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Faraday Institute Newsletter No. 59 - December 2010

Faraday Institute Newsletter No 59 (December 2010) On 19th November the University Church (Great St. Mary’s) was packed to capacity (>1200 people, the verger estimated 1400) to hear Prof. Terry Eagleton in a Public Discussion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams on the topic ‘Responses to the New Atheism’. Those who came expecting a polarised debate may have been disappointed, but instead the audience was treated to a courteous, academic (and often amusing) exchange on what can often be a polarised topic in the public domain. Much of the time was given to questions and interaction with the audience. The event can be listened to on-line by going to the News Section on the Faraday home-page at The video stream of the event will be posted there shortly. The event was picked up by a number of media outlets, including the BBC and The Guardian.

A further highlight of the past month was the Public Lecture entitled ‘Playing God?: Toward Machines that Deny Their Maker’ given by Prof. Rosalind Picard, Head of the Affective Computing Research Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Laboratory. This lecture can also now be found in our Multimedia folder and a short interview with Prof. Picard can be viewed on our home page, for a short while longer at least. We have also now completed our Faraday Research Seminar series for this term with two excellent seminars, one by Prof. Russell Cowburn FRS entitled ’Nanotechnology, Ethics and Religion’ and the other by Prof. David Bartholomew on ‘Victor Stenger’s Scientific Critique of Christian Belief’. Once again all talks are posted in the Multimedia folder.

With a very busy term of Faraday events now virtually behind us, our thoughts are already turning to next year. Of particular significance is the ‘The Georges Lemaître Anniversary Conference’ to be held at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, Thursday 7th April – Sunday 10th April, 2011. In collaboration with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Gregorian Pontifical University in Rome, the Conference is being held to mark the 80th anniversary of the publication of Lemaître’s seminal work on the ‘Primeval Atom’ (which we now know as the Big Bang). A veritable galaxy of well-known speakers in the field have agreed to speak at the conference, including four Templeton prize-winners. A poster is attached for your own use and please do feel free to pass it on to others. Full colour posters for notice-board display can be obtained by contacting Zoe Binns at: On-line registration is now open on the Faraday web-site (see the Next Events section) and early registration is encouraged to avoid disappointment as places are limited. Limited bursary funds are available for those who wish to attend from low-income countries.

Another new venture next term will be a course on science and religion for Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education (ICE). This will be happening over the week-end 18-20 March 2011. Speakers include Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS, Dr Denis Alexander, Prof. Bob White FRS, Revd Dr Rodney Holder and Dr James Hannam. Booking is through the ICE at their website: The first Faraday Research Seminar of next term will be given by Prof. Andrew Wyllie FRS, Chair of the Dept of Pathology, Cambridge University, on Tuesday 25th January at 1.00 p.m.. Next term’s Public Lecture will be given on March 1st by Prof. Jennifer Wiseman on extraterrestrial life and the theological issues that might raise. Prof Wiseman is senior project scientist for NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope at the Goddard Space Flight Center where she previously headed the Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics.

A steady trickle of books emerge from the research and writing activities of the Institute. Next to appear will be ‘The Language of Genetics – an Introduction’ by Denis Alexander. Due out in the Spring collection of the Templeton Foundation Press, this is an introductory, accessible text for those who wish to learn about the latest discoveries in genetics without any prior background. The book focuses on the science, but the last of the 12 chapters addresses some of the big questions raised by contemporary genetics, touching on issues of science and faith.

The LASAR (‘Learning about Science and Religion’) team, led by Berry Billingsley at the Institute of Education, University of Reading, attended the UCET (Universities’ Council for the Training of Teachers) annual conference in Leicestershire and presented a paper describing findings from our ongoing research into pupils’ and teachers’ thinking about science and religion. We are now looking forward to the ASE (the Association for Science Education) conference which this year will be in Reading. We will be presenting a review of our research and providing a preview of our website for schools on January 7th. Please contact Berry ( if you might be interested in attending our session.

The latest development for the Test of Faith project is a tour of UK high schools. Chip Kendall (former lead singer of ‘The band with no name’) and DJ Ben Jack, plus a scientist provided by Test of Faith, will be running ‘Test of Faith weeks’ from spring 2011 onwards. If you would be interested in Test of Faith visiting your school please contact Ruth Bancewicz ( for details. This is all part of the Institute’s mission to communicate science and faith issues effectively in the public domain in ways that will communicate to different audiences.

This has been a busy month for staff out and about giving talks and lectures. The Director spoke at the annual conference of Christians in Science in London, at a workshop organized by Biologos in New York, in Ipswich on ‘Genetics and Human Identity’ and, together with the Course Director, took part in a panel discussion on science and religion organized by the Students Union at Warwick University.

The Course Director also spoke to an audience of 150 at a meeting in Nottingham University organized jointly by the University Chaplaincy and Christians in Science on ‘Is the Universe Designed?’; to a group of sixth formers in Nottingham on ‘Science and Faith – Friends or Foes?’; and in Ipswich on ‘God and the Big Bang’.

The Associate Director spoke at the Cambridge Intercollegiate Christian Union (CICCU) on science and faith and also in Newnham, Cambridge on the environment and global climate change. Ironically, although we end the year as we started it with bitterly cold weather in Cambridge, 2010 looks set to be the hottest year on record globally: this highlights the problem that although people understand intellectually the issues of climate change and its devastating effect on the poor and marginalized, it is often difficult to encourage them to take action when what they experience is the vagaries of local weather conditions.

Denis Alexander Bob White
[Director] [Associate Director]