Science Religion & Society

Initiated by Trinity College in 2009, Science, Religion & Society (SRS) is a program that aims to help seek answers to some of life's 'Big Questions'.

Science can purify religion from error and superstition; religion can purify science from idolatry and false absolutes. Each can draw the other into a wider world, a world in which both can flourish. – Pope John Paul II 

Some of the big questions of interest are:

  • What kind of world do we live in?
  • What are human beings and what are we becoming?
  • What counts as a good life?
  • What difference can I make?

Responses to such questions shape people's lives and help form the basis on which they contribute – or don't contribute – to the wider society. Through research, teaching, publications, conferences and seminars, the program aims to help people better answer these questions by exploring creative interactions between science and religion, science and society, and religion and society.

The program is oriented towards all areas of Trinity College, the University of Melbourne, the MCD University of Divinity and wider public discussions.

SRS Program Coordinator

The Revd Dr Stephen Ames is Lecturer for the subject  'God and the Natural Sciences' within the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne.

He is also an Honorary Research Fellow in the Trinity College Theological School and a Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne.

Dr Ames has a PhD in Physics and a PhD in Philosophy of Science and is presently researching the boundary between physics and metaphysics.

More about Science, Religion & Society

Science may flourish, religion may flourish, but only if human beings flourish.  For many people the quest for the good life is in terms of rising consumption and an ever expanding market, made possible partly by our innovative technologies. But this cannot be the most enlightened form of human flourishing, of well-being. It will lead to wars fought over scarce natural resources. 

What is ‘well-being’ anyway? Is there a science of well-being and is it more than a psychology of happiness? Is there an ethic and ecology and economics, of well-being? What do religious traditions have to offer about the meaning and the path to well-being? There certainly are some basics of well-being, like food, shelter, security and medicine without borders. Is well-being without borders?  Is well-being something for all life on the planet, for all human beings, for succeeding generations?  Is well-being without borders? If so, doesn’t it need a different form of localisation and globalisation for the common good? Or will social Darwinism define and limit well-being to the survival of the fittest, in a hostile natural environment of our own making?     

Human beings can rise above the tyranny of their genes.  But if there is so very little difference between the human genome and that of other animals, is something more needed to account for the distinctive powers and capacities of human beings. Genuine non-reciprocal altruism is a (rare?) fact of life. At its best the human capacity for inquiry in many, many directions shows human senses, rationality and creativity united in serving an unrestricted desire to know. Are these forms of self transcendence indicative of reality being richer than what the natural sciences have so far said about the world or richer than what the natural sciences can say? Or does the motto of the National Neuroscience Facility in Melbourne point us in the right direction: “The creation of beautiful music, mathematical formulae, our emotional responses, our consciousness of self, as well as the complex operations of the human body are all driven by the intricate processes of the brain” ? The evolution of life on planet earth is a ‘Darwinian’ wonder born of blind natural selection, random variation, and a very long time, requiring a vast history of pain and violent death. Could this be the kind of world a good God created?  Why would God create a universe and then use something like Darwinian evolution to bring life into existence?   

But whose account of God should we listen to anyway? The Parliament of World Religions expresses an essential interest of religions to live together peaceably and work for a better world. Others think that the underlying tendency of religion is to divide people and promote violence. Or is it that human beings are vulnerable to the seduction of false absolutes, especially the abuse of power, while espousing the highest ideals, as was also the case with, ‘liberty, equality, fraternity’?

Do we really need both to show us what kind of world we live in? If we do, what kind of world is it in which both can flourish?  Is this the kind of world for which we are educating young people? The cosmologies of religious traditions and indigenous traditions are often contrasted to scientific cosmology. But do these old traditions have wisdom about the world and our relationship to the world that is lost in our scientific cosmology?  Some eminent physicists would like to eliminate time from our understanding of the universe, treating the passage of time a human illusion. Is this the kind of world we live in?  The universe is extraordinarily ‘fine tuned’ for the production of carbon based life.  Is this unsurprising given ‘multiple universes’ or is some purpose at work here or could this be a false choice?    

All these questions and more can be pursued individually but we think any answers need to be held together. The program is asking, What kind of world do we live in? Who are we and what are we becoming ? What counts as a good life ? What difference can I make? Turbulent times lead people to ask such questions in many different ways and on many different levels. Responses to these questions shape people’s lives and help form the basis for their contributing to the wider society or not. The aim of the program is to help people better answer these questions and act accordingly.

Better answers will be promoted by exploring creative interactions between science and religion, science and society, and religion and society. The main activities of the program are research, teaching, publications, conferences, seminars. The program would be oriented to all parts of the College, to Melbourne University, to the MCD University of Divinity and to wider public discussions and action.

Trinity College has a Christian foundation which this program shares. The program will include examining the way Christianity and other religions engage science and society, and each other, and how they help people respond to the program’s defining questions. 

In 2009, Science Religion & Society, the Australasian Theological Forum and the MCD University of Divinity co-sponsored a conference, After Darwin, held on 21–23 July to mark the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s, On the Origin of Species. There was a public lecture by Dr Christopher Southgate from the Theology Department of Exeter University.

Future possible conference themes include:

  • A conversation on ‘wellbeing’ – between people from different disciplines and traditions. 
  • How much time is available to prevent a climate change disaster and globally what path will best secure the well-being of the planet, for the present and future generations of life?
  • The significance of the term ‘person’ in science, philosophy, and religion – is anything at stake?
  • The ‘infinite’ and its implications, in science, philosophy, the arts, religion and the media.
  • The universe is ‘just right’ for life – is there an acceptable explanations or is it just a brute fact?
  • The abstract and communal forms of intellectual practice and their different consequences for society and education.
  • The prospect of a ‘post human condition’ is one pointer to the now radical stage of
  • technological change, but is it good?   
  • Contenders for a new global economic order from science, economics and religion.            
  • ‘Science Week at The Cathedral’ : themes in Science Religion & Society at St. Paul’s Cathedral during ‘Science Week’.