Science in a Year of Elections

The Revd Prof David Wilkinson


This is the transcript of the Revd Prof David Wilkinson’s ‘Thought For the Day’ on BBC Radio 4, 3rd June 2024.

Good morning. While the British election may seem long and intense, it is dwarfed by the world’s largest democratic process which concludes this week. Polls have closed in India, after six weeks of voting carried out in seven rounds.  The result will be declared tomorrow.

Its scale is vast, with 970 million eligible to vote, over 10% of the world’s population. It is a remarkable practical and political achievement.

If Narendra Modi wins, he will be the one of the longest serving Prime Ministers since Jawaharlal Nehru, who is considered to be the founder of modern India. I have been fascinated with Nehru who died 60 years ago last week. His writings show an endless curiosity in politics, philosophy and science, as he built a vision for a new democratic nation.

He saw investment in science as central to India’s independence, security and position on the global stage. He commented, ‘It is science alone that can solve the problems…The future belongs to science and those who make friends with science’. The legacy of this investment has led to a booming tech economy and the achievement of landing a probe on the surface of the Moon.

And I owe that investment a lot in my own life. As a doctoral student in astrophysics, I worked at the massive Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, which was populated by over 100 Professors of Physics, who were free to explore everything from particle physics to cosmology. There I was mentored by and collaborated with an outstanding young physicist, N.C. Rana, as we worked on star formation and galaxy evolution. In the midst of our scientific work, we also talked a lot about religion and politics. His Hindu faith made space to respect, challenge and receive from my Christian faith, and I learned much from him. We loved and lived science but were clear that science can only solve some of the world’s problems. While we differed much on the nature of the divine, he like me was drawn to the character of Jesus as a model of the love of God for all and especially the most vulnerable.

Rana had a brilliant mind but a frail body and died at the age of 42. I remember how we talked often about Nehru’s vision that a nation grows not just through science but through commitment to the law, concern for the poor and minorities, and genuine respect in political and religious discourse. In a year of so many national elections around the world, perhaps a good thing to remember.

Article By The Revd Prof David Wilkinson

David is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University and has PhDs in astrophysics and systematic theology.


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