The Strange Power of Light: Glasgow Presbytery at the Glasgow Science Festival

image Published: Jul 28, 2015

'The Strange Power of Light', organised on behalf of Glasgow Presbytery as part of the Glasgow Science Festival, took place on June 5th in Wellington Church in Glasgow.

The event sought to explore the idea of 'light' both in scientific and spiritual contexts. What impact have ideas from the science of light had on theology in the past and present? Why is the metaphor of light so prevalent in theological thought? The speakers were scientists from various disciplines Rev. Dr. David Sinclair minister of Wellington Church, welcomed everyone. Rev. Stuart Smith, Moderator of Glasgow Presbytery, who chaired the meeting, explained the theme and format of the evening and skilfully introduced the speakers who were each given 10- 15 minutes to address their chosen topic.

Dr Robin Green, former lecturer in Astronomy, Glasgow University, and Presbytery elder for Wellington Church, talked about the sun and planets in our Solar system, our universe, how light travels, about galaxies and black holes and questioned the idea that there may be many universes.

His recommended book was 'God's Planet' by Owen Gingerich, Prof Andrew Long, 'a lifetime Anglican', Emeritus Professor of Physics, Glasgow University, spoke on the theory of entanglement, about light in terms of quantum mechanics, describing light in terms of waves or pulses of photons which remain an enigma to scientists. This challenged even those with some knowledge of maths and physics!  He highlighted a recent newspaper article by Keith Ward entitled "Science is now pointing towards the existence of God" and recommended Keith's book, 'The Big Questions in Science and Religion".

Prof Neil Spurway, Emeritus Professor of Physiology of Exercise, Glasgow University, currently President of the Church Theological Society whose specific remit is to 'increase the members'  engagement with science', spoke next, taking us back in time, recounting how photosynthesis in plants led to the increase of oxygen in the atmosphere allowing the animal kingdom to develop. He also touched on Darwinian theory. 'Life Ascending ' by Nick Lane was recommended from his list.

Prof Roger Sturrock, Emeritus Professor of Medicine and Rheumatology, illustrated how light is used in diagnostic procedures in medicine, in visualising living cells, and how they connect with each other e.g. in Neural Networks. In conclusion his last slide depicted fluorescing Zebra fish,demonstrating how cells can be genetically modified to produce light in the form of fluorescence. Suggested reading included ' Christian Theology and Scientific Culture' by T.F. Torrance.

Speaker background info and bibliography

After a short break,the four speakers were convened as a panel, chaired by Rev. Stuart Smith. The 100- strong audience was invited to submit written questions based on the topics and material presented. The Chair skilfully moderated the debate, amplifying and teasing out the substance of the questions. During the discussion the panel were asked direct questions about their personal belief in God and how this stood alongside their scientific training.

The audience, a good mix of ages and genders  from 18- 70 years, some with formal science training, gave positive feedback in comments and on their evaluation forms. Two speakers were interviewed on camera by Glasgow Science Festival media team for their official website.

Mrs Helen Sturrock, Convenor of the committee facilitating the event, commented: “We have been really encouraged by this event, and hope we may be able to contribute to the Glasgow Science Festival in the future.”

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