Lectures from the Faith and Cosmology conference

Now available – the four excellent lectures from our Faith and Cosmology conference (15th November 2014) on YouTube.


Fr Andrew Pinsent – ‘Cosmology and Being’ 

Prof Bernard Carr – ‘Cosmos and creation’

Dr Peter Bussey – ‘Cosmology, how physics and theology meet’

Jamie Boulding – ‘The multiverse and participatory metaphysics’

Many worlds and quantum mechanics

By an amazing coincidence, our MSc class in Science and Religion has just this afternoon been discussing the merits of the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics, and I came back to my office to find a piece posted on the BBC website describing Brian Cox’s enthusiasm for the same Many-Worlds interpretation –

Brian Cox: ‘Multiverse’ makes sense

It might be a bizarre and extravagant interpretation, but Many Worlds has some definite explanatory strengths over the (more mainstream and more manageable) Copenhagen interpretation. Perhaps more importantly for us here in Edinburgh, while the Copenhagen interpretation has been discussed endlessly in theological and science-religion circles over the past decades, the Many Worlds interpretation is still largely uncharted territory in religious terms. Theologians have been able to respond positively to the Copenhagen interpretation’s suggestion that the physical world is somehow fuzzy and indeterminate at its basis, and that we as observers are inextricably tied into it, and this has provided some fertile models for divine action. But few have thought seriously about a theology of Many Worlds, endlessly branching from each other. If Brian Cox is right to say that physicists are now warming to Many Worlds, then it’s perhaps time for theologians to start warming to it too. If the Many Worlds interpretation isn’t too preposterous for physics, then it can’t be too preposterous for theology either.

Take me to your Messiah – Science, Religion, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (David Wilkinson)

A review of David WIlkinson’s excellent new book from OUP – David Wilkinson, Science, Religion, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, (Oxford University Press, 2013), £25, pp 1 – 227, ISBN:978-0-19-968020-7

Until the 1920s, only one galaxy was known of, our own Milky Way. Nowadays, it is commonplace in cosmological research to affirm not only the existence of countless galaxies, but also countless universes. In parallel with this vast expansion of our cosmic horizons has come the realisation that there are countless other planets beyond those in our own solar system, many of which could be potentially life-bearing. Just a few weeks before writing (4th November 2013) another 833 new planets were added to the list by astronomers working with the Kepler Space Telescope, and ten of those planets could be suitable for life. As the scientific work continues apace, theological questions – some old and some new – are raised with increasing rapidity. If life is discovered on another planet, especially if it is intelligent life, what will be the impact on our world religions, and especially on Christianity, which relies on the unique incarnation of Christ. Continue reading

New book on the Bible and science

1844657256My new book has appeared – The Nature of Creation: Examining the Bible and Science. Although there have been many attempts in modern times to compare and contrast the Bible’s stories of creation with ideas from science, this has almost invariably been carried out in a non-critical way. It’s assumed that the text can be read at face value with scant regard for its historical genesis, almost as though it were a scientific report of the world’s origins. And it’s by no means just young-earth creationists who are guilty of this approach, but many who write on the Bible, especially from an interest in modern science.

What my book tries to do is to build bridges between critical biblical scholarship – which has developed far more sophisticated and historically-sensitive ways of reading the text – and modern science, using theology as the go-between. Remarkably, this has never been done before, or at least not across the whole Bible. This is significant, because there’s far more creation material in the Bible than just Genesis. In this way, I try to argue that there is scope for a whole new way of reading the Bible and science together.

Click here to see the book on the publisher’s web page (Acumen). Amazon uk is also selling the book at a very good price.

If you’re signed up to Academia.edu, you can also see my page, where you can download the Introduction.

Better no God than a God of the gaps

Bakerloo_line_-_Waterloo_-_Mind_the_gapI didn’t realise until last week that I felt so strongly about this, but I abhor the God of the gaps. We’ve been covering it in our MSc in Science and Religion, and I was challenged as to why I feel so strongly about it. After all, it forms the basis for some important attempts to build bridges between science and religion, not least Intelligent Design (ID). I feel no reluctance in saying that I would rather renounce belief in a creator God altogether, than stake my faith in a God who only works in the gaps in our scientific understanding. To my mind, the God of the gaps idea is subtly pervasive, and it miscontrues both Christian theology, and science, all in one. Clearly, not everyone feels as strongly as me, and some are quite open to the God of the gaps idea. But for the record, this is my where the strength of my response arises…

Continue reading

The laws of nature as seen by Immanuel Kant

I’ve just discovered a fascinating project organised by one of our colleagues in philosophy at Edinburgh – Dr Michela Massimi – on the philosophy of the laws of nature, where the idea comes from, and what it means, all according to the seminal Enlightenment philosopher, Kant. Many questions that are of prime relevance to current debates in science and religion crop up here, not least the status of natural ‘law’, and the extent to which it could be a complete description of physical reality. The project, and its ongoing public outreach, are detailed here –


This is how the project is introduced:

‘What is the origin and nature of laws in physics and biology? In the eighteenth century, the philosopher Immanuel Kant gave remarkable answers to this question by drawing on the physical and life sciences of his time. Kant argued that the laws of nature, marvellously revealed by the sciences of his time (from Newtonian mechanics to the chemistry of Boerhaave; from the electrical experiments of Hauksbee to the hydrodynamics of Bernoulli; from natural history to the life sciences) were, in part, the result of our mind ‘projecting’, so to speak, an order onto nature.’

Luke’s ascension

In celebration of Ascension Day, one of my personal favourites in the Christian calendar, here is an excerpt from a wider piece I’ve been working on, exploring the challenges from science (“Science, Scripture, and the hermeneutics of Ascension”).

In the hermeneutical exercise that we are proposing, the imagery employed is of central importance. The scriptural witnesses to the ascension of Jesus invariably couch it in spatial terms, most obviously in Luke-Acts (Luke 24:50-51; Acts 1:6-11), where Jesus is ‘carried up’ into heaven on a cloud. The other synoptic Gospels do not describe the ascension (except in one of the alternative endings to Mark – 16:19), and it is a moot point whether they even know of the idea as such; on the other hand, their talk of the Son of Man coming again on the clouds (e.g. Mark 13:26) is compatible with the idea that this is how he went in the first place. The idea of ascension is represented in various other places in the New Testament through talk of the final ‘leaving’, or ‘going up’ of the earthly Jesus after the resurrection (e.g. John 20:17; 1 Tim.3:16), or of his heavenly exaltation, where Jesus sits at God’s right hand (e.g. Rom.8:35; Eph.1:20; Heb.1:3; cf. Ps.110:1). Continue reading

Dark energy and the meaning of creation from ‘nothing’

400-creation-135157891I was mulling over whether to post a piece on dark energy and the idea of ‘creation from nothing’, when our colleague Marcelo Gleiser (Dartmouth) did just that, with this insightful piece. For comparison, here is my take on the issue, as it appeared in the Diocese of Edinburgh magazine.

The idea that the universe was created ‘from nothing’ by God has long been a Christian response to sceptics. Even though science has won much of the territory over which theology once reigned supreme, theologians have been able to rest secure knowing they have the exclusive rights to ‘nothing’. Quite simply, the laws of physics can’t explain ‘nothing’ because they’re a ‘something’ in themselves: they must be created ‘from nothing’. Hence, God comes into the picture, the ultimate ‘no-thing’, and the ultimate no-fail explanation for why there’s something rather than ‘nothing’. Continue reading

The annual MSc dissertation workshop

Yesterday (Friday 5th April), five of our MSc students presented their dissertation proposals, describing their intended research over the coming months as they work towards the 15,000 word dissertation which is the keystone to our MSc.

Students are encouraged to explore any topic which falls broadly within the ‘Science-Religion’ field. The ‘classical’ field of Science and Religion, defined by the work of scholars such as Ian Barbour, Arthur Peacocke,John Polkinghorne from the 1960s to the early 2000s, is groaning at the seams these days, as we discover more and more crucial areas of engagement between the two disciplines. Our students have uncovered a number of new areas themselves, and we were all impressed by the degree of novelty and ingenuity on display. Topics included: Teilhard de Chardin and the emergence debate; Augustine and ecology; Thomas Hardy, R S Thomas and the absence of God; modernist architecture as an exemplification of the science-religion dialogue; and finally, herbology and creation theology in ascetic and monastic spirituality.

We look forward to seeing how these very fertile and imaginative projects emerge in the coming months.



The Holy Spirit – fields, physics and other metaphors

Today was the Pannenberg day for our MSc class on Key Thinkers in Science and Religion. After an introduction to his thought, including significant moments like Jesus – God and Man (1968), we turned to the set text for the session – Pannenberg’s discussion of the creative work of the Holy Spirit from Vol.2 of his Systematic Theology. This sets out one of his best-known ideas (at least from the perspective of the Science and Religion field), that the Holy Spirit in creative mode can be likened to a physical field, like an electromagnetic field, or a gravitational field.

All of us agreed that this is not an easy text. Pannenberg grapples with ideas from physics – in the context of Christian eschatology and Western philosophy – in such a way that he is clearly alluding to more than he can say. And we agreed that the main scholarly reactions to Pannenberg’s idea – while containing some pertinent criticisms – haven’t addressed the force of his main point. Continue reading