little wary of the science, and first wanted to explore the different ways in which Genesis is interpreted. In other churches, people are quite happy with evolution but fail to appreciate its full wonders. In other words, there is often a gap in understanding and engagement that is crying out to be addressed.
Whenever I present the idea that the genetic code is so highly optimised that life on another planet might share a similar code, I find most people are filled with wonder and bursting with questions. Does that mean there might be life on other planets? Where did the organic molecules that make life possible come from in the first place? What about the first cell? If there's intelligent life elsewhere in the universe what would the person of Jesus Christ mean to them?
The beauty of the biological sciences is not lost on anyone, and neither is the sense of awe at the vastness of the universe, the intricacy of a cell, or the seemingly fragile yet amazingly robust process of embryonic development. At The Faraday Institute we believe that for people to flourish fully, they need the opportunity appreciate these wonders and ask questions about them.
My new role is to equip UK churches to engage with science through training, advice, recommending resources and producing new material where it's needed. I'm excited about the potential to help people become better informed and confident in their approach to science, as they find new ways to bring it into the mainstream of the life and worship of the church.
This article was written by Dr Ruth M. Bancewicz, Church Engagement Director at The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion which has shared building space with The Woolf Institute since the Autumn of 2017. Before coming to The Faraday Institute as a Research Associate at its founding in 2006, Ruth was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Cell and Molecular Biology at Edinburgh University and Development Officer for Christians in Science. Ruth blogs at scienceandbelief.org.
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