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A blog from the ‘Black holes, dark matter and dark energy’ conference

A blog from the ‘Black holes, dark matter and dark energy’ conference

Our Principal, Rev’d Dr Alex Jensen has just returned from an intriguing conference that reflects his interest in the frontiers of science. Here are his reflections.

“I am on my way home from the conference ‘Black holes, dark matter and dark energy’ in Durham, which was organised by ECLAS, the Equipping Christian Leadership in an Age of Science network. This may sound very nerdish, but it was designed so that moderately informed amateurs like myself could follow the proceedings.

“The key note speakers were Prof Carlos Frenk (Ogden Professor of Physics, University of Durham); Dr Jennifer Wiseman (Senior Astrophysicist, NASA, where she is the senior scientist on the Hubble Space Telescope project); and Prof Chris Done, Professor of Physics (University of Durham) as well as two post doctoral researchers.

“The purpose of the conference was to give Church Leaders from a wide range of traditions (there were plenty of Anglicans, though) the confidence to engage with the insights of astrophysicist and cosmology in their ministry. How to preach about creation in the light of what we know about the origins of the university? How to engage scientists in your congregation? (And I am aware that, for those of us who are based in or near Cambridge the odd astrophysicist in the congregation is a possibility, and at least one of our students is in that line of work, too.)

“The most impressive thing about the conference was the approachable way in which the speakers were able to explain the most complex and mind-boggling things imaginable. Another thing that was interesting for me is how much the field has moved since my school days (I did physics up to the Abitur, the German A-level equivalent) and from what Stephen Hawking wrote in his Brief History of Time, which I read some years ago. We know a lot more today than we knew then (as you’d expect), but, paradoxically, from this we know how little we know. Even the best astrophysicists are puzzled by dark matter and dark energy. And the great theory of everything is completely out of fashion nowadays.

“We did think about how we can tell the story of the universe as we know it from a Christian perspective. Psalm 8 is an obvious candidate: the God who made this amazingly large and beautiful universe also provided a space for us humans to live, and cares for us so much that he became human on this (in the words of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy) insignificant planet in a remote spiral arm of an unfashionable galaxy.

“I suppose the key takeaway was that we don’t need to be experts in science to engage with it. We can use the little we know to show that we take cosmology (or any science for that purpose) seriously, admitting what we don’t know (and not pretend that we believe what we don’t believe. David Day, who wrote one of the preaching books on the reading list for the preaching module, once said that the sad thing is that in the pulpit we all become fundamentalists despite what we know and believe).”