Tuesday, 14 July 2009

"Test of Faith" launch

The launch of "Test of Faith" gave me an opportunity to visit the Royal Society for the first time. This is a learned scientific society, founded in 1660, during the Restoration of Charles II, and considered to be the oldest in the world. Past Presidents of the Society include such as Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Humphrey Davy, Thomas Huxley, Lord Kelvin and Joseph Lister.

This was a treat for me because I have had a keen interest in the natural sciences since before I was ten years old and persuaded my parents to get me a chemistry set. At school, my interest was fostered by enthusiastic and engaging teachers so that in the sixth form (age 16-18) I studied A-levels in Physics, Chemistry and Biology: originally intending to follow my sister's footsteps into medicine; but the good Lord had other ideas.

Fr Roger Nesbitt, who studied Chemistry at Imperial College and has an MSc in Nuclear Chemistry inspired me and many other young men to see science and religion as complementary, and not in competition: in the natural world we uncover the wisdom of God in creation, in the teaching of the Catholic Church, we come to know the wisdom of God in those things He has revealed. The Faith Movement was founded to promote just such an understanding of science and religion and to illuminate the path from science to God.

It was fascinating to see part of the "Test of Faith" DVD (and other educational materials) and see many of the same ideas promoted by the Faraday Institute. Fr Hugh McKenzie, the editor of Faith Magazine was also there casting a critical philosophical eye on things.

The highlight of the evening was a question and answer session, brilliantly managed by Professor John Polkinghorne, one of the key figures in the "Test of Faith" project. I think that the DVD will help many young people to see their way out of the quite false opposition that has been put up between science and faith. Professor Polkinghorne quite properly outlined the limits of natural theology and persuasively argued that from our scientific knowledge of the world it is reasonable to believe in God.

Fr Hugh and I had one or two quibbles. Our position would be to say that the evidence from science does indeed demonstrate the existence of God, not simply show that it is reasonable to believe it. One evangelical questioner quoted Romans 1.20 to which Professor Polkinghorne replied candidly that he disagreed with St Paul since he did not think his atheist friends to be stupid. However, minds can be "darkened" in various ways, not only through stupidity. Professor Polkinghorne would also consider the "Intelligent Design" school to be mistaken but would presumably not regard them as stupid. It is possible for intelligent men to be mistaken about the force of evidence. I certainly do not regard Richard Dawkins as a stupid man and greatly admire his presentation of the evidence for natural selection; but I think he is wrong about the existence of God and I would argue that the evidence shows him to be wrong.

Let us not end on a negative note, however. The "Test of Faith" project is a powerful presentation of the reasonableness of belief in God on the basis of looking at the evidence. In that way, it fulfils the motto of the Royal Society "Nullius in Verba" which means literally "into the words of nobody" and has the sense of "I don't take anyone's word for things but look at the evidence." In terms of the natural sciences, that is the right thing to do - look at the evidence and see where it leads you. The evidence of our ordered universe with its precise laws and constants leads us inexorably to the affirmation of a supreme mind who transcends the material universe.
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