Are Scientists Playing God?

Panel discussion chaired by Canon Dame Suzi Leather, with Prof John Bryant, Rt Rev Dame Sarah Mullally, Rev Dr John Searle, Dr Morven Shearer
Thursday 16 March 2017
Exeter University

Please watch the video of the discussion, and read on for more information about the event and how to continue the conversation.

The second event associated with British Science Week took place in the Newman Green Lecture Theatre at the University of Exeter. It took the form of a panel discussion under the title “Are Scientists Playing God”. Modern science sometimes seems to be moving very fast and in doing so, may make it difficult for ethical discussion about its applications. This is especially true in some areas of biological, biomedical and medical sciences.

Our panelists and chair all have wide experience of working with bioethical issues. Several of them have been involved as practitioners in science or medicine. All brought their extensive experience to bear on the discussion.

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Now that you have come to the event, or watched the video, we would love you to have your own conversations online.

On Common Ground is on Twitter at @ocgconversation. For this event, please use the hashtags #ocgethics and #OnCommonGround.

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There is a discussion of the video on Youtube.

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Who’s who?

John BryantJohn Bryant was Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Exeter and for five years was also Head of Biosciences. He is now Professor Emeritus. His research was mainly focused on the biochemistry of DNA and genes.

John was a Visiting Research Associate at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, USA from 1992-1997 and Visiting Professor of Molecular Biology at West Virginia State University, USA from 1999-2007. He is a Past-President of the Society for Experimental Biology and a former Chair of Christians in Science. In 1995/96 John and (now Dame) Suzi Leather introduced at Exeter the first UK university Bioethics course for Bioscience students. Since 2002 he has been (with Dr Chris Willmott, University of Leicester) the advisor on Bioethics to the Higher Education Academy.

He is well-known as a speaker, writer and broadcaster on science, bioethics and on the science & religion debate. The latter has included contributing to The Faraday Institute’s multi-media resource "Test of FAITH". In his spare time John enjoys sport, bird-watching and the ‘great outdoors’.

On Common Ground

John is one of the Course Directors. He participated in the panel "Are Scientists Playing God?" on 16 March, and the conversation "Awe, Wonder and Beauty in Science – a route to God?" on 23 March.

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Sarah MullallySarah Mullally studied first at South Bank University for her BSc followed by a MSc and then at Heythrop College, University of London where she got her MA. Before ordination (in 2001) she was England’s Chief Nursing Officer in the Department of Health. She was awarded Honorary Doctorates of Science from Bournemouth University, (2004), University of Wolverhampton (2004) and University of Hertfordshire (2005) and was made a Dame Commander of the British Empire in 2005 for her contribution to nursing and midwifery.

She trained for the ministry at t he South East Institute for Theologian Education and served her first curacy at Battersea Fields in Southwark Diocese from 2001 to 2006. From 2006 to 2012 she was Team Rector at Sutton in Southwark Diocese. Immediately prior to being appointed Bishop of Crediton in Exeter Diocese she was Canon Residentiary and Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral.

Bishop Sarah leads the Church of England’s implementation of safeguarding reforms and has also continued her interest in the health service as a non-executive director at Salisbury NHS Foundation Hospital. She says "In my ministry in the Diocese of Exeter I hope to encourage and enable Christians to grow in their faith, to share that faith with confidence and to serve the people of Devon with joy."

On Common Ground

Sarah participated in the panel "Are Scientists Playing God?" on 16 March.

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John SearleJohn Searle worked as consultant anaesthetist at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital for 25 years. He was also Director of the Intensive Care Unit where he developed a particular interest in the management of patients dying from trauma and acute illness. He was the foundation chair of the Exeter and District Hospice.

John was ordained as a minister in the Church of England in 1995, since when he has worked in a number of ministerial posts including training clergy for the Anglican and Methodists churches. He recently retired as a residentiary canon at Exeter Cathedral.

He has a long-standing interest in ethics and together with Professor John Bryant has co-authored books on ethics and science including "Life in our Hands", a review of the ethical dilemmas presented by advances in molecular biology and artificial reproduction. In 1998 he was awarded the OBE for services to medicine and the hospice movement.

On Common Ground

John participated in the panel "Are Scientists Playing God?" on 16 March.

Morven ShearerMorven Shearer is an Academic Fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews, and works as part of the Public Health and Health Policy research group.

Her research involves consideration of the ethical issues raised by advances in medicine, particularly those surrounding children and health care.

Recent projects include the ethics of antidepressant use in children, the evaluation of services for children with cerebral palsy in Scotland, and exploring the ethical issues raised by paediatric clinical trials.

On Common Ground

Morven participated in the panel "Are Scientists Playing God?" on 16 March.

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Suzi LeatherSuzi Leather chairs the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the student appeal body for higher education, is a member of the General Medical Council and a lay chapter canon at Exeter Cathedral. She is a past chair of the Charity Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and sat on the Human Genetics Commission and the Human Tissue Authority.

On Common Ground

Suzi chaired the panel "Are Scientists Playing God?" on 16 March.

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