CiS-NE: Science and Christian faith

Website of the Tyneside & Northumberland local group of Christians in Science

Update for July 2022

In terms of urgency, the main thing to mention first is the Faraday Institute Summer Course: Science and Faith Perspectives on the Art of Being Human, which runs from 3 to 8 July. Although there may still be a small number of tickets available for in-person attendance in Cambridge, it’s more likely you’ll choose to register as an online participant. There’s a very impressive list of speakers, headed up by Francis Collins, who was until recently the head of the US National Institutes of Health and before that directed the Human Genome Project. Online registration also provides access afterwards to the recordings of sessions you don’t manage to catch live in this full programme.

There’s also a short registration deadline of 15 July for a weekend training course in Cambridge, Communicating Science and Faith, from 16 to 18 September. I attended this course last year (avoiding the worst of Storm Arwen in the north-east!) and found it extremely useful, as well as quite hard work, including giving a short talk and a mock radio interview (I went on to do a real one soon afterwards for TransWorld Radio). The course costs nothing except your travel and time; if you’re interested in developing your skills and exploring possibilities for communicating about science and faith in various ways, I thoroughly recommend it!

As suggested in the last update, the ‘Current science topics from a Christian viewpoint’ article this time reports on the large recent research project exploring public attitudes to science and religion. The project’s summary report of 16 pages is well worth reading and may contain some surprises.

We’re now coming up to the summer season of major science conferences and I’ll be off to Portland (Oregon, USA) and Versailles (France) during July and August, giving presentations and chairing sessions. After two years without such events, it’s good to be able to experience them again, though environmental concerns mean I’m travelling to only one of them by air, using Eurostar to get to Paris. One of my talks, in response to being awarded a prize for 50 years of research and teaching, will be on a general theme of science communication, so that might be a springboard for an article here in the coming months. It’s a topic that has been touched on occasionally before, and was central to our recent Christians in Science Spring Conference in Durham in May: Science, Faith and Public Engagement. Recordings from this excellent event haven’t yet been made available, but a link will be provided on this website when they are.

Update for May 2022

The last update, for March 2022, came rather late and this one is slightly early, in order to give a reminder about the CiS Spring Conference in Durham on Saturday 7 May: Science, Faith and Public Engagement. We’ve been able to extend the ‘early bird’ registration deadline slightly, to the late evening of Sunday 1 May. After that, you can still get tickets to attend, but they will cost more and lunch won’t be included. We have an exciting programme in which four organisations will make major presentations in the morning and afternoon, and others will be taking part in a free-format exhibition during and after lunch. Further information, including the Eventbrite link for booking your tickets, is given on the ‘Future Events’ page.

The series of interviews with CiS members is now well underway on TransWorld Radio. The first few have been broadcast and are available ‘on demand’ on the TWR website. Again, you can find details on the ‘Future Events’ page.

This month we have a rather longer ‘Current science topics from a Christian viewpoint’ article, based on material I used for a short illustrated talk at a Faraday Institute training weekend in December. ‘What do scientists and theologians have in common?’ might sound like an intellectual joke question, but you can find one serious answer here. A major report has just been published, based on research investigating public attitudes to science and religion, and particularly the relationship between them, but it came too late to be the theme of this month’s article; depending on what else crops up, it may well be the topic for July.

Update for March 2022

This only just made it for March! The usual bimonthly update has been delayed until we had details available for a major event coming up on 7 May. This is the CiS Spring Conference 2022, to be held at St John’s College Durham with the title ‘Science, Faith and Public Engagement’. You can read more about it in the latest addition to the ‘Current science topics’ page, and it’s also listed on the ‘Future Events’ page together with a link to the Eventbrite booking site. Make sure you order your tickets by 30 April to save money and qualify for lunch on the day. It promises to be a popular and interesting event, bringing together a range of organisations involved in public engagement for science and Christian faith.

Another event – or rather a whole series of them – is described on the ‘Future Events’ page. The Christian broadcaster TransWorld Radio has recorded interviews with 14 members of Christians in Science from a range of science backgrounds, in which they describe the interaction of science and faith in their work and personal lives. I’m one of the people interviewed, several weeks ago now. It was an interesting experience and not as scary as I expected, especially as I knew the questions in advance and could think about the answers! Among other things, you’ll discover the identity of some of the scientists of the past whom we admire and look to as role models. The interviews can be heard as broadcast (7 am on Saturdays repeated at 7 pm on Sundays) but will also be available for listening later in ‘catch-up’ mode. The series runs throughout April, May and June.

Update for January 2022

A happy New Year to you all! Future events listed here seem to have a definite focus on issues of brains and minds; Dr Sharon Dircks is speaking twice in a week with very similar headings, at different times of day. The continuing serious Covid situation means that a number of events are still being run online. Looking further ahead, there’s this year’s Faraday Summer Course, planned in hybrid mode so you can access it online as an easier alternative to spending several days in Cambridge in July. There’s a very impressive list of speakers, headed by Francis Collins, who has just stepped down as Director of the US National Institutes of Health and was previously the head of the Human Genome Project.

The recorded talks from the CiS conference on the very topical subject of climate change (the day conference was held just before COP26) are now available online; see the Previous Events page for YouTube links.

This month’s article in the “Current science topics from a Christian viewpoint” considers the credibility of miracles, including those we hear about in the Christmas story; it includes references to C S Lewis, one of my favourite authors. You may well have read his Narnia books, which are much easier going than the book with the title Miracles!

In December I took part in a weekend course organised by the Faraday Institute in Cambridge, on “Communicating Science and Faith”. As a result I’ve recently been interviewed for Trans World Radio and may have another interview with Premier Christian Radio; dates and times for broadcasts will be provided when they’re known (not before May for TWR). I’m also hoping for some useful interaction with “God and the Big Bang” and their involvement in local schools, and there’s the possibility currently under discussion of a CiS day conference in the northeast around May with an overall theme of public engagement in science and Christian faith. Watch this space!

Update for November 2021

The “Future Events” listing includes activities ranging from one-hour seminars to a two-day workshop, all of these being available online as well as (in some cases) in person elsewhere in the country. If you’re interested, please make sure you look up the details in good time, as some of them require advance registration and payment of a fee.

We’re now a few days into COP26. Some major announcements of commitments have been made by governments, banks and other agencies, but it remains to be seen to what extent these will be honoured and enacted in the coming years.

The CiS conference on Climate Change last month had some excellent talks, which I hope will be available as YouTube recordings before long; when they are, you’ll find a link here.

As suggested in September, the latest “Current science topics” article is a slightly amended version of a short talk I gave in a Climate Sunday church service (amended to remove some specific references to the particular church setting), providing a scientist’s Biblical viewpoint on the topic, complete with relevant Bible references. It’s a little longer than usual and is intended to complement earlier articles on climate change written from a more directly scientific perspective.

Update for September 2021

A couple of other events have been added, taking place in October – these are all climate related! There are also details now about the booking arrangements for the CiS Autumn Conference on “Climate Change – A Christian Response”. You’re more likely to want to attend this online than travel to Croydon for the day (Saturday 16 October), but you do need to register in advance using the Eventbrite link you’ll find via the “Future Events” page.

As the IPCC report on Climate Change was published recently, in the run-up to COP26 in Glasgow in November, and has certainly hit the news including even the tabloid headlines, I’ve made this the theme of the latest “Current science topics” series. It focuses on aspects of scientific evidence, which is the main thrust of the IPCC report, but I may follow up it next time (during COP26) with a complementary theological argument.

We await developments to see how feasible it is to organise in-person events in the coming months.

Update for July 2021

As usual, even in this peculiar year of continuing pandemic impacts, the summer holiday period is a relatively quiet one in terms of events related to science and faith. The list of Future Events is very short and these lie well ahead in October; possibly some September dates will be filled in later, and further details will also emerge for the CiS day conference on Climate Change, which of course is planned as part of the lead up to the COP26 summit in Glasgow.

The Faraday Summer Course in July was extremely good – I saw and heard all the talks either at the time or soon afterwards on the website provided for registered participants. I found the talks on neuroscience (dealing with questions of brain and mind and how these are related to faith) particularly informative, this being rather outside my own area of expertise. I hope and expect that all the talks will later be made available to all on the Faraday Institute website; as soon as I know this, I will provide a link.

At some stage before long, I hope to write an article that isn’t related to Covid! However, this month I thought it was a good idea to explain something about virus variants and how these are related to mutations, as the so-called Delta variant has come to dominate the news recently with its disruptive impact on government plans to launch and celebrate the lifting of formal restrictions on 19 July. The new article ‘Variants of Concern’ is on the Current Science Topics page and is kept as simple as possible, which means experts in the field may well find fault with some generalisations and omissions! Feedback on any of these articles is always welcome, especially if you find them helpful but also if there are points for debate and discussion.

Update for June 2021

Recordings are now available for talks given at the CiS Northern Conference in May, covering various aspects of Christian faith and life in a digital age. This conference, postponed from last year because of the coronavirus pandemic, was particularly relevant after a year of lockdown during which so much activity was carried out online. I particularly recommend two of the talks: ‘Digital Church in a post-COVID world?’ by Peter Philips, which should be viewed by church leaders in particular, and ‘What would Jesus post?’ by David Robertson, a thought-provoking personal viewpoint on social media. You can find these and the other talks on the Christians in Science YouTube channel; links are given here:

https://www.cis.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/2021-05-CiS-Update.pdf

Events coming up in June include two CiS webinars on ‘A scripturally coherent view of science’ and ‘A scientifically coherent view of the gospel’; a talk on palliative care in the context of the coronavirus pandemic; a talk linking theology and the environment; and a seminar suggesting ways of using science in church preaching. Further ahead, there’s this year’s Summer Course of the Faraday Institute, 4-9 July, and details are being worked out for a CiS day conference on climate change on 16 October around the time of the COP26 international summit in Glasgow. See the ‘Future Events’ page for details.

Update for May 2021

The ‘Future Events’ page has been updated. Please take note particularly of the CiS Northern Conference being held online next Friday evening and through much of Saturday (7 and 8 May), looking at various aspects of ‘life online’ and how we can best relate to this and use it well as Christians. You need to register in advance and pay a small amount for a ticket (through Eventbrite), but this covers the cost of a small conference pack that will be sent to you by post, so it’s important not to wait until the last minute, or you won’t have the pack in time!

News has just come through in the last few days that the schools project God and the Big Bang has received a new grant to expand its science-faith work with 9-18 year old students and it is moving its base from Manchester to Durham. The latest ‘Current science topics from a Christian viewpoint’ article tells you more about this and its potential for some collaborative engagement in our local area, and you can see further information on the GATBB website via this link: The Expansion – God and the Big Bang (gatbb.co.uk)

Update for March 2021

The ‘Faith in Science’ panel Q&A session was recorded and is available to view at the same YouTube address: https://youtu.be/7L4XQ_hunFU

There are lots of new entries in the ‘Future Events’ page, most of them online and free but requiring some kind of registration in advance to help the organisers with planning.

The latest topical science article has just been posted; it’s a bit behind normal schedule, but I changed my mind about the subject!

Faith in Science: the first joint CiS-NE/NUCU event

Our link with Newcastle University Christian Union (NUCU) sees its first joint venture with a 4-member panel taking questions in a NUCU-hosted ‘Big Questions’ evening live on the NUCU YouTube channel. The event is also sponsored by the Christian Medical Fellowship. It is open for all to view, 19:00 to 20:30 on Wednesday 24 February, using this link:

https://youtu.be/7L4XQ_hunFU

The members of the panel come from a variety of science backgrounds.

Chris Done, Professor of Astrophysics, Director of Research, and member of the Centre for Extragalactic Astronomy at Durham University

Darren Evans, Professor of Ecology and Conservation at Newcastle University

Bill Clegg, Emeritus Professor of Structural Crystallography and Baptist Chaplain at Newcastle University

Cherryl Hunt, Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Theology and Religion at Exeter University with previous molecular biology research experience

Science, engineering and medicine are big subjects for research and teaching at Newcastle University, which has a strong international reputation in some of these fields. Many members and followers of our local CiS group are on the staff of Newcastle University, working with their Christian faith in research, teaching and support roles. We have now set up a connection to support and work with the Christian Union in their ministry to Christian students and in outreach, not only for those studying science and related subjects, but also for all who are interested in the connection between science and Christian faith or who question whether there is any such connection. As such, CiS joins several other organisations including the Christian Medical Fellowship and Christians in Sport (confusingly with the same initials!) and is listed under Resources on their website.

We are jointly planning an online event later in February with a panel of Christian scientists taking questions from a student audience. Details will be available later, as soon as we have them (updated now: see the item above).

Updates and enhancements for 2021

This website has been restructured to some extent and new features added in January 2021. Navigation has been added to some pages so that particular items can be more easily found from an index list; this is particularly so for the growing record of Previous Events and for the Current Science Topics with a new article every two months.

The article for January 2021 looks at some widely-believed ‘atheist myths’ about the astronomers Copernicus and Galileo, following much interest in the Grand Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn just before Christmas 2020. No, they weren’t brave rebels against a persecuting church; read it for yourself. Feedback is welcome on any of these articles.

Contacts and links have been extensively updated. Here you will now find more information about Christians in Science and how you can get more involved in its resources and activities, including various membership options. You can also sign up to receive occasional information by email about our local activities and related topics.

Future Events now provide a list of online events organised outside the local area, as it is just as easy to join those as nearer ones; during the pandemic restrictions, geography is largely irrelevant! This list will be kept up to date, with headline information and links for further details. Please note that some events require prior registration (even when there is no charge for taking part), so you should check the information in advance and not wait until the last minute.

We are currently exploring partnerships with other organisations: watch this space!


Why you won’t find me in the Tyne Valley Express any more

From March 2017 until July 2020 I regularly contributed articles on topical science issues, written from a personal viewpoint as a Christian, to the local bimonthly what’s-on and advertising magazine Tyne Valley Express.  These were generally put together to occupy a single page of the printed magazine, roughly 800 words plus some illustrative pictures.  The contributions were a response to an invitation from the editor after I asked to insert some notices advertising talks on the science-faith interface during 2017.

The text of the various articles can be found on the ‘Current science topics from a Christian viewpoint‘ page of this website.  There was no article for May 2020 because the magazine was not produced and distributed during this stage of the coronavirus pandemic.  The July 2020 article covered two pages and was on the topic of viruses.

I wrote an article for the September 2020 issue covering the topical subject of conspiracy theories, as many of these have been circulating on social media and elsewhere with particular reference to the current pandemic situation, many concern scientific topics, and they need to be countered as baseless.  The editor refused to publish it because he disagreed with its contents, saying that “your perception of reality is so far removed from the actual reality around us in my opinion”.  Despite my repeated request for clarification about the disputed points in the article, I have heard nothing in reply.

When the magazine was distributed, it was obvious that my article would have been in direct contradiction of one by Sarah Fae, entitled Masquerade, which promoted several conspiracy theories!  Her previous article Immune to the System had already claimed that the mainstream media manipulate and control our perception of reality with a blanket of lies and hiding the truth, and she cited online resources that are connected to QAnon and other known extreme conspiracy organisations.  In this one she repeats the attack, extending it also to government health advice, which “was never about our safety”.  She objects to face masks as an inhuman symbol of control by a corrupt system, suggests Covid-19 death rates are exaggerated, implies the “pandemic” is not real by use of those quotation marks, and mentions vaccines in a negative context.  She is clearly an admirer of the arch-conspiracy theorist David Icke and objects to the fact that he has been de-platformed because his views are considered a threat to public safety (this is a man who believes the world is controlled by a race of mutant reptiles, climate change is a hoax, and the scientific method is complete rubbish – his own choice of words is ruder than that).  She recommends two resources, one of which is a huge online collection of some of the worst conspiracy theories in circulation, and the other is a so-called documentary film that has been thoroughly debunked for its misinformation and distortions (not to say, outright lies).

The magazine editor refers to the “pearls of wisdom” provided by his writers in this issue (I have no problems with any of the other articles!) in his short editorial that also rails about mask wearing in public places and refers to “a fascist regime” as part of his response to it.

I’m sorry to say that the Tyne Valley Express has chosen fantasy over fact.  I have not received the usual reminder and invitation to write another article; the newly developed magazine website makes no mention of me as a writer and does not include my last published article on viruses in its collection, while the article by Sarah Fae from the same issue attacking mainstream media is featured.  What’s that about de-platforming?  I am very sad to see this useful publication rejecting objective evidence-based truth and promoting unfounded and dangerous nonsense.  They clearly don’t want to hear from me again.

What makes a scientist tick?

This talk by Bill Clegg was originally given to the Stocksfield Retired Men’s Association in March 2020, just before we went into Covid-19 lockdown nationally.  It was slightly changed in October 2020 and recorded in video form (by audio recording into the original Powerpoint presentation) for Perspectives Christian Vision for Men, a local organisation that usually arranges monthly breakfasts with speakers.  It combines autobiographical elements with a discussion of the character of science and scientists.

A website with a renewed purpose…

April 2019

The bigquestions-anyanswers website was originally set up in 2017 to support and resource one particular funded project addressing the interface between science and the Christian faith.  Although that particular project ended, all its material is retained here for reference and further use; this includes audio recordings and slide presentations for most of the nine talks given in various locations in the Tyne valley area.

The website is now serving the work of the Tyneside & Northumberland local group of the national organisation Christians in Science (cis.org.uk), which aims to address the same sort of issues.

This local group has an email distribution list, which is used to send out information about plans and activities; it is used infrequently, and the email addresses of recipients are known only to the list managers.  If you would like to be added to this list, or to know more about it, please contact bill.clegg@ncl.ac.uk

…and a new event

We organised the 2019 Christians in Science Northern Conference in Durham in May.  This was designed for anyone who’s interested in the subject, not just experts in the science or theology.

Details of the conference, together with audio recordings of the talks, can be found on the ‘Previous events’ page.  They are also being made available on the Christians in Science national website (cis.org.uk)

 

Where do we go from here?

November 2017

Our Templeton-funded project has reached the end of its programme of nine talks by invited speakers, giving a Christian perspective on topical science issues, but this isn’t the end of ‘Big Questions – Any Answers’!  Please see the invitation below to contribute to an online survey of reactions and opinions to what we’ve done so far, so that we can make plans for the future.  And watch this space for further activities and events!

In the meantime you can catch up with talks you’ve missed, by visiting the ‘Previous Events’ page, where you’ll find audio recordings, presentation slides, video clips, and other links and resources.

New items and features added!

October 2017

  • You can now read some related articles from the Tyne Valley Express – see the link in the menu list to the right.
  • Short video summaries of some of the talks, alongside the full audio recordings, can be found on the ‘Previous Events’ pages.  Video introductions to the project are available below.
  • There’s an online Survey Monkey questionnaire to explore the way forward in the science-faith interface following the end of our funded series of talks in November 2017.  If you’d like to contribute to our ideas and future planning, please follow this link (it will open as a new browser tab or window) and get your friends to do the same:

https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/K5QNMBW

or alternatively  goo.gl/vhuxTi

What’s it all about?

Big Questions – Any Answers?’ is a series of talks arranged for the Tyne Valley area, in which leading scientists who are Christians tackle some of the big scientific issues of today and what the Christian faith has to say about them.

Generous funding from an international charity means that we can attract world-recognized experts as speakers and hold the talks in convenient venues around the area, while making all the events completely free for anyone to attend.  This is a rare opportunity, not to be missed. 

The talks are intended for a general audience.  No scientific expertise or training is needed, and no particular attitude to religion is assumed.  Everyone is welcome, whatever your background, and there are opportunities for questions and discussion. 

The first series of 5 talks took place on weekday evenings between Easter and the school summer holidays, and featured scientists from Cambridge and Newcastle Universities.  A second series of 4 talks followed in September–November after the school holidays.  Posters for both series are shown below.  Further details can be found on the “Previous Events” page, including audio recordings and presentation slides from the various talks together with other links and resources.

Use the archive material for an exploration of some of these Big Questions, and see if we can provide Any Answers to satisfy you.  We’re sure you’ll find it interesting and informative, and maybe even challenging and inspiring!

Video introductions:

  1. by the science co-director, Bill Clegg

2. by the church co-director, Pete Jorysz:

Science and Faith poster

Series poster 2