Tom McLeish on The Poetry and Music of Science

Wednesday, September 29, 12 Noon, 2021 on Zoom


Tom McLeish FRS, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of York, also affiliated to the University’s Centre for Medieval Studies and the Humanities Research Centre. He has conceived and led several interdisciplinary research projects, and is a recognized UK expert on formulating and evaluating interdisciplinary research. He co-leads the Ordered Universe project, a large interdisciplinary re-examination of 13th century science. From 2008 to 2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University and was from 2015-2020 Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. He is a brilliant, creative mind and has won many awards for his work and teaching.


In this address, Dr. McLeish suggests that the ‘Two Cultures’ division between the arts and the sciences is not the best classification of creative processes, for all creation calls on the power of the imagination within the constraints of form. The three modes of visual, textual and abstract imagination have woven the stories of the arts and sciences together, using different tools. As any scientist knows, the imagination is essential to the immense task of re-creating a shared model of nature from the scale of the cosmos, through biological complexity, to the smallest subatomic structures. McLeish draws on past testimony and personal accounts of scientists, artists, mathematicians, writers, and musicians to explore the commonalities and differences in creation. He offers close-up explorations of musical, literary, mathematical and scientific creation, illustrating how creativity contributes to what it means to be human, drawing on theological ideas of the purpose of creativity and the image of God.

Rev. Dr. Ray Aldred on Reconciliation

Rev. Dr. Raymond C. Aldred

Director of the Indigenous Studies Program

Professor of Indigenous Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology

Can We Handle the Truth and Take Responsibility for Reconciliation?

Wednesday, March 10, 2021 @ 4 PM


In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools, Canadians have often viewed Christianity as the enemy of Indigenous people. But there is another side to the story, claims Professor Ray Aldred. Almost two-thirds of Indigenous people in Canada actually call themselves Christian and appreciate what they have learned from Christian leadership over the years. Aldred notes that there is currently real hope for a better day, a way forward for our Indigenous people. This hope begins in community, in rethinking our identity, who we are and where we have come from. In this address, he will show the need to tell the truth and use human imagination to heal relationships with the land/creation, with family, clan and community, and with the Creator. At the heart of Indigenous peoples’ quest for healing is a shift in identity from shame to dignity of heritage. Mohawk writer Patricia Monture notes that key to this shift is a decision to take responsibility for all relationships, “Responsibility is at the heart of Indigenous freedom and self-determination.” We must strive to live in harmony with all things and all peoples, including the new visitors. We also wish to heal our treaty covenant relationships: through the threefold strategy of telling the truth, listening to one another, and seeking a common plan to repair the damage of abuse. Employing the principles of restorative justice, the difficult task of retelling our stories offers an important, creative way forward. These stories help us revisit the pain, face reality, and rediscover the good roots of our heritage. These vital steps constitute the effective direction of hope, as Ray has discovered through much experience.


Reverend Dr. Raymond C. Aldred holds a Master of Divinity from Canadian Theological Seminary,  and a Doctor of Theology  from Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology. Currently he is the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program, whose mission is to partner with the Indigenous Church around theological education. He is professor of Theology: Narrative, Systematic, Indigenous at the Vancouver School of Theology on the UBC campus. A status Cree, he is ordained with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada. Born in Northern Alberta, he now resides with his wife in Richmond. Formerly Ray served as the Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. He is former Director for the First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada, now a committee member, where he works to encourage Indigenous churches. Ray also has had the privilege of addressing several college conferences and meetings to raise awareness of these issues. He and his wife, Elaine, are involved in ministry to help train people to facilitate support groups for people who have suffered abuse.

Samples of Ray’s Perspective from YouTube 

Paul Allen on Critical Realism

Paul L. Allen,

Dean & Professor of Theology,

Corpus Christi College

Critical Realism: An Enduring Epistemology for Science and Theology

Wednesday, January 27 at 4:00 p.m.


Critical Realism emerged as a way of thinking about knowledge in the mid twentieth century. After disillusionment with positivism and straightforward empiricism, critical realism (CR) established itself as a way that many scientists and scholars think about how knowledge is won and progress achieved. This realization came with an associated insight that reality is made up of different strata of reality: molecular, biological, psychological and spiritual, rather than a picture of reductionism of various entities to simple parts. Borrowing from the historian of science Ernan McMullin, the Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan and several other thinkers, I want to affirm two things about CR: 1) it best describes how to affirm reality in judgments whilst conceding the variety of historical paradigms that have affected how we know things to be true. 2) CR can help us understand how to do theology, notably with respect to scriptural testimony and doctrinal claims that were written and formulated in different cultures and in accord with different assumptions than our own. 


Dr. Paul Allen specializes in systematic theology, the science-theology dialogue and theological anthropology. He taught at Concordia University prior to coming west. His publications include his doctoral dissertation, published as Ernan McMullin and Critical Realism in the Science-Theology Dialogue and (with Peter M.J. Hess), Catholicism and Science. More recently, he has written Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2012) as well as articles in journals such as Zygon: Journal of Religion and ScienceThe American Catholic Philosophical QuarterlyHeythrop Journal of Theology and Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosphie.

John Owen : Protecting Democracy

Protecting Democracy from the Outside

John Owen

Wednesday, November 18 @ 4:00 p.m.

Taylor Professor of Politics

Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture

Senior Fellow, Miller Center of Public Affairs

University of Virginia


Three decades after its supposed permanent global triumph, democracy is in trouble nearly everywhere.  In the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, constitutional self-government is on the back foot, as polarization destroys societal trust and anti-liberal populist movements and leaders gain power.  Autocracy is becoming even more entrenched in the two giants, China and Russia. Some other countries proclaim the desire to be more like them.  Once seen as an inevitability, democracy now appears a fragile achievement. In world politics, there is an evolutionary dynamic which the international environment selects for some types of state.  Since World War II, the United States and other mature democracies have deliberately tried to preserve democracy at home by shaping the international environment through a liberal-internationalist foreign policy.  In the language of evolutionary theory, they have engaged in niche construction, altering their environment to “select for” constitutional self-government, and “select out” authoritarianism.  They enjoyed great success, but in recent decades, the niche has actually come to undermine democracy, favoring autocracy.  Liberalism itself has been transformed from its earlier classical forms to a cosmopolitan version that seeks to erase all barriers to economic and social interaction in the name of individual fulfillment.  Such cosmopolitan liberalism has provoked a cultural and economic backlash that acts to jeopardize constitutional democracy itself.  China and Russia meanwhile are constructing their own niches, reshaping the international order to select for autocracy.  Defending democracy from the outside will require a reformed liberal internationalism that will de-polarize electorates, restore solidarity among democracies, and be less inclusive of authoritarian regimes.  As the most powerful constitutional democracy, the United States retains the most important role in this reformation.


John M. Owen is Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Miller Center of Public Affairs, at the University of Virginia.  Owen is author of Confronting Political Islam (Princeton, 2015), The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton, 2010), and Liberal Peace, Liberal War (Cornell, 1997), and co-editor of Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order (Columbia, 2011).  He has published scholarly papers in the European Journal of International RelationsEuropean Journal of International SecurityGlobal PolicyInternational Organization, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, International PoliticsInternational Security, International Studies QuarterlyPerspectives on Politics, and several edited volumes.  His articles have appeared in Foreign AffairsThe Hedgehog ReviewThe HillThe Washington Post, National Interest, The New York Times,and USA Today.  He is a former Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies; he serves on its editorial board and that of International Security.  Owen has held fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, the Free University of Berlin, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Research Center.  He is a recipient of a Humboldt Research Prize (2015).  He holds an AB from Duke, an MPA from Princeton, and a PhD from Harvard.  In Fall 2020, he is a Visiting Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of British Columbia.

Respondent: Tyler Chamberlain’s research interests sit at the intersection of philosophy and political science.  He is particularly interested in early modern political thought, conservatism, and the Classical Realist tradition in International Relations.  Tyler’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Canadian Political Science Review and The Canadian Journal of Political Science.”

Karl Mannheim 1942: “With the coming of the Renaissance and Liberalism, Christianity failed to remain the basic ferment and integrating force in social life… The spiritualization and regulation of human affairs, public and private, has gradually been left to the competing institutions in society… This secularization produced a stimulating variety of human experience… But the fact that the competing value systems cancelled each other out led to the neutralization of values in general. This is one of the reasons why liberal society at its present stage is handicapped in resisting the spiritual and political challenge coming from the totalitarian states… A liberal and competitive economy and its society can function quite well with neutralized values as long as there is no threat from within or without which makes a basic consensus imperative… [in which case] liberal education for intelligent partisanship… must gradually be replaced by a new education for responsible criticism, wherein consciousness of the whole is at least as important as awareness of your own interests… Such a new morality can only be achieved if the deepest sources of human regeneration assist the rebirth of society”.

Tolstoy predicts the current epidemic of fake news: “The more men are freed from privation; the more telegraphs, telephones, books, papers, and journals there are; the more means there will be of diffusing inconsistent lies and hypocrisies, and the more disunited and consequently miserable will men become” (The Kingdom of God is Within You – 1893).

Bill Newsome on Neuroscience and Faith at UBC-TWU, January 29-31

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 7.15.20 PM   Bill Newsome January 31 @ UBC Of Two Minds: a Neuroscientist Balances Science and Faith

This is where the fulcrum of our fears lie: that humans as a species and we as thinking people, will be shown to be no more than a machinery of atoms. The crisis of our confidence springs from each person’s wish to be a mind and a person in the face of the nagging fear that one is only a mechanism.

~Jacob Bronowski, Mathematician, Biologist and Historian of Science

Further Reading on Neuroscience and Mind-Body Issues:

Craver, C.F., (2007).  Explaining the Brain: mechanisms and the mosaic unity of neuroscience.  Oxford.

Nagel, T.,  What is it like to be a bat?; (2012) Mind and Cosmos.

Brown, W.S. & Strawn, B.D. (2012). The physical nature of Christian life: Neuroscience, psychology and the church. NY: Cambridge University Press.

Jeeves, M. & Brown, W.S. (2009). Neuroscience, psychology, and religion: illusions, delusions, and realities about human nature. West Conshohocken: Templeton Foundation Press.

Brown, W.S. and Murphy, N. (2007). Did My Neurons Make Me Do It?: philosophical, and neurobiological perspectives on moral responsibility and free will. Oxford Clarendon.

Markham, Paul N. (2007). Rewired: Exploring Religious Conversion. Eugene, OR: Pickwick

Murphey, Nancey. (2006). Bodies and souls, or spirited bodies? New York, NY: Cambridge

Green, Joel & Palmer, Stuart. (2005). In search of the soul: four views of the mind-body problem. Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Jeeves, Malcolm, ed. (2004). From cells to souls–and beyond: changing portraits of human nature. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Jeeves, Malcolm. (2006). Human nature: reflections on the integration of psychology and Christianity. Radnor, PA: Templeton Foundation Press.

Swinburne, R. (2007). The Evolution of the Soul. Oxford.

Bill Newsome:

is the Vincent V.C. Woo Director of the Stanford Neurosciences Institute, Harman Family Provostial Professor and is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. He received a BS degree in Physics from Stetson University and a PhD in Biology from the California Institute of Technology. He served on the faculty of the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at SUNY Stony Brook before moving to Stanford in 1988. Dr. Newsome is a leading investigator in the fields of visual and cognitive neuroscience. He co-chaired the NIH working group that planned the US national BRAIN initiative.

Dr. Newsome hs made fundamental contributions to our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying visual perception and simple forms of decision-making. Among his many honors are the RAnk Prize in Opto-electronics, the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award of the American Psychological Association, Karl Spencer Lashley Award of the American Philosophical Society, the Champalimaud Vision Award, and most recently, the Pepose Award for the Study of Vision, Brandeis University.

He has given numerous distinguished lectureships and was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and to the American Philosophical Society in 2011. His scientific publications include more than one hundred research articles in preeminent scientific journals.

Co-sponsored with the Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation. Other lectures in the series at 

Supported by the UBC Murrin Fund and Oikodome Foundation of Faith Series with Bill Newsome Bill Newsome on State of Neuroscience Bill Newsome on Free Will    Bill Newsome, a similar talk given in recent years.


Thomas Heilke on the Crisis of Democracy

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See Sir Larry Siedentop, Inventing the Individual: the Origins of Western Liberalism (2014)

Which of the Following Values are Important to Democracy?

  • Rule of Law and an Impartial Judiciary
  • A Constitution
  • Human Rights and Fair Access to Trial and Good Representation
  • Fair Representation and Moral Accountability of Political Leadership
  • Freedom of the Press
  • Freedom of Speech
  • Separation of Church and State
  • Right to Protest and Assemble, to Publicly Debate Key Issues
  • Concern for the Common Good
  • Peace and Civility
  • Moral Leadership Employing Wisdom
  • Fair Elections
  • Fair Access to Higher Education
  • Sound Religious Foundation for Political Discourse
  • Proper and Fair Taxation System and Wealth Distribution
  • Access to Good Healthcare What is Democracy?  Jonathan Haidt NYU and Jordan Peterson University of Toronto on why we need to preserve debate within the university for the sake of democracy. The Truth About Democracy

Jurgen Habermas, Three Normative Models of Democracy

Jurgen Habermas and Joseph Ratzinger, Dialectics of Secularization.

  • Dahl, Robert A. (1989) Democracy and its Critics. London: Yale University Press. This is a seminal piece by one of the greats of Political Science. It charts the course of democracy through a series of ‘transformations’ from the city state through to the nation state. It provides a very nice exposition of the various elements of ‘democracy’ and the different ways in which democratic principles can be applied to systems of government.
  • Achen, C. & Bartels, L. (2016) Democracy For Realists: Why Elections Do Not Produce Responsive Government. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. This is one of the most important contributions to the study of democracy over the last decade. It makes for pretty uncomfortable reading: with empirical evidence, the authors really challenge some of our assumptions about the things we expect elections to do. It’s a good diagnosis of some of the problems with (a narrow focus on) electoral democracy, but sadly it doesn’t consider many substantive solutions.
  • Van Reybrouck, D. (2016) Against Elections: The Case for Democracy. London: Random House. This isn’t an academic work. It channels some of the criticisms of electoral democracy made by Achen & Bartels, but it’s very accessible and makes quite a persuasive (and counter-intuitive) case for supplementing traditional institutions with more extensive citizen-based decision-making.
  • Lijphart, A. (2007) Thinking about Democracy: Power Sharing and Majority Rule in Theory and Practice. Basingstoke: Routledge. Lijphart has been one of the key theorists on democracy as power-sharing (as opposed to the exercise of majority rule). His work significantly influenced the development of Northern Ireland’s political institutions as a form of conflict management, but his work has had a great deal of influence in a range of conflict and non-conflict contexts.


Benjamin Perrin on Human Slavery in Canada February 25

Professor Benjamin Perrin

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Associate Professor UBC Law

Senior Fellow MacDonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy


Confronting Modern-Day Slavery: Human Trafficking in Canada

Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 4 p.m.

Woodward (IRC) Room 1

120101_003 Audio  File


Modern-day slavery is one of the most egregious human rights violations of our time. Human trafficking involving sexual exploitation and forced labour occurs around the world – including here in Canada. Professor Perrin will present the main findings from his study on human trafficking in Canada, including the shocking prevalence of Canadian women and girls as victims, and discuss how our country is responding to this hidden national tragedy.


Benjamin Perrin is an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia, Faculty of Law and a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute for Public Policy. He is one of Canada’s leading authorities on human trafficking and author of Invisible Chains: Canada’s Underground World of Human Trafficking (Penguin, 2011), which was named one of the top books of the year by the Globe and Mail. Prof. Perrin has served as Special Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister and Senior Policy Advisor to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. The U.S. State Department has recognized him as a “hero” acting to end modern-day slavery.

He received a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Calgary in 2001, a Juris Doctor from the University of Toronto in 2005, and a Master of Laws (with honours) from McGill University in 2007. He was called to the Bar in Ontario in 2007 and the Bar in British Columbia in 2010. Professor Perrin is an internationally recognized researcher and advocate for victims of crime. The Governor General of Canada and victims’ groups have also recognized him for his work to combat human trafficking and child sexual exploitation. Professor Perrin is the recipient of the Wilson-Prichard Award for Community and Professional Service from the University of Toronto. He is co-editor of Human Trafficking: Exploring the International Nature, Concerns, and Complexities (CRC Press, 2012), and editor of Modern Warfare: Armed Groups, Private Militaries, Humanitarian Organizations and the Law (UBC Press, 2012). He is also the author of numerous law review articles and book chapters, and regularly provides commentary in the media. Prior to joining UBC, he was a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, judicial intern at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague, assistant director of the Special Court for Sierra Leone Legal Clinic (which assisted the Trial and Appeals Chambers), senior policy advisor to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and executive director of a non-governmental organization that combats human trafficking.


Jens Zimmerman, Canada Research Chair Interpretation, Religion & Culture

Jens ZimmermannThe Creative Challenge of Christian Humanism

Jens Zimmermann

Canadian Research Chair of Interpretation, Religion and Culture, TWU

Wednesday, February 27 @ 4:00 pm, Woodward IRC Room 5


The question of who we moderns are and what vision of humanity to assume in Western culture lies at the heart of hotly debated questions about the role of religion in education, politics, and culture. The urgency for recovery of a greater purpose for social practice is indicated by the increasing number of publications on the demise of higher education. Dr. Zimmermann contends that a main cause of this malaise is to be found in the alienation of reason and faith. He remains hopeful that the West can recover and rearticulate its identity, renew its cultural purpose by recovering the humanist ethos that originally shaped it. The journey he takes us on traces the religious roots of humanism from patristic theology, through the Renaissance and into modern philosophy. Historically, humanism was based on a creative correlation of, and compatibility between, reason and faith. Our speaker uses his considerable skill to re-imagine humanism for our current cultural and intellectual climate. This lecture follows in stream of thought with the CBC Ideas Series called The Myth of the Secular, a reframing of the conversation about religion and society in the twenty-first century.


Jens Zimmermann holds a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of British Columbia, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. He currently occupies the Canada Research Chair in Interpretation, Religion and Culture, and is Professor of English at Trinity Western University (TWU) in Langley. He has published eight previous books in the areas of theology, philosophy, and literary theory. He is board member of the International Bonhoeffer Society (English Language Section), and co-editor of the IBI (International Bonhoeffer Interpretation) series. With two other colleagues, he also runs the Religion, Culture and Conflict group at TWU, which organizes inter-faith conferences. The group recently published Politics and the Religious Imagination (Routledge 2010). Dr. Zimmermann has just released a new book from Oxford University Press in 2012 (Humanism & Religion: a call for the Renewal of Western Culture) from which comes the theme of today’s lecture.

Text of Dr. Zimmermann’s Talk on Wednesday, February 27UBC Lecture on Christian Humanism

Recommended Reading for this Forum:

Brunner, Emil. Christianity and Civilization. Second Part: Specific Problems. 2 vols. Vol. 2, New York: Scribner’s, 1949.

———. Christianity and Civilisation. First Part: Foundations. Gifford Lectures, 1947-1948.  New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1948.

Butler, Judith, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, Cornel West, Eduardo (ed.) Mendieta, and Jonathan (ed.) VanAntwerpen. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere.  New York: Columbia University Press, 2011.

Casanova, José. “The Secular and the Secularisms.” Social Research 76, no. 4 (Winter 2009): 1049-66.

———. “Rethinking Secularization: A Global Comparitive Perspective.” The Hedgehog Review  (Spring and Summer 2006): 7-22.

Sommerville, John. Decline of the Secular University. Oxford University Press. 2006.

Strousma, Guy G. The End of Sacrifice: Religious Transformations in Late Antiquity. Translated by Susan Emanuel.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009. (for some Jewish/Christians influences on profound cultural changes.

Taylor, Charles. A Secular Age. Harvard University Press, 2007.

Taylor, Charles, and James Heft. A Catholic Modernity? : Charles Taylor’s Marianist Award Lecture, with Responses by William M. Shea, Rosemary Luling Haughton, George Marsden, and Jean Bethke Elshtain.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. (If people don’t want to read “a secular age”)


Some provocative quotes from Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism.


Understanding the nature of reason is central to our conception of human existence. We have to resist a narrow conception of human rationality that excludes religion as irrational because such a view cripples our ability to analyze correctly the current state of Western culture. As Rodney Stark has argued in his book The Victory of Reason, Christianity’s ability to combine faith and reason with a progressive view of human nature laid the foundation for Western science and technological progress…. Building on Judaism, Christianity also allowed for the concepts of human dignity, personhood and individuality that have decisively shaped Western views of society. (p. 25 & 26)

Neither the best nor the worst features of modernity are comprehensible without the transformative influence of Christianity on Greco-Roman culture.Without religion, the West would not be what it is, and without understanding the religious roots of Western culture and their continuing influence on Western thought, we lack the self-understanding necessary to address our current cultural crisis. (p. 26.)

The reduction of reason to scientific objectivity, combined with an individualistic understanding of the human self as an island of autonomous consciousness and will, has draw a sharp line between faith and reason, between science and religion, between fact and value. (p. 35)

Living in a postsecular world means that secularism is no longer the standard for reasonable thought. If indeed it is true that Western culture continues to experience a crisis of identity and purpose, the dogmatic exclusion of sources of transcendent purpose (i.e. religion) seems unwise…. Such dogmatism is not secular thinking, if secular is taken at its root meaning of “this worldly”. Rather, the arbitrary exclusion of religion from reasonable discourse is secularist ideology, a fundamentalist rejection of all interpretation of the world, except the materialist one that excludes religion.  (p. 41)

When science begins to think, that is, when it moves beyond verification and begins to interpret the meaning of its findings, science takes recourse to philosophy and theology. (p. 42)


Further Graduate Student Dialogue

Also hear David Lyle Jeffrey on the topic in the GFCF Series:

Endorsements of Jens Zimmermann’s Work:

“A timely and thoughtful analysis of how human beings, in the course of several centuries, have come to dominate a world, and yet have lost a sense of what it means to be human. Jens Zimmerman demonstrates with depth and clarity the way that our common humanity was uniquely recovered in the incarnation. This is truly a topic for our times.”

~Barry Harvey, Baylor University

“Jens Zimmerman has wisely and judiciously mined the depths and fullness of the Christian humanist tradition. There are those who take humanism to be the polar opposite of faith. Zimmerman has made it clear that the noblest aspects of Christian humanism act as a corrective to both a secular humanism and many forms of contemporary Christianity. This classical form has a breadth and depth to it that is well worth investigating with Dr. Zimmermann. Going beyond dualism and deconstructing caricatures of Christianity, faith and reason are woven together in a nuanced, subtle and refined manner.  Public responsibility to a common good is elevated as a high value.”

~Professor Ron Dart, Dept. of Political Science, Philosophy and Religious Studies, University of the Fraser Valley

Faraday Institute Film & Panel on Biological Origins

Faraday Institute Film & Faculty Panel on Biological Origins

Wednesday, November 14 @ 4:00 p.m. Woodward Room 5, UBC

Reading Material: Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies

UBC Regent & TWU Live Panelists

  • Bart van der Kamp, Professor Emeritus and Former Head of Forestry, UBC
  • Iain Provan, Professor of Ancient Hebrew Literature, Regent College
  • Judith Toronchuk,  retired Professor Biopsychology, Trinity Western University 

Reflections on Panel Discussion by Dr. Iain Provan:

I enjoyed being part of the panel last Wednesday.  The topic we were discussing was the important one of “reading God’s two books” – creation, on the one hand, and Scripture, on the other.  Can we read these two books together, with integrity?  I believe that we can, IF we avoid making mistakes in reading either one.

On the side of “reading creation,” for example, one of the mistakes we have made is in the area of what some people call “natural evil” or “physical evil” – tsunamis, earthquakes, and the like.  We call such things “evil,” and then we are faced with the “problem” of reconciling the suffering arising from this “evil” with the idea of a good Creator.  But I don’t think it makes any sense to call “evil” the suffering in the world that is an inevitable outcome of the fact that the good God has made the world in the particular way that he has, and not in some other way.  This kind of suffering is simply a consequence of living in this world, and not another one.  You will suffer if you put your hand in a fire.  It’s not pleasant.  It hurts.  But evil does not come into it.  Likewise, moving tectonic plates are necessary for the proper and good functioning of this world, but sometimes moving tectonic plates do cause earthquakes and tsunamis.

On the side of “reading Scripture,” one of the mistakes we have made is to think we are reading Scripture “literally” when actually we are not.  To read any text literally is to read it in accordance with its literal sense, in its historical and cultural context.  This includes a book like Genesis.  We all too often make Genesis try to speak about realities in which it really has no interest (e.g. the origin of matter, or the precise processes by which the world came to be as it is now).  In focusing on such matters, we fail to consider properly the subjects in which Genesis is interested – for example, our human vocation in the world as God’s image-bearers, including our calling to look after the earth.  It is one of the disastrous aspects of the debate about faith, Bible and science in the last 150 years, in fact, that in trying to make a book like Genesis speak to our questions about physical, chemical and biological processes, we have failed to allow it to question us about philosophy, politics, economics, and ethics.  Yet I can get through my entire day without knowing precisely how I got here.  I cannot get through an entire day without knowing what it means to be here – who I am, what my job is, what my purpose is, what I should hope for, and so on.  Science cannot answer such questions. Scripture does.

Follow up Reading on Origins

Alvin Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies.
Cambidge Companion on Darwin.
Alister E. McGrath, Darwin & the Divine: evolutionary design and natural theology.
David Livingstone, Darwin’s Forgotten Defenders.
John Polkinghorne, Faith of a Physicist.
Simon Conway Morris, Life’s Solution.
Francis Collins, The Language of God.
David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its fashionable Enemies.

Distinguished Participant in the Faraday Institute Film on Origins and Evolution

Three have been guests of the GFCF in past years

  • Sir John Polkinghorne, former top Mathematical Physicist, former President of Queens’ College, Cambridge, and a World Authority on the Science and Religion Discourse
  •  Katherine Blundell, Astrophysicist, Oxford University
  •  William Dembski, American Mathematician and Philosopher, Proponent of Intelligent Design
  •  Simon Conway Morris, Palaeobiologist, Cambridge University.
  •  Sir John Houghton, Climate Scientist, Former Chair of the Scientific Assessment Panel of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
  • Alister McGrath, Theologian of Science & Religion, King’s College, London
  • Ard Louis, Biophysicist, Oxford University
  • Denis Alexander, Director or the Faraday Institute for Science & Religion, Cambridge University and Former Cancer Researcher.
  • Francis Collins, Former Director, Human Genome Research, now the Director of the National Institute of Health, Maryland.

Questions Discussed in Film

  • What is the explanatory power of evolution theory? What does it fail to explain?
  • What are we to think of Intelligent Design Theory and irreducible complexity?
  • Is evolution compatible with belief in a God or does it eliminate need for God?
  • Is evolution at all compatible with the biblical account of origins in Genesis?
  • Can we apply evolution theory to human morality?
  • What are we to make of the misuse of evolutionary theory in eugenics?
  • What about the dark side of evolution–its waste, destruction, elimination?
  • Should evolution ever be taken as a philosophy of life?
  • What is our human responsibility to be stewards of our blue-green planet?


Also posted on Facebook event page at   and a CSCA event listing at
Co-sponsored by UBC’s GFCF (Graduate & Faculty Christian Fellowship) and the Vancouver Area Science & Religion Forum, Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation.
Further Graduate Student Dialogue