Pupils at Bolton School recently attended a ‘God and the Big Bang’ conference, for the Boys’ and Girls’ Divisions taking Religious Studies at GCSE and A-level. The event aimed to debunk the myth that science and religion are incompatible.
Dr Althea Wilkinson gave the keynote address. She is currently the Project Manager of the Signal and Data Transport (SADT) consortium for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA), a multi-purpose radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, and has many years’ experience of exploring the universe through the study of astronomy.
Dr Althea Wilkinson’s keynote speech
Dr Wilkinson began by looking at the huge scale of the science she is involved with. She gave the pupils a tour of the universe, moving outwards from the Earth, past the moon and the solar system, to look at the 1,000,000,000 stars in the galaxy, and then further to show the clusters and networks that are formed by galaxies beyond that. She outlined the history of the universe, beginning with the Big Bang, and how matter was formed immediately afterwards. During her address, she suggested there are many questions that cannot necessarily be answered. For example, the possibility of one billion Earth-like exoplanets and potentially 100,000 intelligent civilisations – if they exist, where are they and why they haven’t made contact?
While discussing a variety of theories and concepts about the universe that cannot be proved, she noted that some scientists say that they are so beautiful that they don’t need proof, moving away from science and towards faith.
She went on to explain that while science answers the question of ‘How?’ it does not address ‘Why?’ and this is where faith can step in, as the search for God is the search for meaning. She explained how she became a Christian at the age of 55 and how the wrong idea of both science and faith can lead to the assumption that they are incompatible. However, she suggested that from her experience, it is not only possible to put the two together, but also that they can reaffirm one another.
An interactive session was run by Dr Matt Pritchard, an award-winning magician, comedian and science communicator who works with organisations such as The Royal Society, Royal Institution and British Science Festival, and has previously conducted atomic physics research at Durham University. He combined magic, science and philosophy in his fascinating talk, which pointed out that people with different worldviews will come to different conclusions when they see particular pieces of evidence. He also talked about how the simplest things can create a sense of wonder, and asked where that feeling comes from and why it exists.
George Hawker, a third year Astrophysics student at Cambridge University, ran the second session, in which students were asked to categorise questions as scientific, philosophical, or both. This generated a lot of discussion, and got them thinking about what each discipline is concerned with, and where they overlap.
Lizzie Coyle speaks to pupils during her ‘Fossils & Faith’ session
A third session was run by Lizzie Coyle, a Cambridge University graduate who specialised in Evolutionary and Behavioural Biology and also covered Geology and the History and Philosophy of Science. She now works for the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Her workshop, ‘Fossils and Faith’, looked at how life forms have evolved, and drew together some of the themes introduced by the other speakers. She explained how science and faith have always worked well together in her experience: “A combination of the two gives a beautiful and fulfilling view of the world”.
What do you think? Are religion and science compatible? Tell us your thoughts in the comments or send your blogs to the editor.