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Science: religion's friend or foe?

Academics who have studied the decline of religion in modern Britain have looked at a range of different factors. The two World Wars, which we remember especially at this time of year, have a potential relevance here, but it’s hard to judge quite what it is.

Clearly, war makes some people more inclined to pray, and look to God for help and comfort. That’s part of what lies behind the keeping of Remembrance Sunday, and other related ceremonies. For others, the experience of trauma, cruelty and destruction has made claims about the power of divine love look illusory.

It’s often suggested, however, that the single most important factor in the decline of religion is the rise of science. What religion once offered – help in navigating the world and understanding of its purposes – science now does for us instead, it is claimed, and much more rationally and securely. It’s a disputed view among academics, but it has a pretty tenacious hold in the popular imagination.

Earlier this month, members of our team chapter participated in the Bishop’s Day for Licensed Clergy in Canterbury, where our speaker was the author Iain McGilchrist. What struck me about his presentation was how his engagement with the scientific study of the brain has led him to a deepening appreciation of the mystery of human existence. For him, scientific ‘discoveries’ about how the brain works don’t explain away human life with its transcendent values of truth, beauty and goodness. In fact, they prompt us to return to the profound wisdom conveyed in religious traditions.

I’m looking forward very much to the lecture that Jo Purle has organised for us this Tuesday evening, on ‘Are Faith and Science Compatible?’ You’ll see from the information about this event below that our speaker is really well qualified to guide us through this question. A key element of our parish vision, shared by all our churches, is ‘sharing our faith’. If we’re serious about that, it’s important we understand why some people might think that science makes faith impossible for them, and how we can respond. I hope to see you there!

Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen

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