Diocesan press releases

Bishop Joanna PhD

The Bishop of St Davids, Joanna Penberthy, has been awarded a doctorate for her thesis on the relationship between science, theology and the world.

She received her accolade at a ceremony at the University of Nottingham on Tuesday July 23rd. with members of her family present.

It’s the culmination of a decade’s study, during which time she has become the first woman Bishop to be appointed in Wales.

The basis for her study was a five-page paper written in 1964 by the physicist John Stewart Bell known as Bell’s Inequality, a mathematical expression that has been a source of controversy and debate ever since it was first published.

It addresses a famous debate between two other notable physicists, Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr, and asserts that if certain predictions of quantum theory are correct then our world is non-local. This means that there exist interactions between events that are too far apart in space and too close together in time for the events to be connected even by signals moving at the speed of light.

Subsequent laboratory tests have confirmed that Bell’s theorem was correct. But the arguments over what that means continue to this day.

“It’s about what Physics tells us about how we interact with the real world,” Bishop Joanna explains. “And reading it, made me realise that theolgians need to get on board.

“If God created the world – as we believe He did – then its His world that scientists are interacting with. If you’re doing theology, you need to understand the world in which we are set.

“I am not a scientist. I approached it first as a historian of science. I did a survey of the background [to] Bell’s paper. Then I did an exegesis of it in order to understand the maths and what Bell’s conclusions were.

“Then I looked at every theologian who had written anything about the paper, surveyed what they said and drew cmy own conclusions – not scientific conclusions because that’s what scientists do. As a theologian all I can do is reflect theologically on it.

So what were her conclusions? “Two really,” she says. “First, it became obvious that facts are as much a result of human interpretation as they are brute things we bump into.

“The scientists’ conclusions about what the Bell experiments mean are determined by philosophical pre-suppositions that they bring to it in the first place – what you put in determines what you get out.

“One of the interpretations made is that we are created co-creators – our actions have significance in making the world fresh, sometimes positively sometimes – like climate change – negatively. But we change things. And God created us to do so.”