Elizabeth Bennett's Faith Tales
Updated: Dec 4, 2021
Doing It Quietly
Image: Evolutionary Differences - A portrait of Charles Darwin with Finches
from the Galapagos Archipelago / Credit: cafevn.com
We come to the third and final part of a conversation with Elizabeth Bennett, The Hub's sixth form Biology teacher at Salesian College, Chertsey. We first met Elizabeth Bennett via her Sewing Tales. Then Elizabeth shared the most important music, and a poem, to her life in an episode of Desert Island Discs.
And finally... a postscript where The Hub asks Elizabeth about the Catholic faith she indirectly referenced throughout the earlier part of the conversation. You can listen to Elizabeth Bennett's Faith Tales by clicking on the link below.
Picture: St Joseph's Catholic Church, Port Talbot, south Wales /
Credit: Taking Stock: Catholic Churches of England and Wales
"My faith has always been hugely important," says Elizabeth. Her earliest experience of her Catholic faith was the example of her parents. "We always went to mass as a family," she recalls. Referring to St Joseph's Catholic Church in steel town Port Talbot, on the south Wales coast near her home in Cwmafan. Elizabeth sang in the church choir as part of the family's worship.
Elizabeth's parents were, "very faithful people. They were not the sort of people who were always spouting religion. They were just faithful." An example is a trip her father John made to Lourdes when his multiple sclerosis was quite advanced. Lourdes is a town in southern France revered by Catholics as the site of a visitation by Mary, the mother of Jesus. The site has long been associated with what Catholics see as miraculous healing, particularly of physically disabled people.
On his return Elizabeth asked her father tongue in cheek: "Did you witness any miracles?" He replied: "Everywhere." He explained: "Seeing so many (disabled) people living with what they have to deal with and still being good people." "For him, that was the miracle," she says.
The exchange stayed with Elizabeth because her father was never one to complain. He just got on with everything. Her mother's (baptized Elizabeth but known as Maureen) life became that of a carer as her husband's illness advanced. Maureen's response was to say, "It is my privilege." to care for her husband.
Taking the Reins
Elizabeth's mother continued to care for her husband's physical needs until her sudden passing. Then Elizabeth's brother Anthony seamlessly stepped in and shouldered the care needs for his father's remaining years. Prompting Elizabeth to wonder, "How did you know what to do?"
Like his mother, Anthony politely refused offers of help. Until one time when he took a well-earned holiday, leaving the care duties to his sister. Only to return, to Elizabeth's chagrin, to find his father being taken away in an ambulance having unusually suffered an infection. "I gave you one opportunity!" he said to Elizabeth. Luckily it wasn't a serious illness.
Sadly Elizabeth's "beloved brother" Anthony died recently. She recalls him as, "one of the most giving people. Ever!"
Living the Christian Life
Picture: Poster with quote by Christian author Joyce Meyer / Credit: quotefancy.com
To Elizabeth, her mother and brother's (and Uncle Edward's - see He Ain't Heavy in Desert Island Discs) actions were, "living the Christian life". A student poster later came back to bite her with its quote by American author Joyce Meyer: "If you are accused of being a Christian, there should be enough evidence to convict you." She thought: "No, I don't think there is." So she set about following her relatives' quiet example.
Science v Religion
Image Gallery: Sticker Wars - Christian Car Sticker / Charles Darwin / Atheistic Science. Charles Darwin would be bemused to be a sticker boy for modern atheists /
Teaching one day, Elizabeth was put on the spot by one of her students, a clever boy from a Muslim family with whom she had many interesting debates. "Mrs Bennett how can you possibly be a scientist and be a person of faith? How can you believe in God?" he asked.
Elizabeth says: "I was able to say because I believe in God I am able to be a scientist. Because I can look at the miracle of DNA and ask myself how did that come about by chance? You have to have both faith and science."
Charles Darwin, author of The Origin of Species (1859), the work that challenged the orthodox understanding of creation, had a complex relationship with God. More nuanced than the people who put Darwin "atheistic science" stickers on the rear of their cars might realise.
Darwin introduced his theory of natural selection with two quotes arguing for the need for the advancement of scientific reasoning along with religious faith to truly understand the natural world.
“But with regard to the material world, we can at least go so far as this—we can perceive that events are brought about not by insulated interpositions of Divine power, exerted in each particular case, but by the establishment of general laws.” William Whewell: Bridgewater Treatise (1833).
“To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavour an endless progress or proficience in both.” Francis Bacon: Advancement of Learning (1605).
Whewell’s statement on nature in the Bridgewater Treatise “Astronomy and General Physics Considered with Reference to Natural Theology”, written in 1833, perhaps most elegantly summarises the faith plus science understanding of phenomena like natural selection:
“The contemplation of the material universe exhibits God to us as the author of the laws of material nature; bringing before us a wonderful spectacle, in the simplicity, the comprehensiveness, the mutual adaptation of these laws, and in the vast variety of harmonious and beneficial effects produced by their mutual bearing and combined operation.”
Nick Spencer, author of Darwin and God, in a review of the biographical film Creation starring Paul Bettany, wrote: "Darwin himself never thought his theory killed God, writing towards the end of his life
"It seems to me absurd to doubt that a man may be an ardent theist and an evolutionist." It (Darwin's theory of evolution) didn't even kill his own religious faith. But it did wound it severely."
Commenting on Darwin after the interview, Elizabeth adds: "I also used to try to make my students understand Darwin never set out to prove how life began. He set out to prove how life evolved to where it is now. A completely different kettle of fish altogether! Many people teach "The Theory of Evolution" as factual. The clue is in the title - it is still a theory - but the best we have at the moment!"
Listen to Elizabeth's Faith Tales
After reading the blog and listening to the audio, Elizabeth said: "Thank you, this has made me revisit my earlier life! My visits to Lourdes as a brancardier organised by HCPT - although my charges were not stretcher bound! Being shamed into being more adventurous by a girl with no legs!!
Meeting the two university students who had been my father's brancardiers. Visiting churches and experiencing real community spirit in different parts of the world. This has made me think and be even more grateful than I already was!" Thank you Elizabeth!
You can listen to Elizabeth Bennett's Faith Tales by clicking on the link below.