Episode 104

Today we welcome the Rev Dr David Wilkinson all the way from Durham, England. Dr Wilkinson is an ordained Methodist minister with PhDs in Systematic Theology and Theoretical Astrophysics. In addition to working for St John's College, he is the project director of “Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science” which seeks to do exactly what the name implies. We talk about their surprising research into Christian leaders' attitudes towards science, how to think about biblical miracles, how to have constructive dialogue, and what happens when you put bishops in a room full of humanoid robots. This is an engaging, heartfelt, and inspiring conversation, and we're excited to bring it to you. 

 

ECLAS - https://www.eclasproject.org/

Reid, Lydia and Wilkinson, David. (2021.) ‘Building Enthusiasm and Overcoming Fear: Engaging with Christian Leaders in an Age of Science’, Zygon 56 (4). https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/toc/14679744/2021/56/4

 

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produced by Zack Jackson
music by Zack Jackson and Barton Willis 

 

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Transcript 

This transcript was automatically generated by www.otter.ai, and as such contains errors (especially when multiple people are talking). As the AI learns our voices, the transcripts will improve. We hope it is helpful even with the errors.

 

Zack Jackson 00:00

Hey there, Zack here. Before we get to today's episode, which is so good, by the way, I wanted to let you know that my wife, Nicole, and I just launched a new podcast called reimagining faith with the pastor's Jackson. I haven't really shared a whole lot about this on the podcast yet. But we both just quit our church jobs, and are in the process of planting a new faith community called Open Table United Church of Christ. At this new faith community were committed to being theologically progressive, locally minded with Jesus at the center. We're starting from scratch. And we are rethinking every part about what it means to be a community of faith in this particular moment in history. We are really excited about the ways that the Spirit is moving among our little team. And we wanted a way to share that with you all as well. Hence, the reimagining faith podcast, we'll be posting new episodes every week, delving into our particular convictions, telling stories, interviewing difference makers and giving you an inside peek into the messy and ridiculous process of planting a church that is not quite a church, but it's also kind of a church, but not really, you know, it'll probably make a lot more sense after you hear a few episodes of it. So why don't you just go ahead and subscribe. Just search for reimagining faith with the pastor's Jackson wherever it is that you get your podcasts. And if you want to help us expand to this work, you can support us at patreon.com/reimagining faith. And now, on to the podcast. You are listening to the down the wormhole podcast exploring the strange and fascinating relationship between science and religion. Our guest today is the current principal of St. John's College Durham and a professor in the Department of theology and religion. He has PhDs in both theoretical astrophysics and systematic theology, having served as both a Methodist minister and an academic professor. He's also the project director of equipping Christian leadership in an age of science, which is a project whose goals are near and dear to my heart. And I'm sure many of yours as well. It is my privilege to introduce the Reverend David Wilkinson. Welcome to the podcast. Thank

 

David Wilkinson 02:19

you, Zack, it's so lovely to be here. Lovely to talk to you.

 

Zack Jackson 02:24

Yes, I'm so glad that we were able to coordinate across the ocean, get our time zones correct and, and that you're able to be with us today I am fascinated by just the breadth of the work that you have done and that you are doing with the organizations that you're associated with. And so, again, it's an honor to have you here with us. So I mentioned in that that introduction, equipping Christian leadership in an age of science, or EC L A s do you do pronounce the acronym when when you're in a company,

 

David Wilkinson 03:01

about team pronounces it in class, and part of our team pronounces it at class. And we haven't come to agreement on what the correct pronunciation is. So I'm happy with the project.

 

Zack Jackson 03:15

Did any of you consider switching the acronym the words around so it would spell something like Eclair or something that well,

 

David Wilkinson 03:22

as you can see, remember and see from me, I'm very open to a close and as many as possible, probably too many for me. But, I mean, you know, sometimes theology and science is dominated by some of these acronyms. I think what we've been concerned about has been that sense of equipping Christian leadership. And about almost 10 years ago, my friend and colleague Tom McLeish, who's a theoretical physicist and a lay theologian, and I were speculating about what happened when senior Christian leaders, such as bishops, or leaders of other denominations, or leaders of parachurch organizations, those organizations that span different churches, were asked about science. And one of the things that we noticed was that senior church leaders often responded with fear, or negativity, or silence. And the problem with that is that then those who serve as Christian leaders under them, if they come from a scientific background, if your senior leader responds with fear or negativity or silence, then that doesn't really affirm what you're bringing to ministry, in terms of your interest or passion about science. And then that ripples down into congregations, where disciples who live out their lives with a vocation to be scientists, technologists are in Engineers, they're not affirmed in their vocation. And of course, that then ripples out to reinforce this very dominant model of relationship between science and religion, that conflict model of science and religion or independence, that the two have to be separated. And so we thought, Is there a project to be done where we can equip Christian leaders to engage with science with joy, with humility, with confidence with excitement? And that would have a ripple down effect throughout the church?

 

Zack Jackson 05:36

Yes, I mentioned I resonate with this. This is the this is the project that I'm working on for my doctrine ministry program right now, creating resources for pastors to engage, to equip them to have these conversations because it is just so important. So in what ways have since you started this program? How have you been able to start equipping leaders,

 

David Wilkinson 06:00

one of the things we first realized sack was the importance of personal relationships and conversations. And so we started with, with conferences, where we would invite a small group of senior leaders, intentionally inviting them to come here to Durham. And we would take them into science departments, where we introduce them to world class scientists. Now, sometimes, in this work, organizations will choose a scientist who happens to be a Christian. We didn't do that. We just went for world class scientists, whatever their religious backgrounds, and we threw the bishops into their labs. And we got these people to talk about their own science and their work. And it was just terrific from cosmology and simulating universes through to biology, genetics, we even had one wonderful incident where we took 30 bishops into one of our engineering labs here in Durham, where we have small robots, six of them, artificial intelligent robots, humanoid robots, and the bishops were kind of pressed against the wall. Worried about this, these little robots who are wandering round, and the robots went up to the bishops, and started to talk to them. And suddenly the bishops move towards the center of the room, as they started conversing with these robots. And I wish I'd had a video camera to show you. And in a sense, we start with with bishops who are a little worried about science. And slowly they move into the center. And part of that is talking to research students, and talking with professors, and actually seeing that these folk work in science, because they're passionate about finding out about the universe, or they're passionate about helping society and other people, that some of the the big, bad images of science are not quite true when you meet scientists themselves. And we brought into that conversation, then theologians into the conference, to help decode some of the issues of play within the interplay of science and theology. And so this bringing together of people to talk together, and what we found, was after the sessions, the bishops were thrilled to have encountered science. And the scientists were thrilled to encounter bishops, and other senior church leaders who took science seriously. And many of the scientists without any Christian commitment turned up at the bar later on in the conference, to talk more with the bishops. I think there's something really important about that kind of interaction of people, that learning not just about the science in the abstract, but science in terms of it being done by scientists. And then we thought to ourselves, Well, there's one or two other things that we really need to do about this. So we've had a research strand, where we've interviewed 1000, clergy and a number of bishops and senior church leaders about what they really think about science. That's been an important thing. And we might want to go on to some of those findings in a little bit. We've also followed the US in a program called Science for seminaries and working with church leaders are beginning of their ministries. And then we wanted to provide some model situations where people could see how a local congregation could use the scientists within their congregations to do something fruitful for the kingdom, either for the church or for the community. And we call that scientists in congregations. And that's a program that's been used in lots of different parts of the world. And then the final strand that we've done, which is peculiar to the UK, in the UK, the Church of England is the established church. It has a lot of political and media presence. There are bishops in the House of Lords, for example, scrutinizing legislation. And so we embedded a team member within the church of England's work in that area, to assist on some of the questions such as fracking, or AI, that are going through legislation to help Christian leaders give sensible voices within the public debate. So those are some of the things that we've been really excited by Zach.

 

Zack Jackson 11:07

Oh, wow. Yeah, that that sounds very exciting. I would, I would venture to say that most congregations have at least one professional scientist within it, whether they, they're open about that or not. But I'm curious about the ways that your program has, has used scientists within congregations, how are you using those those gifts of people?

 

David Wilkinson 11:32

I think, I think that's a really crucial question. And so let me give you some for instances of some of the projects that we've supported. So we've supported a project called Take your vicar into the lab, where a number of scientists in the congregation have said to their church leader, why don't you come into our workplace, and we'll tell you about what we do day by day. And again, we're talking about people with vocation, and a very different context to what happens in the church on a Sunday. One group of scientists have worked with a professional theatre group drama group, to write a play on artificial intelligence. And this play will, will tour the country, the 45 minute one act play, then there'll be a coffee break. And then into the venue will come a number of local scientists who work in the area of AI for a question answered on AI and religion and Christianity. Another group we've worked with, has produced some resources for something that we call messy science. Now, in the UK, there's a very strong program called Messy Church, which is a way of doing church, for families with young children. And that involves some crafts, and making things. And what we realized was that actually, there are a number of children who are much happier to blow things up in science experiments, to make craft activities. And so we've we've created a book called Messy science, which is scientific experiments that you can do and as part of Messy Church, or indeed, that you can do for an all the family or all age worship on a Sunday, which involves some of the fun of science. Why, for instance, you can take a beaker full of water, and just put a piece of paper at the bottom of it, turn it over, and the water doesn't fall out most of the time. And so these kinds of things is about using the gifts and the passion and the interests of scientists. And I think you're right, like I think virtually every congregation has scientists or teachers of science or technology or engineering within it. But what we're not good at doing is affirming those gifts. So some of the churches I go to, if a young person says the Lord has called me to seminary or Bible college, the congregation will say hallelujah, they will bring that young person to the front. They will so we're going to pray and lay hands on you. And here's a big envelope with money in it to support your expenses. But if a young person in that same congregation says, I'm going to go and study chemistry, I wonder whether that congregation also brings the young person to the front, lay hands on them and gives them a big envelope to help them with their expenses. And I think that's about out, saying science as a gift from God. And to be a scientist is as much a vocation as it is to be a pastor, or to be a missionary.

 

Zack Jackson 15:11

Wow. That is a that is profound. It's I don't think that any churches out there would affirm a child's choosing to become a scientist the way they would be so proud of our little, our little boy who's grown up to be a pastor, and we'd love to help you out in any way we can. But a scientist is essentially seeking out God in just empirical ways through the creation as opposed to

 

David Wilkinson 15:40

theology, Kepler, the great astronomer, once said that science is thinking God's thoughts after him. And what a wonderful way of looking at the universe and that guy became a Christian at the age of 17, just before going up to university to study physics. And early in my Christian life, I kind of realized that if if I say that Jesus is the Lord, then he is Lord of all, not just what I do on a Sunday, but what I do in terms of my interest in mathematics and astrophysics. And so what does it mean to be disciple within that area, as well as what I do in terms of lifestyle with money and relationships, and all the rest of it. And I think that's an area that the church hasn't been good at, in an area that we can work out and help Christian leaders to see science as gift. And the responsibility that that brings.

 

Zack Jackson 16:42

Yes, I wish that more churches had that kind of had that kind of understanding, you know, that that kind of heart and belief. But according to the research that you all have done. That was there was a paper that was published in zeigen, Journal of religion and science, recently, looking at the disconnect between religious leaders interest in science and their willingness to talk about it publicly. There were some very interesting findings in there, would you care to tell us a little bit about

 

David Wilkinson 17:17

Yes, absolutely. And some things that surprised us. We wanted to serve a clergy first of all, and we surveyed about 1000 of them from all different churches and backgrounds. And one of the most surprising things was how often they find themselves talking about science, or engaging with people about science in their ministry. Now, we didn't expect that to be the case. Although looking back on my own ministry, I was a pastor for a decade, in full time, work leading a church. I remember, it was in Liverpool, just off Penny Lane for those who remember the Beatles. And we used to run a luncheon club, where, on a Wednesday lunchtime, we would gather together some elderly folk and provide them with a fairly basic but nutritious and wholesome lunch. And I remember going to a lady who was very elderly, and left school at the age of 14. And I would normally wander around and say hello to people. And I sat down at her table. And she looked at me and said, Now then David, she said, What's this Stephen Hawking and quantum gravity all about? And what does this mean for God? Now, I think sometimes we underestimate the kinds of questions that people have. And so we found that clergy were often addressing questions about the environment, questions about genetics, questions about what does it mean to be human? These big questions, and yet, often, they felt a little bit of a lack of confidence in engaging with these questions. And I think that partly comes from this conflict model, which is so embedded within Western tradition, which you found in the New Atheists. So for Richard Dawkins and others, you now find in many stand up comedians, who also represent the conflict model. But I think sometimes it's also about those subtle messages from the church that has said, Beware of science. And they've often coupled science with images of the Tower of Babel with trying to replace God or atheism. So I think we found that I think we also found and this is, this is something which really fascinated me. And that is the Sometimes the how why distinction becomes a avoidance mechanism for deeper theological questions. What I mean by that, is that when we talk about science and theology, and I often do this myself, we can talk about science about the how, and theology about the why, when it comes to the origin of the universe, for example, my area of, of work and science and, you know, quantum gravity, and is the how of God doing it. Questions of purpose and meaning or value is why, and that's a useful first order distinction. But we found that many senior church leaders were using it as a way to avoid some of the deeper questions. So if you use the how wide distinction, you can perhaps avoid the question, well, how does God really work in the universe? How does God work in healing in miracles in prayer? How is God involved in the laws of physics or not? Now, those can be quite scary questions to folk. But they're important questions for many people. And then I think we I think the third thing that we found was sometimes this fear of certain ways that science has been used, protect, particularly when it comes to theories of evolution. So although there was an openness to assessing scientific theories, there was a sense of those who have used the post Darwinian controversies to argue against Christianity, and to use some scientific theories and evolution and sociobiology. Sometimes I used to argue that once you have a scientific understanding of something, it's nothing but that. So religion could be seen and the way that it's developed, and its socio biological, biological origin. But then that quick move to say, and that's all it is. That's the mistake. So those are some of the things that came out of the research.

 

Zack Jackson 22:23

So I hear the the one idea that science provides the nuts and bolts the understanding of how things work, and religion then gives it the meaning, right, I've heard the illustration that you can learn all you can about the molecular makeup of a chocolate cake, and you can know all about its compounds, but no part of the science can tell you that it's a birthday cake, I'm sorry, that that that then has to come from the meaning. And then I also hear you mentioning, sort of at the end there about the God of the gaps that God develops as a way of explaining the things that we don't understand and has a way of helping us to sleep at night. Giving us a sense of control over the crops, as it were or the movement of the stars and the future and helping us to be less afraid. And as science then explains all of those things, then God gets smaller and smaller and smaller. And that model is just created in such a way that it eliminates itself. It does. And both of those two ways of understanding God are so prevalent, and they both are so limiting. What how do you how do you navigate this world? How do you hold both your faith and your understanding of science in intention in tandem?

 

David Wilkinson 23:47

Yeah. And the sack you've put your finger on it? I think and it's a question that goes back to an old book written by Jeb Phillips, many years ago, which was a book with the title your God is too small. You see, the problem with with God of the Gaps is, as you rightly said, God is too small. And the God that I see in Jesus is not a God who hides in small gaps of scientific ignorance. This is the Lord of all, who is the one who sustains every physical process within the universe. So for me, God is the Creator and Sustainer of the laws of physics. That's the first thing to say. I think secondly, God is big enough that he can sometimes do unusual things, beyond his normal ways of working. And therefore, both as a scientist and a theologian, I'm open to miracle. I'm open to God doing unusual things because I think God is big enough to to go beyond his normal ways of working and special prayer. Within SOS special events, I think the third thing that really helps me to navigate some of this sack is going back to Jesus time and time again. I remember, as a young research student, I've been on a conference in the middle of the summer in the University of Brighton, and Sussex and England. And we were the only people in the university, a group of 40, astrophysics PhD students. And there was only one pub. And so every evening we'd all end up in the same pub. And I remember sitting down with a with a colleague, very, very bright astrophysicist, who within half an hour, had proved to me that God didn't exist. I mean, he just argued against with all the classic arguments against the existence of God. And I remember wandering back to, to the small bedroom I had, and and thinking, Well, you know, I've only been a Christian two or three years. This guy's convinced me that the intellectual argumentation means that God doesn't exist, what am I going to do? And it was that point that by, by my bed on the bedside table was a Bible. I just opened the Bible, and I read again, the Gospels, and I become a Christian, because I'd seen in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, God Himself walk in the pages of history. And there are many questions that I don't have the answers to, there are many intellectual conundrums about the problem of evil, or about how does God actually work in the world, which I don't have easy, simplistic philosophical answers to. But what I see in Jesus is a God who becomes a human being and lives amongst us, in the space time history, a God who participates in the consequences of suffering and evil, he bears them as well as I do. A God who gives me hope, in terms of bodily resurrection, going beyond our normal accepted patterns of what's possible in the world. And a God who actually has a historical record in Palestine, that you and I can sit down and discuss, we might not come to similar conclusions about it. But the data is there for us to discuss it. And so my understanding of science and theology is never simply what we might call the old, big arguments for the existence of God, the design argument, or the First Cause Argument, if I'm authentically Christian, then I have to bring into the conversation. God who reveals Himself in Jesus. And that's been an important part of, of my journey in trying to navigate some of these difficult questions.

 

Zack Jackson 28:14

As a pastor for the past eight and a half years, I not only get questions, nearly weekly, from, especially from the conference, and these teenagers who are thinking through these things in school, but also the adults I, I feel questions from my colleagues almost constantly, who likewise have people asking these questions, and they do not feel equipped to answer them. And so they, they give them you know, shrug shoulders, and I'm sorry, this is just what I believe I'll try to find resources for you. And one of the things that comes up quite often is miracles, when it seemingly when God breaks the rules, yeah. Because even if somebody who values God and values science, they will often just find naturalistic explanations for things. I mean, famously, Thomas Jefferson cut out all of the references of, of miracles in his Bible, and it was much smaller at that point. You know, for example, that if we believe that Jesus in the wedding in Cana and the book of John turned water into wine, using natural processes, I mean, just the fusion of atoms would have created so much energy, it would have leveled all of the Middle East, you know, in a nuclear explosion, and clearly that did not happen. So, either there was a sort of social miracle in which Jesus inspired people to run out to the liquor store, or there is something else happening something super natural. You've done a little bit of work into into miracles and what happens in prayer and things like that. Do you have any insights that you could offer to As clergy out there,

 

David Wilkinson 30:01

well, I have some insights, whether they're useful or not is another question.

 

Zack Jackson 30:07

Oh, the story of my life, I'll put that on my tombstone.

 

David Wilkinson 30:11

I think the first thing to say is that I want to take the gospel writers seriously. And I think sometimes Western scholarship has been rather patronizing to the writers of the Gospel by saying that they simply have rewritten the stories of social miracles, in terms of supernatural miracles, you know, and so, even more extreme would be those who've written that Jesus walking on the waters was actually because he was on a sand bank at the time. Well, I mean, you know, fishermen would know where the sand banks would be, and things of that sort, I think, the Gospel writers are being authentic in terms of what they believed, and I want to take that seriously. And then secondly, there is a granularity about some of the gospel reports, which suggests to me that they aren't simply made up to express theological truth about Jesus. So for instance, you mentioned the wedding at Cana, one of the one of the extraordinary things about that miracle is that Jesus turned between 120 gallons, 280 gallons of water into wine. Now, that that's, that's not the kind of usual detail that you would expect, in terms of if you'd simply wanted a miracle of water into wine, there's something really quite extraordinary about that unexpected about it. And I think there are a number of the miracle stories which just have that ring of truth about them. Now, that's the biblical scholarship at one level, which I think is important for us to do. I think then, as a scientist, I want to come with a number of convictions. The first is that 20th century physics tells us that the universe is far more subtle, and subtle than we ever imagined it to be. We live with the legacy of Isaac Newton's clockwork universe, where the universe is picture herbal, and predictable. And so the transformation of God has rules which he can't break, is based on that clockwork universe. But in the 20th century, as you well know, quantum theory, and then chaotic or complex systems, like the weather, we discovered that actually, the universe is not as picture trouble or as predictable as that clockwork universe was. Now, I don't want to push that too far to say, well, this is where God works in quantum systems. But I do want to take seriously as John Polkinghorne used to say, these things remind us of the danger of the tyranny of model of common sense. Our everyday experience and common sense isn't a good guide to the way the universe actually is, or indeed how God might work in the universe. And then I think coming back to that sense of the God who created the laws, has agency to work in through and beyond the laws is a very important theological question. And that maintaining of some limited agency, for God to work means that, that I'm open to God work in unusual ways. Now, all of that is not to say that I don't think there's an interesting question, as a scientist about where the energy comes from. I want to ask that question. And as a scientist, I want to say, when people claim evidence for healing, or evidence for the resurrection of Jesus, what is that evidence? And let's have an honest and serious conversation about it. I think that's important. But I don't think that all of those things need to be talked about in the round. I don't think that one of these things rules out the possibility of miracles. And so I know that's a very long answer to a very succinct question. But I think sometimes we get ourselves fascinated with wanting to give one line answers to actually very difficult questions. And one of the real problems of miracle for me, is actually not besides The real problem of miracle for me is, if God can work by miracle, why can't he do it more often? And in more serious ways, you know, so the Christian who says, I drove to the supermarket, and it was raining, and there was no parking spaces. But I prayed to the Lord, and suddenly a parking space was there for me. Now, apparently, I want to say to that Christian sister or brother, well, wonderful. But, Lord, why provide a parking space when actually, you know for that particular sister or brother, they could have done with a little extra walk, compared to what's happening with COVID? Or what's happening in Ukraine? And that's the problem of evil. And sec, I don't have any real answer to that. That's one of the big questions that I have. For when I see the Lord face to face. But I'm not prepared to reject the biblical evidence or the scientific openness. Because I can't fully understand the problem of evil, but I want to take it seriously.

 

Zack Jackson 36:16

That is a fantastic point. I think our anyone out there who's a religious leader has probably heard that second argument far more, you know, you hear stories of healing, and then I prayed for my mother to be healed and she wasn't healed. And then, then you have, you know, is the problem, my fate? Did I not pray properly? Did does, am I not favored by God?

 

David Wilkinson 36:41

And that's profound, profound, isn't it and that, and what that means, and that's where, for me, the what I sometimes call the messiness of the Bible, is really important. Because, you know, we have instances within the Bible itself, when Paul, for example, prays three times, about this thorn in the flesh that he has, and he's not healed. When, when we have this unusual incident of when Jesus is called by Mary and Martha, that his friend Lazarus is sick. And Jesus didn't immediately go and heal Lazarus. There's indications in Mark's gospel of times when the whole town or village were brought for healing. And Mark says, many of them were healed, not all of them. Now, that for me actually embeds this problem, not just in our experience, but there is a mystery going on within scripture itself. And, and the thing with Scripture is, it doesn't always give us the answer. I mean, I would love it. If Paul had provided not yet another letter, but a chapter entitled frequently asked questions. been brilliant. The apostle Paul had had a chapter on frequently answered questions, asked questions. And, and one of them would be the problem of evil. But of course, Scripture works often in narratives, in telling of testimony of story. And it's not the place where we get easy answers and philosophical theology. But it's important that our philosophical theology takes those stories seriously.

 

Zack Jackson 38:42

I can't imagine Paul trying to succinctly answer any question. Yes, let's say this is the man who spoke for so long that a boy fell asleep and fell out a window. Which, by the way, you know, he was able to raise this child back from the dead, but couldn't cure his own problem. preacher once told me that Lazarus still died. Yes. And that that sticks with me anytime I think about miracles. So aside from that, aside from the miracles, what do you think it's important that religious leaders should understand and, and in terms of science, and how can they possibly keep up with all of the new research not being scientists themselves?

 

David Wilkinson 39:34

I think both of those questions are really important. So let me take the second one. First, I'll come back to the first one. I don't think this is about equipping Christian leaders in terms of knowledge of science. I think this is about changing attitudes. So that as new science comes about, new discoveries are made new questions arise. Most religious leaders can encounter it, not with fear. But with a sense of, first of all, that this doesn't undermine faith. And second, that they already have resources within their own congregations that can help them. And we've talked already about the role and the vocation of those who are lay Christians and scientists. This is a terrific resource that God has given to every church leader from, you know, teenagers who are fascinated with the questions of science through to those who are at cutting edge research level. And so part of I think the change in attitudes, is that the church leader begins to see that ministry in this area is not just about them. But it's about the body of Christ together, relating to some of these questions. But in order to access that the initial response to science has to be changed away from fear into a humble listening to what's going on. Now, I think, to come back to the to the first question, I think, then there are some big questions for the next decade. And I think one of the biggest questions, which you and I have talked about before, is the question of what it means to be human. You know, I think we've gone through some of the interest and some of the big questions about origins, Big Bang, evolution, those types of questions, Christians still have different views on them. And we'll still keep continuing talking about them. But the central question of what it means to be human, I think is going to be highlighted in lots of different ways. For example, will artificial intelligence become conscious at some stage? If we discover extraterrestrial intelligence? What does that mean for human beings? The mind brain relationship, as we know more about what the relationship between mind and brain is all about? What does that mean, to be human? And, you know, even the Human Genome Project, that if I share 67% of my genes with cauliflower, which you can probably tell by looking at me, then, where's the distinction and being human? Now, I think, in lots of different ways in medical science through to what the James Webb Telescope is going to produce. That question of what it means to be human, is a central question for culture, for society, and for theology. Now, I think the great thing about the Christian faith for me, is that actually the question what it means to be human is a central theological question. It's been explored by generations of theologians down the ages. And one of the fascinating things for me is that it's not defined in the Christian tradition, by what I'm made of. It's defined by who I'm related to. So for me, the question of what it means to be human is a gift from God, a gift of intimate relationship, a gift of responsibility, a gift of creativity. So that to be human is not undermined by better understandings of what I'm physically made of, or that there may be other forms of consciousness out there. But that actually, what defines me as unique as a human being, is that God loves me. And God wants to be in relationship with me. And that may not be exclusive. In her there may be other intelligent beings elsewhere in the universe, who knows. But I don't think that's a threat to that central understanding of what it means to be human, or the kind of the shorthand that we use as theologians been made in the image of God.

 

Zack Jackson 44:34

That's beautiful. I, I'm so fascinated by the relationality of the cosmos, that we identify ourselves as a human by our relationship to each other, but we see it down to the fundamental level that 91% of the mass of the nucleus of an atom comes not from the proton and the neutron but from the forces that are generated by their interaction, and everything down to the fundamental Fields up until the galaxy clusters only exist in relation to one another. And if I mean, obviously, I'm, I'm imposing some of the meaning that from being a relational primate primates into the, into the cosmos, but you almost can't help but see the, the, the brushstrokes of a relational creator, in the fact that everything only exists in relation to each other. I

 

David Wilkinson 45:34

think that's right. Second, I mean, let me let me confess to you and to the listeners, that when I was trained first, as a, as a physicist, I thought that physics was the only true science, that chemistry, chemistry was for people who couldn't do physics, biology was for people who couldn't do chemistry. And I won't tell you what I thought of sociology. Now, now, of course, I have repented of such things.

 

Zack Jackson 46:03

For example, other mathematicians out there, for exactly

 

David Wilkinson 46:07

the reason that you've said that when atoms get together in relationship to four molecules, then a new series and levels of reality occurs, which is called chemistry. When those molecules get together and form living beings, a new level of biology emerges. And when human beings get together, a new level, which can only be studied by sociology emerges. And that's that emergent relationality, which you've talked about. And that reminds me as a physicist, that the universe cannot be simply reduced to its constituent parts, you have got to understand its constituent parts, but you can only understand them fully, when you understand the relationality between them, which is exactly the point that you beautifully made.

 

Zack Jackson 47:05

Well, thank you, thank you for the relational work that you're doing. And for that, being at the heart of your mission, understanding that it's not enough to just simply give information to clergy and to scientists, but to build relationships of understanding and mutuality. And that's, that is certainly how we interact. So for all the work that you're doing, through the foundation, through your your writings, and through, you know, the work you do at the college, thank you for for your life's work you're doing, you're doing really important work. And as we kind of ended our time together. Is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know, to take away from this conversation? I've

 

David Wilkinson 47:50

I've enjoyed the conversation immensely. Of course, I think it's important to say one of the fascinating things for me, as always, anything that one is able to achieve as an individual is only as strong as the team that you work with. And one of the great things about the work that we've been doing here in the UK is a combination of collaborations and partnerships between different universities and the Church of England. And the quality of the colleagues that that I work with, who involve scientists, theologians, sociologists, historians. And that's a very important part of understanding science. Science doesn't exist in a pure scientific vacuum. It comes with history that comes with philosophy. Indeed, it's framed for me by theology. And so as we work together, across different disciplines, so our understanding of these things becomes much, much richer. And the problem of divorcing the church from science is partly the way that our culture has divorced arts and humanities, from science. And I think particularly in the UK, that's been the case. And so part of this is a bigger cultural issue, which is valuing all types of human knowledge and how we interact together and learn more as community together. But thank you, Zack, I've really enjoyed this. It's a delight. What a wonderful podcast you doing. And thanks for for the time this afternoon.

 

Zack Jackson 49:35

Absolutely, and if any of our listeners out there are interested in learning more, they can go to E c l a s project.org. There's will be a link in the description if you'd like to learn more about what the equipping Christian leadership in an age of science is doing. There's plenty of videos from your previous conference, there's articles, there are links of places to get involved and to learn more and to help help equip you to do this very important work out in the world. You can also listen to any one of the 100 or so episodes of the podcast previously. We've where we've talked about a lot of these issues more in depth. So, again, thank you, David, for being here. And I wish all the best in all of your future endeavors. 

 

David Wilkinson 50:20

Thank you very much.

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