Phil Willis on Faith and Science
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st February, 2010
Alastair Campbell famously reined in Tony Blair once by saying ‘We don’t do God!’ Subsequently, of course, it became clear that whatever Number 10′s Spinmeister wished, Blair did God in a big way — and thus had even more to talk about with his pal George W Bush. Together, they were indeed on a sort of Crusade, not just to get rid of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but to defend what they considered to be good, wholesome Christian values. Campbell’s warning reflected the fact that Britain — in common with most of the rest of Western Europe — has largely become a secular society; only a small percentage of the nation’s Christians could be described as ‘practising’ in any true sense of the word. Nonetheless, within all political parties there is a nucleus of ‘believers’, whether they are Christian Socialists, Conservative CofE or Liberal Democrat Non-Conformists.
Indeed, the Non-Conformist tradition in the old Liberal Party was very strong and there are more than a few remnants today. Methodists, in particular, are well represented among party members, but so too adherents to smaller denominations or sects, such as the Quakers. After the merger with the SDP, at least some of that tradition survived and is well represented by the LibDem Christian Forum (LDCF), whicb notably runs breakfast events during autumn federal party conferences, when many less conscientious delegates are asleep or nursing a hangover. The LDCF has also instituted an annual lecture, named in memory of William Gladstone (who had no qualms about involving God in politics). Alan Beith, MP, gave the first lecture last year and tonight, at the National Liberal Club, the honour fell to the retiring MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough, Phil Willis. The former headmaster gave a thoughtful reflection (devoid of his usual stock of jokes) on Faith and Science, arguing that scientists, politicians and theologians are all researchers into truth and act largely out of a desire to serve humanity’s best interest. As Phil said, Gladstone avoided locking horns directly with his contemporary Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution rumbled through the second half of the 19th century until breaking as a great storm in the 20th. Some people blame Darwin for the decline of religious faith, others the horrors of War. And in a sense, Nick Clegg is a product of our secular age. But one hopes that all liberally-minded people – whether of great, little or no faith — can unite round the values being promoted by the party: of tolerance of diversity and the championing of fairness as a basis for society.