Bridging Science, Philosophy, and Faith at Liverpool Cathedral

A panel discussion explored how various cultures and societies perceive the relationship between science and religion, and the responsibilities of scientists and religious leaders in building trust in science among their respective communities.


The panel members at the ‘Beyond Boundaries: A Dialogue on Science and Faith’ (Image credit: QUASAR Group)

The University of Liverpool’s QUASAR Group and Liverpool Cathedral hosted the public event ‘Beyond Boundaries: A Dialogue on Science and Faith’ at the famous Liverpool Cathedral on 5th March 2024.

In addition to commemorating the Cathedral’s centenary since its consecration as a place of worship in 1924, the event also coincided with CERN’s 70th anniversary celebration since its establishment as a global scientific collaboration. To mark this special occasion, a video was shown to make special reference to CERN’s next ambitious project: the Future Circular Collider (FCC). The goal of the FCC is to push the energy and intensity frontiers of particle colliders, with the aim of reaching collision energies of 100 TeV, in the search for new physics. The FCC study is an international scientific collaboration of more than 130 institutes, including the University of Liverpool, and is led by CERN.

Accelerator physicists, particle physicists and theologians got together to discuss the common ground between science, philosophy, and religion. This event was open to all people and was not restricted to any faith. On the panel was Revd Canon Scientist Dr Mike Kirby, a medical physicist at the University of Liverpool who balances his work in cancer therapy with his work as a priest at Liverpool Cathedral. “We are delighted to be hosting this Science and Faith event again, after the inaugural one in 2022. Organised by Liverpool University Physics Department and ourselves, it is a great opportunity to bring together world renowned scientists and theologians, as well as local experts; people of faith and none in conversation on topics which are of interest and an inspiration for all of us to encounter.

Revd Canon Dr Mike Kirby and Professor Andy Beavis during the discussion. (Image credit: QUASAR Group)

Further panel members included Professor John Ellis from Kings College London, Alex Bainbridge, physicist from STFC/ASTeC, Dr Kate Shaw from the University of Sussex and Professor Andy Beavis from Vertual Ltd., alongside Father Andrew Pinsent, Research Director at the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, University of Oxford, and Professor Elaine Howard Ecklund, Director of the Religion and Public Life Program in Rice's Social Sciences Research Institute.

Prof Carsten P Welsch presenting ‘Why Anti-Matter matters’. (Image credit: QUASAR Group)

The discussion was moderated by distinguished scientist and STFC council member, Prof Carsten P. Welsch, head of the accelerator physics cluster at the University of Liverpool, based at Cockcroft Institute. Prof Carsten Welsch explained: “When you look up into the night sky you then realise how tiny we are and at the same time there is 95% of the universe where fundamentally we have no idea what is going on. So, we have concepts like dark matter, dark energy but really in the end of the day we do not have a full understanding of nature and the big question of what is driving us as humans everyday”.

The panel discussion explored amongst others how attitudes towards the intersection of science and religion vary across different cultures and societies and the role that scientists and religious leaders should play in building trust in science among religious communities. The audience had the opportunity to ask the panel stimulating questions and generated a lively and thoughtful discussion.

Members of the QUASAR Group demonstrated key principles of accelerator physics and components. (Image credit: QUASAR Group)

Earlier in the day more than 100 school children had the opportunity to visit the Liverpool Cathedral and participate in the physics education event: ‘Shining a Light on Particle Physics and Accelerators’. Scientists from STFC, the University of Liverpool, the University of Manchester and the NHS gave talks and showcased demonstrations of particle accelerators and radiotherapy systems. Alex Bainbridge from STFC presented an insightful talk through a virtual tour of the CLARA particle accelerator in Daresbury. There was also a live virtual tour of the UKRI-STFC Boulby Underground Laboratory which is located over 1km underground!

The debate was deemed to be great success, attracting more than 130 participants from science and the general public. A video of the discussion is available below.