On Common Ground starts from the premise that science and religious faith are not only compatible but mutually complementary.
Through a series of four events, we wanted to provide the space to inform about aspects of modern science, including its applications, and discuss the relationship between science and religious belief. All are welcome to participate in the ongoing conversation – scientists, non-scientists, people of faith, atheists, interested individuals, discussion groups, or all or none of the above.
Our key questions are:
Can there be a mutually enhancing relationship between science and faith?
Do the findings of science challenge our faith in any way?
Can God feature in scientific discourse?
Is faith relevant in our contemporary ‘scientific world’?
Are scientists playing God? Can we use Christian ethics to evaluate the applications of science?
In current societal discourse, the secular-humanist position has become dominant; widespread attitudes to science are contributing to this dominance. Science is seen as a ‘rational’, evidence-based approach to truth, leaving no room for other approaches. Thus religious faith is becoming marginalised. Because of this, science is seen by some as an enemy of faith. Of course, this is not how it actually is.
Science is not the only way to approach truth; it is very good at doing what it is supposed to do, namely to arrive at an understanding, albeit incomplete, of how the universe works. Its findings present us with a universe that, at all levels from subatomic particles to galaxies and beyond, is, in the correct sense of the word, awesome. But there are many questions that science cannot answer and many of these are in the realm of religion. For those questions we need different methodologies and approaches.
Nevertheless, there can be a very fruitful relationship between science and faith. At stake in this relationship is the promotion of the understanding that science does not threaten our faith but can indeed enhance it. We hope that through the On Common Ground events and conversations, Christians in Exeter and wider afield will gain more confidence in holding their faith in a scientific age and discover a deeper worship of God the Creator.
The course events encompassed several different formats to help us explore particular aspects of our overall theme. A talk from a well-known scientist-Christian outlined the mutual complementarity of science and religion. There was a conversation between a scientist-Christian and a scientist who is not a religious believer. There were two panel discussions, the first on ethics of science and medicine, held at Exeter University as a means of engaging with the scientific community. In the second, five scientist-Christians shared their journeys in faith.
We chose to hold the series in Lent, as a time when many people reflect on their spiritual journeys. Happily, it also coincided with British Science Week during 10-19 March. Now the series has ended, but the conversation is not over. We hope that you will continue to use the videos and other resources suggested on this site as a basis for reflection and discussion.
John 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.
Continue the conversation
- Twitter: @JohnBryant1404
Anna is currently the Canon Chancellor at Exeter Cathedral. Before ordination she worked as a children’s nurse and latterly as a youth minister. She has served as a Parish Priest in both market town and rural contexts and also as a School Chaplain. She is on the leadership team of ‘Leading your Church in Growth’ (a group of practitioners from across the UK with experience of leading churches through change, renewal and growth) and served as the Diocesan Missioner for Exeter Diocese from 2010-14. At Exeter Cathedral she has responsibility for outreach and education and is responsible for the Holy Ground Community, which offers creative contemplative worship monthly with guest speakers addressing topics of faith, justice and the arts.
On Common Ground
Anna is one of the Course Directors.
Continue the conversation
- Twitter: @anormanwalker
The Scientists in Congregations project, funded by the Templeton Foundation, provided the grant enabling On Common Ground.
Exeter Cathedral is hosting three of the events and providing marketing and PR support.
The University of Exeter is hosting the panel discussion on 16 March, through the auspices of the Lazenby Chaplain, Rev Chantal Mason.
The local group of Christians in Science is co-sponsoring the panel discussion on 30 March.
We are very grateful to them all.