EXPLORING SCIENCE & FAITH WITH THE FARADAY INSTITUTE
Scientists at the Faraday Institute share how their faith and love of science go hand in hand
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge,” Psalm 12 1-2
Blue tea, exploding canisters, dancing raisins and crunchy crickets! If that doesn’t grip your attention, then I don’t know what will! It certainly gripped the team in some fantastic training recently received from The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge. Delivered by a passionate, intelligent and humble group of dynamic female scientists.
If eating more insects for protein, instead of meat, could help reduce environmental damage caused by animal farming would you do it?
This was the question we faced as we stared from our computer screens into the bags of crunchy crickets sent to us in our course packs (mine were salt and vinegar flavoured)!
What a conundrum! Would we? Would I?
Where do I stand on big questions like responding to climate change or AI?
How near do my theoretical and practical ethics relate to each other?
Here we were offered opportunity to explore these and other big questions, as the youth and schools' team from The Faraday Institute, who all hold science degrees, laid out for us various ways of helping young people explore such big ethical, scientific and philosophical questions, using science and scientific enquiry, encouraging us as practitioners to help make space within schools and churches for these topics to be explored. Also teaching young people the art of disagreeing well where they disagree without being disagreeable; a practice that promotes and models intellectually rigorous thought and discussion combined with humility and genuine respect. After all, as Christians we are not required to check our intelligence and rationality at the door to adopt faith in Jesus. The excellently provided training gave our team the space to see how belief and science can sit side by side rather than being mutually exclusive.
Young People like to ask big questions and they need people in school who are willing to explore those questions with them, offering balance and opportunities to think, explore and form their own informed ideas. We asked two of the youth and schools' team who ran our training, Cathy and Lizzie, to share some thoughts.
So, Cathy can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, your hobbies and favourite sandwich filling maybe?
I was blessed to be raised by my wonderful parents in a vicarage with my two sisters in Guildford and then South London, I have spent most of my adult life in Cambridge, where I have taught science for 20 years and am married with three young children. For hobbies I have always loved sports; walking in the countryside and yoga are some of my current favourites. I also enjoy cooking and making tasty food for and with my family; they are still trying to convert me to being a marmite lover! You've such an interesting job.
Can you tell us a little bit about it, your role and how you came to work with the Faraday and maybe the thing you most enjoy about your work?
I am the Training Officer for the Youth and Schools’ team at the Faraday Institute of Science and Religion in Cambridge. I organise training for teachers, youth workers and early career scientists in addressing science and faith questions with young people. I studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University where I realised I loved science and communicating it to people so I trained and worked as a science teacher. My Christian faith has also been a lifelong passion so a job combining these passions of science and faith and using my teaching experience is a huge blessing! I love seeing people in our training grow in confidence in exploring science and faith issues with young people and thinking about fun ways to engage young people in the ideas involved.
With this in mind then, how did you come to have a faith in Jesus?
As I grew up my faith grew up with me through time with my family, church and summer camps so I would say I have always been a Christian, but my faith has matured with me.
Lizzie, I’m going to ask you the same questions about yourself and then both of you some about being a person of faith and a scientist. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up, your hobbies and your favourite sandwich filling maybe?
I grew up in Worcester with my mum, dad and sister. Things were pretty crowded as we usually had people staying, as well a small menagerie of pets (rats, snakes, moths, praying mantids…), and piles of fossils, shells and other things I’d collected on adventures. I’ve always had a strong Christian faith and have always loved helping people explore ideas and questions. I’ve also always enjoyed getting creative – baking, singing, sewing, anything really! I’m now married to Hamish and although we both love food, neither of us really like sandwiches… this might be cheating, but a fried egg sandwich is a favourite breakfast treat!
You have such an interesting job. Can you tell us a little bit about it, your role and how you came to work with the Faraday and maybe the thing you most enjoy about your work?
I’m Co-Director of the Faraday Institute Youth and Schools Programme. We make resources and run events for young people of all ages, as well as those who influence them - all to create opportunities for young people to explore big questions and encounter positive science-faith interactions. My journey into the ‘science-faith world’ began in primary school when I started trying to answer people’s questions about how I could be a Christian AND interested in science. Exploring those questions eventually brought me to The Faraday Institute where I began developing our work with young people, and the rest is history! My absolute favourite parts of my job are interacting with young people, hearing the questions they might not otherwise have had the opportunity to ask and creating fun activities and beautiful resources to help them explore new ideas.
How did you come to have a faith in Jesus?
I’m so grateful to have grown up in a family and church full of people who lived out their own faith through thick and thin, and encouraged me to explore, question and decide whether I wanted my life to be about following Jesus. My faith and my understanding of God continue to change and grow, and I have always seen all aspects of my life, work and passions as opportunities to worship Him.
So Lizzie and Cathy do you think it's possible to be a person of science and of faith simultaneously? Aren't they mutually exclusive?
It’s absolutely possible! The Bible tells us that God delights in His creation and loves it when we do too! History is filled with people whose science was part of a pursuit to better understand, wonder at, and look after the world they believed God created, and the same is true today. There are certainly loads of fascinating science-faith questions to explore and we should do so with God’s gifts of creativity, wisdom and grace. But since the God of the Bible is the ultimate creator and sustainer of everything we will ever discover, we don’t think we’ll ever find a question too big for Him! Personally, the more we have explored these questions, the more exciting we have found both the science and the scripture we’ve been examining.
Why would you say it’s important, as a person of faith, to engage young people in discussions about science and those big philosophical and ethical questions?
Today’s young people are bombarded with information but given very little opportunity to explore their big questions. Science and religion are everywhere, and many loud voices proclaim that they are conflicting ideas we must choose between. It seems the ‘easy’ option is to keep quiet on the subject. But I think we need to do better than that for our young people. On top of a life seeking truth, purpose and identity, they are, and will continue to be, faced with huge challenges and opportunities– from developments in technology and healthcare, to impacts of climate change and global inequality. These questions require them to combine lessons of faith with those of philosophy, science, economics, ethics, politics and more. But we need to demonstrate and create space for them to explore how these ways of thinking can interact. The good news is that by simply celebrating the wonders of science in a faith context or providing a safe space to explore some big questions, we can easily break down barriers and support our world-changing young people as they seek to understand God’s universe and their vital place in it.
You can find out more about the Faraday Institute for Science & Religion by visiting their website - The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (cam.ac.uk)