Letter from the Rectory - June 2020
We have become used to the Government’s phrase that their decisions are based on ‘the science’ – although, of course, ultimately it is political decisions that have to be made based on a number of factors including science. Winston Churchill once said, “Scientists should be on tap and not on top.”
In matters of faith, it is often assumed that science and religion are diametrically opposed. Those who manage to ‘have a foot in both camps’, as both scientists and practising Christians, can often offer interesting perspectives.
Prof. Ard Louis is a theoretical physicist based at Oxford University studying problems on the border of physics, chemistry and biology. Louis was born in the Netherlands but was brought up in Gabon in Central West Africa. Growing up, he lived in the middle of the jungle, the son of missionary parents with a chimpanzee as a pet. He became an active Christian in his late teens.
He has written about the deep impact that Christianity had on the rise of science. Scientists like Isaac Newton were deeply religious. ‘By all standards science has probably been the most successful human enterprise in history,’ he states, ‘but its power comes from its limitations. It studies only things that are repeatable. There are many aspects of life that cannot be captured in this way.’ He added that when he lived in Africa, he saw God intervene in people’s lives – something that is hard to capture with science.
Ard Louis doesn’t see science and religion as two separate categories. “My faith influences all of my life, and science is one thing I do. My faith informs my science in several ways. It has to do with the ethics of how I practice science: honesty, sharing my results, treating my colleagues and students well”. He adds that for him the Christian faith provides the insight that human beings often get it wrong and are easily susceptible to fooling themselves. “The scientific method has a lot to do with not fooling ourselves. I demand from my students that they’re honest and rigorous in every single step of their research.”
Another who has made this his life’s work is John Polkinghorne, the Cambridge scientist and clergyman who will be 90 in October. For long he has been a leading voice explaining the relationship between science and religion. He sees fruitful interaction between science and religion because they are both concerned with the search for truthful understanding.
In the complex and confusing world of Covid-19, amidst the myriad of statistics, the search for truth continues; both science and religion play their part.