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A Leap of Faith: Finding Common Ground Between Science and Religion

The Forum comes from CERN, The European Council for Nuclear Research, in Geneva, Switzerland and explores the challenge of finding common ground between science and religion.

Promoting a dialogue between science and religion has long been a challenging task- the two communities of thought often seem far apart. The Forum explores the challenge in a discussion recorded at CERN in Switzerland and asks not only why this dialogue is important but how it is working and where it might lead. CERN is the European Organization for Nuclear Research where physicists and engineers are probing the fundamental structure of the universe. Joining Bridget Kendall to discuss common ground between science and religion are: Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer, a German particle physicist and the Director General of CERN; Marcelo Gleiser, professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College; Dr. Kusum Jain, a renowned Indian scholar of Jain Philosophy and director of the Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy at the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur; Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, Head of Science and Faith, Vatican City State.

And there is poetry, especially written for the programme, by British poet Murray Lachlan Young.

(Photo: illustration of first proton-lead ion collisions. © 2012 CERN, for the benefit of the ALICE Collaboration)

Available now

41 minutes

Last on

Wed 9 Dec 2015 02:06GMT



CERN is a high-energy particle physics organisation headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The name CERN is derived from the acronym for the French “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire” or European Council for Nuclear Research. CERN’s main area of research is particle physics, which is the study of the fundamental constituents of matter and the forces acting between them.

Physicists at CERN are seeking answers to what the universe is made of and how it started, using purpose-build particle accelerators and detectors (including the Large Hadron Collider); accelerators boost beams of particles to high energies before the beams are made to collide with each other or with stationary targets and detectors observe and record the results of these collisions.

The idea for CERN was born in 1949 when physicist Louis de Broglie suggested that all the countries of Europe ought to share a scientific laboratory, leading to CERN being founded in 1954. Because it is a joint effort among governments, CERN enables countries with small populations to participate in advanced physics experiments without having to necessarily burden their science budgets – fosters a sense of international cooperation and understanding. It was one of Europe’s first joint ventures and now has 21 member states.

Photo: c/o The CERN Institute

Wilton Park

Based in the UK, Wilton Park is an international forum for strategic discussion.

Wilton Park organises nearly 65 events a year in the UK and overseas, bringing together leading representatives from the worlds of politics, diplomacy, academia, business, civil society, the military and the media.

They focus on issues of international security, prosperity and justice. 

Their meetings provide a neutral environment where conflicting views can be expressed and debated openly and calmly, allowing acceptable compromise and resolution to be achieved. In November 2015 a major event was held in Switzerland in collaboration with CERN, The European Council for Nuclear Research.

In 2012 and 2014 CERN and Wilton Park hosted pioneering international conferences on the ‘Big Bang and the Interface of Knowledge’, broadening the dialogue between scientists, philosophers and theologians. The first of the conferences focused on aspects of searching for a common language, while the second conference was directed towards a common understanding of truth.

A key theme emerging from 2014’s event was the nature and understanding of logic, and this third meeting, in November 2015, focused on broadening that particular dialogue between scientists, philosophers and theologians.

The Forum recorded a discussion exploring common ground between science, religion and philosophy at CERN on the last day of the conference with some of the attendees.

Rolf-Dieter Heuer

Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer,  German particle physicist and the Director General of the European Organization of Nuclear Research, or CERN, since 2009. Professor Rolf-Dieter Heuer has been the Director General of CERN since 2009. In his first few months on the job, he opened new lines of communication, oversaw repairs to the Large Hadron Collider, and promoted a worldwide strategy for particle physics based on a strong mix of global, regional, and national projects. On the morning of July 4 2012, Dr Heuer stood in front of the world’s physicists and said, “I think we have it,” declaring an end to the half-century chase for the Higgs boson, a keystone of modern physics that explains why elementary particles have mass. He is now entering the last year of his term; in 2016, Fabiola Gianotti, an Italian particle physicist, will take over as the director and Dr. Heuer will become the director of the German Physical Society.

Marcelo Gleiser

Marcelo Gleiser, is Professor of physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College and specialises in cosmology, nonlinear physics and astrobiology.  Marcelo is a fellow of the American Physical Society and a recipient of the Presidential Faculty Fellows Award from the White House and the National Science Foundation. His main research interests fall into two general areas: the interface between cosmology and particle physics and the origin of life on Earth and the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe.

Kusum Jain

Dr. Kusum Jain, is a renowned Indian scholar of Jain Philosophy and Director of the Centre of Advanced Study in Philosophy at the University of Rajasthan, Jaipur. She has published extensively on such topics as human rights, the roots of terrorism, and bio-ethics. She is Member of Board of Director of International Society for Universal Dialogue.

Monsignor Tomasz Trafny

Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, Head of Science and Faith, Vatican City State.

Born in Darłowo (Poland) in 1970, Father Tomasz Trafny completed his studies in philosophy and theology at the Catholic University of Lublin. Ordained a priest in 1996 for the Archdiocese of Lublin, he served as a chaplain in the Hospice for terminally ill patients. He continued his post-graduated studies in philosophy at the Catholic University of Lublin and then at the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. From 2006 he served as the Official of the Pontifical Council for Culture - Head of Science and Faith Department and General Secretary of the Board of Trustees of Science and Faith – STOQ (Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest) Foundation. He deals with matters related to the cultural analysis of the development of natural sciences, to the dialogue between science and religion, but his interests include also neurocognitive sciences, robotics, bionics, regenerative medicine, new anthropological challenges, environmental and climate change issues.

"I don’t think most people necessarily see science and faith as being opposed but I do think there is confusion as to where to put faith and where to put science in their life. So the question for us is how to offer a coherent vision of society, culture and the human being to people who would like to understand where to put these dimensions – the spiritual and religious and the scientific".

Murray Lachlan Young

Murray Lachlan Young is a well-regarded UK poet.  He came to international attention through signing a million pound record deal with EMI records in 1997. Subsequently he has become known for his numerous appearances and residencies on BBC Radio 2, 4 and as resident poet of BBC 6 music. He recently co-adapted the new movie version of the Dylan Thomas Classic: Under Milkwood.  For The Forum@Cern, Murray has written three poems using some of the themes explored in the discussion.

Something and Nothing (by Murray Lachlan Young)

If beyond everything there is nothing

And nothing knows nothing of things

And nothing knows nothing of nothing

Then everything’s everything


And for every thing to be something

First something must say things are things

For without a thing, to decide things are things

Tell me how can a thing be a thing?


But when something says something is nothing

Then nothing is known by a thing

So the thing that said something is nothing

Makes nothing a thing that’s something


If beyond everything there is nothing

And nothing knows nothing of things

And something knows something of nothing

Can nothing not, not be a thing?

Tortoises all the Way Down (by Murray Lachlan Young)

The world is not round

The world is flat

And it sits on a giant

Tortoise’s back


And that Tortoise

Sits on another Tortoise

And so on and so forth

The tortoises abound


But you won’t catch me out

Asking - what’s at the bottom?

It’s Tortoises

All the way down


Yes its Tortoises

All the way down of course

It’s Tortoises

All the way down


I can’t prove it of course

But then neither could you

Prove the world is

The slightest bit round


Circular, regressive


It seems that it’s simple

For people to see


That nothing

Adds up

If you follow it through



Yet as Munchhausen said

To the hairs on his head

As he bootstrapped himself

From the mud laden ground


It’s Tortoises

All the way down

My friends

It’s Tortoises

All the way down


(Tortoises  all the Way Down deals with The Münchhausen trilemma – a term used in epistemology to stress the impossibility to prove any truth even in the fields of logic and mathematics. The origins of the story are unclear but one version has it that a well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant turtle." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise   standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!" )

A poem: for those wondering what it’s all about (by Murray Lachlan Young)

Please listen very carefully

For taken Hypothetically

Supported comprehensively

Basically originally

A single singularity

Exploded quite impressively

Expanded exponentially

Creating stars and galaxies

With what must be quite logically

And coolly cosmologically

The building blocks of you and me

And continents and land and sea

A process evolutionary

Through dinosaur hegemony

Into our human ancestry

To cultural diversity

A growing global family

Producing universities

Facilities, laboratories

Religion met the sciences

Where people made discoveries

Of fundamental articles


And elementary particles

Both magical and technical

And also Mathematical

And random and symmetrical

Chemical and classical

Explained the metaphysical

That all things were divisible

But there must be a particle

Much smaller than a neutron ball

When answering the Hadron call

Will finally inform us all

That we are one and we are all

That we are great and we are small

We are day and we are night

We are dark and we are light

And I am he

As you are he

As you are me

And we are all together

I am the egg man

I am the egg man

I am the Walrus!

Coo coo ca Chooo!

Dipole Magnet

Dipole Magnet

A photo of a 3D cut of the LHC dipole magnet at CERN.

c/o CERN institute (with permission)


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