Caught up with creation

24th March 1995 at 00:00
It is a curious thing that much of the talk during Science Week has been about religion. Whether the assorted chemists and biologists agree with God or not, He is certainly a subject that bothers them very much.

Or maybe this is not so strange, says academic and author Russell Stannard, who combines his life as a Church of England minister with a professorship of physics at the Open University. Religion and scientific thought, he believes, are natural bedfellows; to understand the universe is, as astro-physicist Stephen Hawking puts it, to "look into the mind of God".

Backed by the Christian Education Movement and the American Templeton Foundation, Professor Stannard has just launched a video for schools which explores the two worlds and their apparently competing claims. Does the Big Bang square with the seven-day creation of the universe? Has evolution left room for Adam and Eve? Certainly, says Russell Stannard. But only if we have a much better knowledge both of science and, in particular, religion.

Professor Stannard is already well-known for his "Uncle Albert" books in which seemingly abstruse scientific ideas - black holes and relativity, for example - are boiled down to colourful common sense for children.

"It certainly should be got home to young people what the strengths are of scientific thinking. At the same time what needs also to be drawn out is that it's only one way of trying to understand what it is to be human. Religious thought, for example, covers a range of areas which fall out of the purview of scientific thinking. You have to adopt a variety of ways of thought; each has something to say about being human.

"I don't think enough is done in the way of getting the ideas behind science or religion across to kids. At the same time it's terribly off-putting having these scientists walking around saying they have a monopoly on the truth. In fact, if you take people like geneticist Richard Dawkins it's pretty clear that science has become their religion; they're just as dogmatic in their belief and make claims as absolute as anything ever made by religion.

"The general mistrust of religious thought is partly a misunderstanding of what theology is about. So few people know anything about Biblical criticism: the nature of myth; how people were told about things and wrote about things. Genesis sounds straightforward. But it was never meant to be read in a literal way. Much of the criticism is put forward on the basis of bad science and a bad understanding of the religious issues."

As for time and our modern understanding of its limits: "There's nothing new in it. St Augustine got there long before modern cosmologists. St Augustine knew that time was part of the world and therefore must have been created with the world."

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