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Faraday Institute Newsletter No. 35 - December 2008

Our termly CiS-Faraday Public Lecture at which Prof. Sarah Coakley spoke on ‘God, Providence, and the Evolutionary Phenomenon of Cooperation’ drew a good crowd and stimulated some vigorous debate. The conversation continued, as is the usual practice after such lectures, at a dinner-discussion held at St. Edmund’s College later the same evening. It is good to see zoologists, theologians, philosophers and others engaging in such an important topic. The lecture may be found in the Multimedia Folder at in either pdf or down-loadable video formats (unfortunately we still have a technical glitch with posting on-line videostreaming).

We have had two excellent Faraday Research Seminars this month, one from the Revd Dr David Wilkinson (Durham University) who spoke on ‘Eschatology and the Future of the Universe’, and the second from Dr Justin Barrett (Oxford University) who spoke on ‘Born Believers: The Naturalness of Childhood Theism’. The second topic in particular seemed to tweak both local and broader media interest, with 105 people coming to the seminar (highly unusual for a lunch-time research seminar in Cambridge, of which there are dozens every week), and Dr Barrett had 8 radio interviews on the topic during the 48 hours preceding the Seminar, with daily newspapers picking up the story in on-line commentaries. Dr Barrett in discussion with Lewis Wolpert on the Today programme can be listened to by clicking on the link on the Faraday home-page.

The Faraday Institute Short Course ‘Science and Religion for Church Leaders’ was also a great success with talks on topics ranging from the historical interaction between science and religion, to questions raised by specific disciplines such as cosmology and biological evolution, to more theological topics such as ‘The Universe in a Trinitarian Perspective’ and ‘Miracles’, as well as bioethical issues. In addition to regular Faraday speakers from past courses, a notable new speaker this time was Richard Hess, Professor of Old Testament and Semitic Languages at Denver Seminary, USA, who spoke about the early chapters of Genesis.

We are now looking forward to our programme for 2009, and a lecture not to be missed for the local Cambridge community is Tuesday 27th January at 5.30 p.m. when Prof. Keith Ward will be speaking in the Queen’s Lecture Theatre, Emmanuel College, on the topic ‘God, Science and the New Atheism’. Prof. Ward has been publishing extensively on this topic over the past year, including Pascal's Fire: Scientific Faith and Religious Understanding (2006), Is Religion Dangerous? (2006), Why There Almost Certainly Is a God: Doubting Dawkins (2008) and The Big Questions in Science and Religion (2008). 

The Course Schedule for 2009 is now also posted on the Faraday web-site ( and on-line bookings have already begun. The list may look shorter than previous years, but appearances can be deceptive. There is an Ordinands Course taking place in January open to those from the Cambridge Federation of Theological Colleges, with a few places available to those from Colleges and Courses outside Cambridge. We are also beginning to export Faraday Courses to other countries, and Courses in New Zealand and India are planned for 2009.

Faraday publishing projects move ahead at a steady pace, and although less visible than our other more public activities do in fact represent the core aim of the Institute, which is to carry out good academic research in the field of science and religion. During the past month the multi-authored book arising from our 2007 Faraday Writers’ Workshop, co-edited by Denis Alexander and Ronald Numbers, has been accepted for publication by Chicago University Press and will be appearing under the title ‘Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins’, with publication scheduled for Autumn 2009.

November has been a busy month for Faraday Staff out and about giving lectures. Denis Alexander took part in a public debate on Intelligent Design (ID) in Fort Worth, Texas, attended by around 1000 people, discussing the topic (as a theist critical of ID) with an anti-ID atheist, a pro-ID atheist, and a pro-ID agnostic. A further 350 people came to a follow-up discussion with the four panel members the next day. Dr Alexander also spoke to 200 people at a lunch-time lecture in Bury St. Edmund’s on ‘Has Science Made God Redundant?’ and gave the sermon at the annual Patronal Festival of St Katharine Cree Church in the City of London (where Samuel Pepys was once a regular attender) on ‘Faith – the Enemy of Reason?’

Bob White spoke at an A Rocha meeting for church leaders on the scientific evidence for global climate change and practical responses to it; at a public meeting in Huntingdon; and at St Paul’s church in Cambridge in a morning service and afterwards over lunch with a lively discussion on how Christians should respond to climate change as part of their care for others. Postdoctoral researcher Dr Jonathan Moo presented a paper at the biblical theology conference in Boston, USA. Our Course Director Rodney Holder gave a talk on ‘Creation and Design’ to the Faith and Society Group at Great St Mary’s Church, Cambridge, and another talk on ‘Science and Religion – An Overview of the Debate’ to the North Cambridge Deanery Synod.

Denis Alexander       Bob White

[Director]                    [Associate Director]