Biblical Faith and Evolution at Cambridge

This is the seventh installment about my speaking tour in the UK.

In between my two visits to Oxford I spent the day in Cambridge.

I gave a lunchtime lecture at the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at the University of Cambridge (housed in St. Edmund’s College), as part of their bi-weekly series of Research Seminars on various topics relating to science and Christian faith.

Most of my other lectures in the UK were presented to divinity students and faculty at various universities and in a few cases to wider audiences that included non-academics.

Those lectures were all related to my teaching and research on the Bible, deriving either from my published writings (A New Heaven and a New Earth) or from material I am currently working on for publication (the lament psalms, Genesis 22, and Job).

My lecture at the Faraday Institute was a bit different; my assigned topic of how the early chapters of Genesis might relate to an evolutionary account of human origins (“Human Distinctiveness and the Origin of Evil in Biblical and Evolutionary Perspective”) was quite new to me; I’ve only begun thinking about this issue in the last few years.

The audience for the lecture was also different, being composed of scientists, theologians, and students, including people of different religious faiths, and even some skeptics.

This was the largest group I spoke to on my entire UK trip. Whereas some of the academic audiences I addressed were as small as 15 or 20, the Faraday organizers told me they counted 99 people in the audience, the largest turnout they had in recent memory for one of their seminars.

In the Faraday lecture I was representing BioLogos, an organization in the US that tries to help Christians see the harmony between science and faith, especially focusing on how we might understand evolution as the way that God has worked in the created order.

I became a BioLogos theology fellow in 2016, tasked with writing a number of blog posts on issues relating to biblical interpretation and evolution. I was also asked to become a member of BioLogos Voices, which is their Speaker’s Bureau (I am one four speakers listed under Bible and Theology).

My approach in the Faraday lecture (which has also been my approach in my BioLogos blogs) was to use my expertise as an Old Testament scholar to help the audience notice what the relevant Scriptures were saying about the topic at hand, and then speculate (tentatively) on how this might connect with what we know about human evolution.

I had very diverse questions from people of different faith stances; I can only hope that my exposition of Scripture helped those in the audience (Christian or otherwise) realize the rich resources of the Bible, when it is taken seriously and read carefully.

Some Interesting People That I Met

Keith Fox is Associate Director of The Faraday Institute and Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Southampton. He was my initial contact with Faraday and the person who decided on the topic of my lecture (from the options that I suggested).

Jennifer Wiseman works for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as the Senior Project Scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope (having previously headed the Goddard’s Laboratory for Exoplanets and Stellar Astrophysics); I had previously met her at a BioLogos conference in the US. She was at the University of Cambridge to work on a short-term research project in astrophysics and was the next speaker for the Faraday Research Seminars, two weeks after my lecture.

Hilary Marlow, Lecturer in the Faculty of Divinity at University of Cambridge, is an Old Testament scholar well-known for her work on ecology in the prophetic literature. She is one of the editors of the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Bible and Ecology, for which I wrote an essay on “The Image of God in Ecological Perspective.” I met Hilary last November when she gave the keynote address on ecology and justice at the 2016 meeting of the Ecological Ethics and Biblical Studies research group of the Institute for Biblical Research (I will be giving the keynote address on ecology and hope at the 2017 meeting).

Fox, Middleton, Weisman, and Marlow

Ruth Bancewicz, a biologist, is a Senior Research Associate at The Faraday Institute, who also writes for BioLogos. After my lecture Ruth interviewed me for the Science and Belief blog, which she is in charge of. The interview, which will also be released as a podcast, is meant for those who couldn’t attend the lecture, and generally appeals to a wider audience. The interview has been requested by the editor of The War Cry, a Christian newspaper in the UK published by the Salvation Army (since 1879). Unlike many Christian organizations in North America, it looks like the Salvation Army in the UK isn’t afraid of evolution!

Daniel Weiss is Polonsky-Coexist Lecturer in Jewish Studies, in Faculty of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. After my Faraday lecture, Daniel took me aside and chatted enthusiastically about his work on biblical interpretation and the Jewish intellectual tradition. I was pleasantly surprised when he affirmed that my analysis of humanity as the image of God (in The Liberating Image) was helpful for his own work.

The Work of Michael Faraday

And now a word about Michael Faraday, the nineteenth-century English Christian (1791-1867) for whom The Faraday Institute is named. Although he had almost no formal schooling, Michael Faraday became fascinated with science in his teenage years and became an important experimental scientist as a young man. He was the first to demonstrate the relationship of electricity to magnetism, and he developed the first electric motor. Later on he demonstrated the connection of electromagnetism to light. In 1825 Faraday instituted a series of Christmas lectures on science for the public that continue to this day.

In the plane on the way home, I happened to watch a special episode of Cosmos (the science TV series) on Michael Faraday; it was quite inspiring.

A Speaking Tour in the United Kingdom

I am getting ready to head to the UK to give a series of lectures, mostly on eschatology (but with a few other topics included as well). The first stop is in Scotland, with most of my time spent moving southward through England.

I was initially invited by folks who run the Thinking Faith Network (in Leeds) to speak on the topic of my eschatology book, A New Heaven and a New Earth. Given that I would be coming all the way across the Atlantic, they worked out a series of other speaking events for me in the UK.

It is a bit of a grueling schedule, so I would appreciate prayers from anyone who feels so led, both for my sustained energy and that my talks would be helpful to those in attendance.

If you are going to be in the areas where I’m speaking, you are invited to attend any of the public lectures.

So far the following locations and events have been confirmed.

St. Andrews

Two public lectures sponsored by the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology and the School of Divinity (St. Mary’s College), at the University of St. Andrews.

  • April 20 – “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World.” Thursday afternoon lecture (4:00 pm), Lecture Room 1, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews.
  • April 21 – “Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Psalms for a Broken World.” Friday afternoon lecture (4:00 pm), Lecture Room 1, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews.

Aberdeen

Durham

  • April 25 – “Unbinding the Aqedah from the Straightjacket of Tradition: An Inner-Biblical Interpretation of Abraham’s Test in Genesis 22.” Old Testament research seminar for postgraduate students in the Department of Theology and Religion, Tuesday afternoon (4:00-5:30 pm), Seminar Room C, Abbey House, Palace Green, Durham University.

Mirfield

Leeds

Two public lectures in the Life Matters series, Thinking Faith Network, Leeds. Click here for a flier about both talks.

  • April 28 – “Why Are We Here? Our Sacred Calling in God’s World.” Friday evening lecture (7:30-9:00 pm),  Quaker Meeting House, 188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.
  • April 29 – “Voices from the Ragged Edge: The Gritty Spirituality of the Psalms for a Broken World.” Saturday morning lecture (10:00 am-12:00 noon), Quaker Meeting House, 188 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds.

Oxford

Cambridge

Oxford

Cheltenham

  • May 3 – “A New Heaven and a New Earth: For God So Loved the World.” Wednesday evening public lecture (6:00-7:30 pm), University of Gloucestershire, Room TC001, Francis Close Hall Campus, Swindon Rd., Cheltenham. You can download a flier here.

Bristol

New Creation Has Begun—The Haverim Lectures at the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies

I am about to head off to Dayton, OH to give the Haverim Lectures at the Center for Judaic-Christian Studies (Haverim is Hebrew for friends).

I’ll be giving three lectures on Saturday, March 18, 2017 on the topic of eschatology, with the overall title: New Creation Has Begun: How This Big Idea Changes Everything.

My three lectures will address:

  • The sacred calling of being human as the image of God
  • The overall plot of the biblical story
  • The Bible’s vision of the consummation of all things

They will be based on my book A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Baker Academic, 2014) and will focus on how the biblical vision of the origin and destiny of creation can inspire and empower us for living today.

You can access more information about the lectures here.

The Center for Judaic-Christian Studies plans to make recordings of the lectures available for those interested.