Bridging Science and Religion at Oxford

Posted on August 14, 2019

This summer, Dr. Mitch Stokes spent two weeks in Oxford with twenty-five other select professors from around the world. It was a part of Oxford’s SCIO (Scholarship & Christianity In Oxford), and their “Bridging the Two Cultures” program. “The goal,” says Dr. Stokes, “is to train up the next generation of leaders in science and religion. It is the chance of a lifetime.” Having applied and been accepted, Dr. Stokes is now involved in a series of research seminars that focus on furthering the interdisciplinary skills of the twenty-five select faculty. The twenty-five professors are from the CCCU (Council of Christian Colleges and Universities). While most professors are heavy in either the sciences or humanities, professor Stokes’s interdisciplinary background enables him to straddle the gap—“I left the engineering world to go into philosophy, to work on this kind of project. This project has been cutting with the grain, so to speak.” Leading the Oxford seminars are eminent scholars and leaders in their fields, and the Oxford program is headed by academics such as Alister McGrath and Stan Rosenburg. This project, bridging the perceived gap between science and religion, is happening on the highest academic levels.

Each of the twenty-five professors is tasked with a personal project. “My project,” says Dr. Stokes, “deals with physics. The title is “Evolutionary Explanations of the Applicability of Mathematics in Contemporary Physics.” He also gave us a short title in the form of a simple question (thank goodness): “Should primates be good at physics?” Here is the setting of his project, as science continues to explore the quarks and leptons of the subatomic world, the math becomes progressively complex. The evolutionary picture does not adequately explain humankind’s mathematic capabilities—or “superpowers” as Dr. Stokes calls them—to handle such complex math. “The way we use math is amazing. It certainly isn’t intuitive—there is creativity, experimentation, artistry, instinct. We basically use mathematics as a seeing-eye dog to explore the subatomic, quantum world. And it works.” It seems impossible to claim, as materialists do, that nature has awarded us these superpowers in its blind drive to survive. It is in this direction that Dr. Stokes’s project is moving. His, along with the twenty-five other faculty projects, will eventually be cashed out in published forms, whether in articles or a book.

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This initiative is filling the gaps between disciplines in the academy. Too often, scholars are siloed off in their own disciplines; academics in different fields end up with polar vocabularies and are unable to have meaningful conversations that would aid further discovery and academic progress. This can be especially true of science and religion. That is why this Oxford program prioritizes an interdisciplinary approach, as they explain the program: “social and natural scientists will join those in the humanities to explore established and emerging Science and Religion issues, guided by eminent scholars in the field, in a respectful and research-rich learning environment.” New Saint Andrews is grateful that Dr. Mitch Stokes will be participating in such an important and high-caliber project. The students are also benefitting from Dr. Stokes's involvement—the Oxford project requires participating schools to create Science and Religion clubs. The club at New Saint Andrews has been running for a year now, and the students themselves are learning what it means to lead in an interdisciplinary way.

Dr. Stokes was joined at separate times by both Dean Tim Edwards and President Ben Merkle—Oxford graduates themselves. President Merkle and a number of other college presidents met for a summit meeting in the old brick buildings of the Oxford campus. This roundtable for presidents was to “foster further engagement with a wide range of institutional leaders.” The Oxford project is yet another point of cultural engagement New Saint Andrews is tackling in its mission to shape culture under the Lordship of Christ. It is also drawing thicker connections that already exist between New Saint Andrews and Oxford. Dr. Stokes is engaging ideas at the highest levels; his leadership and his academic expertise are a model and a spur to the students of the college.

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