Bishop’s Letter: God and the Big Bang
“for anyone to say ‘science has proved there is no God’ is very poor science indeed.”
‘Science and Religion are in conflict with each other’ is an oft trotted-out phrase. As someone who has spent much of his life working as a scientist I find it frustrating to say the least. I love science. It’s the most astonishing method of understanding how the natural world around us works. I wouldn’t for a moment want to be without all that science has given us. I’m a total fan of anaesthesia, mobile phones, the understanding of how stars work and much more.
But as a scientist, I learned early on that overstating what can be deduced from evidence is one of the discipline’s cardinal sins. So for anyone to say ‘Science has proved there is no God’ is very poor science indeed. I’ve yet to see a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Nature that proves that point.
Faith, in contrast, is not so concerned with the ‘how’. It’s far more interested in the ‘why’. Why should there be existence? What is my meaning, purpose and value? What does it mean to live well in this world that we have been given?
This week, these questions were explored by students at Haileybury College who took part in ‘God and the Big Bang’, a national initiative that enables schools to encounter the thinking of scientists who are also people of Christian faith. Talks and lessons challenged implicit assumptions. Students were invited to wonder whether science and religion might not be conflicted, but complementary. Our time at Haileybury began with preaching at chapel by Professor David Wilkinson, cosmologist and theologian and Canon Scientist of St Albans Cathedral. (This was the first sermon in his 18 years at Haileybury that chaplain Chris Briggs could recall receiving a spontaneous ovation from students!) David’s words were followed by teaching for years 9 and 10 plus sixth form students. This was undertaken by a team comprised of experts in physics, conservation biology, evolutionary biology and ethics.
A further team of clergy from around Rt Revd Michael Beasley our diocese provided Bishop of Hertford opportunities for students to think more about all they were experiencing. We led morning prayers, lessons and evening meetings designed to enable reflection on the themes of wisdom, creation and suffering.
What did we learn from all that took place? Firstly, that how we see the world depends on our perspective. Many students began the week in the default position that ‘science and religion are in conflict’. The teaching offered gave the chance to stand in a different place and to see things differently. Secondly, we were constantly amazed at students’ hospitality and willingness to want to discuss the major issues of our existence. Much of our time centred around wrestling together with life’s big questions. Who am I? How should I live? What should my life be about?
Haileybury is a place of extraordinary privilege. But a school near you doesn’t have to be privileged to experience ‘God and the Big Bang’. Our Diocesan Education Department has some limited bursary funds that can be used to enable schools to make use of this resource. If you’d like to know more, do be in touch with or our Director of Education Canon David Morton.
A wise person once said that ‘All truth is God’s truth’. This week at Haileybury we saw that this is so as science and religion were brought not into conflict but into relationship and dialogue. Unlike the big bang, an interaction that proved not to be explosive!
Rt Revd Michael Beasley, Bishop of Hertford