About Mark Harris

Dr Mark Harris is the course manager of the master's programme in Science and Religion at the University of Edinburgh. He is especially interested in areas of physics which have direct impact on religious belief, and vice versa. His main research topics are the interpretation of miracles and of creation.

Science and religion: Clash of worldviews?

I recently spent an excellent week in the Faraday Institute at Cambridge, lecturing at their summer course (July 2016). They filmed my talks, and here’s the first one – “Science and Religion: Clash of Worldviews?”


Here’s a potted summary –
  • Many people in our world today believe that science and religion are at war. In this talk I argue that it’s not a foregone conclusion that science and religion should be in conflict with each other. Neither do I believe that they represent incompatible worldviews. There are many other ways of looking at this problem, and I suggest that the view that science and religion have to be clashing worldviews is, in fact, a worldview of its very own. Along the way, I look at the main models of interaction that have been suggested for relating science to religion. I suggest that, while these models all contain elements of the truth, they are also limited in their own ways. The point is that the relationship between science and religion is much more subtle than it’s given credit for. This is the starting point for a much richer investigation of how the two areas relate, something which the Summer Course did in depth.


‘How I fell into Science and Religion’ – interview with Mark Harris

I am often asked how I fell into Science and Religion. Sam Ford, who produces Manna, the magazine of the Diocese of Bath and Wells, interviewed me about just this subject. His article, with the interview, follows here. 


The Large Hadron Collider at the CERN lab in Switzerland (Copyright Image Editor and licensed under Creative Commons, flickr.com)

Mark Harris has just returned from a conference at CERN, the world’s leading particle physics laboratory where the so-called ‘God particle’ has been discovered. He was there talking with physicists, philosophers, theologians and representatives from major world religions, exploring the relevance of the Big Bang theory for religious belief, and vice versa. As the author of a book on what the Bible has to say to science about the world, he stands confidently in the middle of a heated debate that has been characterised at times by fervent, even aggressive, stances on both sides.
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‘Fuzzy Science’ – one of our MSc in Science and Religion graduates describes her time in Edinburgh

JaneThe Revd Jane Chamberlain, one of our graduates from the MSc in Science and Religion at Edinburgh, describes her time. This piece was originally published in the Diocese of Bath and Wells magazine, Manna.

From 2012-2014 I studied part time for a MSc (Master of Science) degree in Science and Religion at the University of Edinburgh. This meant flying to Edinburgh for one day a week during term time. Fortunately I live very close to the airport and my parishioners were unbelievably supportive in organising a rota and giving me lifts to and from the airport – no mean feat as it was week in, week out at 5.30am – even in winter! And although it was hectic being full-time in the benefice, the parishes and diocese were generous and supportive in allowing me some study leave. Continue reading

Catastrophists and Uniformitarians

I am just beginning my first sabbatical since launching our MSc in Science and Religion, and am enjoying getting into some research that I’ve had on hold for a long time. Those of you who have skimmed over this blog in the past will have realised that one of my abiding interests is in the fraught relationship between natural scientists and biblical scholars over how the Bible should be interpreted. A couple of years ago it occurred to me that the debate between them is exactly parallel to the old argument between ‘catastrophists and uniformitarians’ in nineteenth century geology. This argument is little-known today beyond geology, but it was truly foundational, in that much of what we know as modern science today stems from what was being argued about back then, not least Darwin’s theory of evolution. Continue reading

Conflict in Science and Religion

Usually, including the word ‘conflict’ in a headline draws attention. Not so much in the case of science and religion though, because the default relationship between them seems to be one of conflict, at least if the popular media is anything to go by. In other words, it’s hardly news if you announce that there is ‘conflict in science and religion’. This was the rather unsurprising result announced by the latest Pew Research Center survey of US opinions on science and religion. There was one novel discovery here though, and something which many of us in the academic study of science and religion had long suspected but had never seen substantiated (to my knowledge): those most inclined to uphold the idea of conflict are those with no strong religious commitments. Individuals who do have strong faith commitments, on the other hand, are most likely to claim that there is no conflict between their religious beliefs and science.

Working in science full-time, and before I came to the science and religion field myself, I used to be one of those people who maintained that there’s no conflict between science and religion. I slowly became dissatisfied with that response though, and exposure to the deep level debates in the science and religion field showed me why. Quite clearly, there is conflict between science and religion – quite substantial conflict over some issues (as in previous pages on this blog) – although it’s not of the generic kind of conflict that so many people assume is the case. I think of this generic level of assumed conflict as ‘surface conflict’. Instead, there is ‘deep conflict’ (just as there is also deep agreement) in some areas. There’s no easy way to characterise this deep-level conflict: it changes in intensity and quality depending on which sciences and which religious beliefs we’re talking about. But quite simply, we can’t speak too glibly of the conflict, either to claim that it’s all conflict between science and religion, or that it’s all harmonious. Both responses deliberately avoid engaging with the challenges.

And I suspect that reluctance to engage is at the root of the widespread misunderstanding of the science and religion dialogue: whether we claim it’s all conflict or all harmonious we’re saying it because we don’t want to engage.

The University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Science and Religion is one of the world’s few programmes of advanced study in the area, training students to engage to the utmost with the debate. We’ve just come to the end of the first semester for the current academic year. As with previous years, students express surprise that the issues run so deep, and are all too often painfully intractable either by science or religion. As the students also invariably discover though, along with deep conflict, there are areas of deep agreement between science and religion, not to mention the deep satisfaction that can be gained from wrestling with some of the most difficult questions known to humankind.

The future of science and religion

The future of science and religion as an academic discipline has been pressing on my mind these last few days. I’ve just returned from the Science and Religion Forum‘s annual conference, held at Durham (UK), for three days, from 3 – 5 September. This being the 40th anniversary of the Forum (and its founding by Arthur Peacocke), the conference was billed as a look at the past, present, and future of the science and religion dialogue. Much to my interest, a number of the plenary speakers raised concerns about the current state of science and religion as an academic discipline. While much has been achieved over those 40 years in certain key areas such as the doctrine of creation, divine action, and the relationship between science and religion, there is much that is still unsolved in these areas, and also massive areas of concern elsewhere which have never been properly addressed. In short, there is an enormous amount of work still waiting for the current and future generations of scholars to take on. One of the wonderful things about the conference was that it became apparent that, despite the concerns, some completely new avenues are being opened up even now. The imperative will be to ensure that these new avenues become established research programmes across the field in time.


The definition of atheism

We were delighted to see that Ethan Quillen, one of our graduate students at Edinburgh, has just published a paper from his PhD in the new online journal Science, Religion, and Culture. Ethan blogs about it here (this can also be found in Ethan’s own blog).

Shameless Self-Promotion

My initial intention with this week’s post was to discuss the little differences we might imagine between cultural and national identities, particularly concerning the notion of ‘community’ in regard to the odd liminality felt by the ‘foreign’ PhD student.  That will be next week.

Today, a special edition of the journal Science, Religion, and Culture on Atheism, Secularity, and Science was published, for which I srccontributed.  Not one to let the iron cool before striking, I thought it might be useful to use this week’s post as a blatant and entirely shameless plug not only for my own article, but for the others that accompany it as well.

I first came to learn of this special issue through Tommy Coleman, a colleague at the Religious Studies Project, who has made quite a name for himself in the field of the Psychology of Religion, and its influence on the study of Atheism, secularity, etc.  He is quite the proliferate scholar, so here are some useful sources for reading about his work:

As the co-editor of this special issue along with John R. Shook and Ralph W. Hood Jr., Tommy has played an integral role in communicating and assisting throughout the process.  For that, I am quite grateful.

The issue itself (as I perceive it) is an attempt at tackling the ever-growing identity crisis within the field of Atheist Studies, particularly in reference to the fact that there are some (perhaps many) who would likely disagree with my notion that this field should be, in any way, referred to as such.  In fact, this is rather well said in the issue’sIntroduction:

Where it was once typical to begin a research article, introduction to a book volume, or special journal issue such as this one, by the researcher lamenting their particular field of study for neglecting such topics, this kind of pleading is no longer tenable (Bullivant and Lee, 2012). Nonetheless, as researchers we cannot afford to rest on our laurels for very long. While studies on atheism and secularity now exist across disciplines ranging from psychology, cognitive science, sociology, religious studies, philosophy, anthropology, and many others, this provides only a theoretical and methodological starting point from which to explore the given topic. Importantly, within each of these disciplines lay multiple competing frameworks, field-specific conceptualizations, and inter-disciplinary scuffles as to precisely what secularity is, and how to study it. Typically, pre-existing frameworks developed for use in religious believing populations are modified to fit nonbelievers, as nonbelief is often presumed to be the dark shadow of whatever belief or religiosity is (Coleman and Arrowood, 2015Silver, Coleman, Hood, and Holcombe, 2014). How far this approach will go toward answering whatever questions the scholar is interested in is an open one.

While there are points and theoretical positions within the articles published here with which I find myself in disagreement (such as Jonathan Jong’s “On (not) defining (non)religion”), the issue itself makes a number of quite useful strides toward an establishment of some sense of academic identity.  Which is no small endeavour.

For years now I have been referring to this area of interest as a ‘flying dutchman,’ cast about in a sea of opposed approaches and interests, without a distinct port-of-call.  Where before I might have lamented this fact, such as we might do when presented with the myriad ways in which the very terms we use are defined, my position has shifted a bit.

No longer do I think our ‘flying dutchman’ status is detrimental to our cause.  After all, while many voices proclaiming different things might seem to some as an atonal din, for others, that might sound like a chorus.

Or, said otherwise, and as I argued in my article, rather than dismiss this discourse because it reflects many voices saying different things, why not embrace it and simply allow people to say what it is they think and believe.

It is my opinion that this special issue does just that.

For this reason, not only was I quite happy to have been considered for this publication, I am also hopeful that it might be perceived as an example of how our theoretical and methodological hodgepodge might also prove ultimately beneficial to the academy’s larger understanding of Atheism and its many cognate terms.

For the benefit of the reader, then, I’ve provided the following links:

An Introduction to Atheism, Secularity, and Science,” by Thomas J. Coleman III, Ralph W. Hood Jr., and John R. Shook.

On (not) defining (non)religion,” by Jonathan Jong

Discourse Analysis and the Definition of Atheism,” by Ethan G. Quillen

The NonReligious-NonSpiritual Scale (NRNSS): Measuring Everyone from Atheists to Zionists,” by Ryan T. Cragun, Joseph H. Hammer, and Michael Nielsen

Atheism, Wellbeing, and the Wager: Why Not Believing in God (With Others) is Good for You,” by Luke Galen

Atheism Looking In: On the Goals and Strategies of Organized Nonbelief,” by Joseph Langston, Joseph Hammer, and Ryan T. Cragun

Explaining the Secularity of Academics: Historical Questions and Psychological Findings,” by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi

The God of Nonbelievers: Characteristics of a Hypothetical God,” by David F. Bradley, Julie J. Exline, and Alex Uzdavines

When Rabbis Lose Faith: Twelve Rabbis Tell their Stories about their Loss of Belief in God,” by Rabbi Paul Shrell-Fox

Research note: “A Profile of the Members of the British Humanist Association,” by Gareth Longden

Research note: “Simple Markov Model for Estimating the Growth of Nonreligion in the United States,” by John Stinespring and Ryan T. Cragun

Book Review: Trent Dougherty, The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small, by Liz Goodnick

Book Review: The New Atheist Novel: Fiction, Philosophy, and Polemic after 9/11, by Marcus Mann

Book Review: Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions, by Amanda Schutz

The Uniformity of Nature – conference on 30th May 2015

Together with PhysPhil (the Physics and Philosophy Society at St Andrews University), we are organising another day conference, to be held in the School of Divinity, on laws of nature, the philosophy of science, and the question of divine action. There is an excellent line-up of speakers, and the event is free to attend. See below.

The School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh

You are warmly invited to the forthcoming conference, ‘The Uniformity of Nature: Natural Laws, Natural Powers or Divine Action’


This one-day conference will bring together philosophers, philosopher-scientists and theologians to explore a variety of topics, including the laws of nature, divine agency, and the existence of powers and capacities in the natural world, with a view to (re)conceptualising the fundamental origins of order in our universe.


A number of speakers will be offering neo-Aristotelian perspectives on these topics, among other perspectives, applying ancient and contemporary philosophy to modern conceptual problems in the physical sciences and theology.


We are anticipating a stimulating interdisciplinary conference with plenty of time for discussion.


We look forward to seeing you there!

Confirmed speakers :  


  • Prof Michael Dodds, Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology
  • Prof Peter Simons, Trinity College Dublin
  • Prof Raymond Tallis, University of Manchester
  • Dr Nicholas Saunders, University of Cambridge
  • Dr John Pemberton, LSE
  • Dr Tuomas Tahko, Helsinki University
  • Dr Nicholas Teh, University of Cambridge
  • Dr Ignacio Silva, University of Oxford
  • Dr Janice Breidenbach-Chik, Ave Maria University

Registration is FREE and includes a light lunch.

Conference Date:

May 30th 2015

9:00 am – 5:30

(Registration 8:35am)


New College

University Of Edinburgh

Mound Place
Edinburgh EH1 2LX


Sander Klaasse

Email Sander

This conference is jointly organised by the School of Divinity at The University of Edinburgh and the PhysPhil Society at the University of St Andrews and is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, all material is copyright © The University of Edinburgh 2015.



John Hedley Brooke lectures available (Galileo, Darwin, Einstein: Science, Religion, and the Changing Conceptions of Nature)

The superb series of lectures given in the School of Divinity by Prof John Hedley Brooke at the end of January (entitled ‘Galileo, Darwin, Einstein: Science, Religion, and the Changing Conceptions of Nature’) are now all available on YouTube here – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL1yuwQCU_OqmMFXMTL8QAJNgDjgbU3lt1

Alternatively, just click on the below…


Research Seminar on ‘natural praise’ at the Faraday Institute, Cambridge

I recently had the pleasure of being invited to Cambridge to give a research seminar at the Faraday Institute. Since I have been thinking quite a lot about the topic of ‘natural praise’ recently (ever since giving a talk on the subject at the Knowing Creation conference in St Andrews in August 2014), I decided to re-visit this topic in the Faraday seminar, which means that (due to a lack of imagination on my part), I even ended up using the same title: “The Trees of the Field shall Clap their Hands” (Isaiah 55:12): What Does it Mean to Say that Creation Praises the Creator?

The audience appeared to be as intrigued by the subject as I am, and they gave me a number of useful things to think about to develop this further before I finally commit it to paper. Just as usefully, they also filmed the talk, and have made it available online. You can see it here –