Cutting Edge
Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

FAITH Magazine March-April 2009

Science and Religion News


Dr Peter Hodgson passed away shortly before last Christmas whilst visiting South Africa. He was an Emeritus Fellow of Corpus Christi college, Oxford, and President of the Science Secretariat of the organization for Catholic intellectuals, Pax Romana.

Over much of the thirty-five year life of this periodical we have been pleased to publish numerous pieces by him. He was very effective at clearly explaining the challenge which modern science makes to our culture and the outlines of the appropriate response, particularly that made by Stanley Jaki.

In 1996 he reflected upon the purpose of the above Secretariat in Culture and Faith, "Science affects our twentieth century culture in many ways. Most fundamentally, it affects the way we think about the world and our place and destiny within it. [...]

"Einstein in his autobiography recalled that he abandoned his early religious beliefs at about the age of 12 when he realised that many of the stories in the Bible could not be true. [...]



"Scientific culture thus exerts a powerful influence on young and impressionable minds, and gradually they drift away from the Church. What they need is a clear and convincing exposition of the Faith that takes full account of the latest scientific advances."

May he rest in peace.


Dr Justin Barrett generated waves of media interest back on 25th November, including an interview on the BBC's Today programme, when he delivered a seminar in the Faraday Institute of Cambridge's St Edmund's College entitled Born Believers: the Naturalness of Childhood Theism. Barrett is Senior Researcher at the University of Oxford's Centre for Anthropology and Mind and a lecturer in the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology.

The work he was describing in the seminar was, as the Institute's on-line notice said, an attempt to "cut through both sides of the increasingly polarised debate about how the universe was created, with atheistic Darwinians declaring the death

of God, whilst anti-Darwinian creationists denounce evolution as fraud." What he is signifying by the results of his work is that the human mind, as evidenced in children, displays an innate tendency to belief. He does not want to go further explicitly and say that religion is itself 'hardwired' in the brain, but only that "children have propensities to believe in gods because of how their minds naturally work." He considers he is simply providing a scientific explanation of religious belief, not that he is explaining away that belief. In effect he is noting that our human minds are naturally compatible with belief, in that "from childhood, humans have a number of predispositions that incline them to believe in gods generally and perhaps a super-knowing, creator god in particular."(Latter two quotations from his on-line Guardian article dated 29th November).

Barrett reacted angrily to ad hominem attacks by prominent atheist A.C. Grayling who accused him of being 'religiously motivated' and compromising his scientific integrity by accepting Templeton Foundation money to fund his research. He called the arguments for a "strong natural disposition to believe in gods ..." a "mounting body of scientific evidence." He sums up his thesis: "Supernatural agency is the most culturally recurrent, cognitively relevant, and evolutionary compelling concept in religion. The concept of the supernatural is culturally derived from an innate cognitive schema ..." The scientific evidence for his position comes from an analysis of studies done on children that show that their innate way of viewing the world is in terms of 'design, function and purpose' -making them, in effect, 'intuitive theists.'

His work would seem to support the view, in effect, that man is made for relationship with God: not that our relationship to the Creator is just some fictional result of indoctrination by another, but that our natural response to the world is that is has been 'made.' We can see there is a coherence between the idea that the religiosity of mankind is a function of our mental architecture, and the idea that the human mind with its spiritual soul is made for union with God in the first place.

A video and audio version of the seminar is available on-line at the Faraday Institute website, faraday, under the section 'news.'


Papers from the Pope's September-2006 schulerkreis which he held at the Castel Gandolfo palace have now been published in English after translation from the German originals. The book, entitled Creation and Evolution: a Conference with Benedict XVI at Castel Gandolfo, is published by Ignatius Press (ISBN 1586-172344).


The father of modern astronomy - the Polish priest, Nicolaus Copernicus - died in obscurity in 1543 at the age of 70. He was then canon of the cathedral in Frombork, a small town on the Baltic coast in Poland. Apparently, his death was not even noted in the cathedral records, so unimportant was he considered, and his demise could nowadays only be inferred from a record of someone else being appointed to his post. As a result, his grave was unmarked, and his resting place hitherto unknown. Copernicus's posthumous fame, of course, arose from his 30-year project published soon before his death, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium - a revolution indeed, in which he explained his calculations that proved that the earth and planets orbit the sun, rather than the sun and planets orbitthe earth.

For some 200 years various attempts have been made to locate the grave of Copernicus. In 2004, the auxiliary bishop of Warmia diocese, Jacek Jezierski, invited eminent archaeologist Jerzy Gassowski to conduct a new search for the body. The bishop had an idea about which altar the priest-astronomer might have been buried near. In August 2005 they found the skull of a man of 70 years of age, and found that a forensic reconstruction of his facial features closely resembled portraits of Copernicus which were based on a lost self-portrait. The matter was decided scientifically just last November, when the results of a DNA test were announced: there was an exact DNA match between material from a tooth in the skull and a strand of hair found in a book of astronomical data which was owned byCopernicus.

Bishop Jezierski has decided that a fitting sarcophagus will now be designed for the remains of Copernicus that have been discovered, not only to honour this renowned astronomer, but as a testimony to the unity of deep faith and meticulous science which his life's work represented.

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