Wesley Methodist Church

A church for all in the heart of the city

Science Meets Faith

Second Monday of the month from October to June, 7.15 pm for 7.45 pm


We present world class lectures on issues of Science and Faith, sponsored by Cambridge University Press. 

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Our next meeting:

Monday 13 November 2017, at 7.45 p.m.

Is my free-will an illusion? What faith and science have to say

Dr Harvey McMahon FRS

MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge

 Since his undergraduate days in Trinity College Dublin (1984-7), Harvey McMahon has had a longstanding interest in synaptic mechanisms underlying brain function. He did his PhD in Dundee University on the packaging of neurotransmitters and the effects of neurotoxins. His later work on synaptic transmission helped propel his then supervisor Tom Südhof to the 2013 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine. Since arriving at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in 1995 he has made many contributions to understanding how information is transmitted in the brain. In recent years he has been applying his knowledge to neurological conditions and in particular the mechanisms underlying Parkinson’s Disease. He has also maintained an interest in general biology and how cells are shaped, opening up a field of membrane shape dynamics, for which he was awarded fellowship of the Royal Society (2008) and the Sackler Prize in Biophysics (2006). He has applied the principles discovered to delineating the various pathways by which materials enter cells (see his website for this work at www.endocytosis.org). His approach to philosophy and theology is that reason and faith are not mutually exclusive, but complementary.

From studying how neurons fire and thus visualising the thinking processes in the brain we must understand the elements that underpin larger cognitive processes. In this lecture Harvey will consider the consequences of thinking that every action is deterministically derived from preceding events, and how the idea that our actions can be ‘free’ is eroded by this extreme mechanistic thinking. Even a belief in a sovereign God can confound our concept of free-will. So how can neuroscience help us determine whether or not free-will exists? Come along to learn from insights of his work and to discuss your thoughts on this important topic. He has written a Cambridge paper on this topic, found at: http://www.jubilee-centre.org/free-free-will-harvey-mcmahon/ .

Programme for 2017/18

Listen Again

Recordings of many of the lectures from last year's series are available to listen again.