A new space for students and researchers to grow their scientific thinking is about to appear in Leeds. Church Scientific is a project to nurture scientific thinkers in building a holistic understanding of how our insights about the world originate and develop through imagination, theory-building and experimentation. The project concerns all kinds of pure and applied sciences: not just the “natural” sciences.
Funded by a “Scientists in Congregations” grant from St John’s College Durham, Church Scientific will see a group of science students and researchers engage in workshops looking at the nature of scientific progress in theological, historical and philosophical contexts. We’ll be asking questions like:
How does scientific understanding progress? What’s the role of people’s worldviews in the birth of new theories?
Which scientific beliefs are the least liable to revision over time? Are laws more reliable than theories, for example?
How does “General Revelation” relate to “Special Revelation” – should we think of a “Book of God’s Works” alongside a “Book of God’s Word”? What is the role of faith in developing knowledge? What’s the difference between belief and knowledge?
What’s meant by methodological naturalism, and do we really need it?
What norms and values are assumed and discussed within scientific enterprises? How do they affect the ways scientists think and live in everyday life?
How are scientific fields shaped and driven by social, economic and ideological factors?
As you can see, we’re not shying away from big issues. But the project is driven by a conviction that our own careers as scientists, and also scientific understanding at large, can benefit from a deeper understanding of how scientific thinking fits into people’s broader frameworks of belief, and the cultural beliefs that are called “knowledge”. And that will help us explore connections with our deepest beliefs about the nature of reality, the sources of knowledge, and the best ways to live – which are where philosophy meets religious traditions. Ontology, epistemology and ethics are certainly brought very close to the scientific enterprise when science writers make bold claims along the lines of “where we really came from”, “a theory of everything” or that some scientific view “leaves us with no choice but X…” We’ll explore these hidden questions, and when the workshops are over, participants will have the opportunity to sign up to share their insights in an informal science talk in one of the café evenings that will run in the new year.
There are various ways you might get involved with Church Scientific. If you live in or near Leeds, come to the launch event on 25 October. Dr Elaine Storkey will be asking, “Could a Christian worldview make you a better scientist?” – and we’ll hear from a number of scientist Christians about their work and faith perspectives. Then, if you’re a scientist (student or researcher), you might participate in the workshops in November; if not, there are other important ways to be involved as a mentor or organiser. Please register your interest on the project web site and someone will get in touch! You can also find Church Scientific on Facebook.
In the longer term, we hope that this initiative will inspire a fresh wave of Christian engagement in the history, philosophy and theology of the sciences. Personally I’ve found these perspectives stimulating and helpful, and I’m convinced that many of us who are scientists can find new insights for our work by stepping back to survey the landscape.