Our fourth ‘Creative conversation’ is to be presented by Martin Barker:
2 September 2021: Martin Barker, Does prayer work? Evidence from science and the human experience.
“I was born into a Quaker family, went to a Quaker school and also taught in a Quaker school and a progressive school, all in England. After eight years as a schoolteacher, I decided to do a PhD (on the effects of air pollution on trees). I then did a postdoctoral research on trees in Borneo, USA (Florida), Panama and Bolivia.
Moving to Scotland with my American wife I began teaching at the University of Aberdeen. My main specialism is in plant biology; I worry that we ignore plants, especially in a changing climate. I love biology because it is a celebration of life, which is remarkable enough without inferring a divine influence. And I love science because of its forensic quest for objective truth.
The strength of my affinity with Quakers has varied over the years. There have been times when I have concluded that I am not a ‘true’ Quaker (whatever that means), particularly around the idea of an interventionist God.
But the discovery of non-theist Friends has been a revelation. Non-theist Friends have helped me to realise that maybe there might still be a place for me among Quakers, after all.
Martin Barker’s work website: https://www.abdn.ac.uk/sbs/people/profiles/m.barker, and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/martin.barker.1426/ (I welcome new FB friends).”
Pressed further on his Quaker background, Martin tells us that, as he was born into Quakers and is steeped in its traditions, and since ‘Birthright’ Quakers do not have to make a conscious choice to join the Society of Friends, he thinks he should at least occasionally ask himself: “What am I doing here?”.
Martin went to Ackworth School in Yorkshire. When he became a teacher his first post was at The Mount School in York, followed by St Christopher School in Letchworth (not a Quaker school, but with a strong Quakerly ethos).
Martin has attended meetings in Leeds, Portsmouth, York, Letchworth, Lancaster and (currently) Aberdeen in the UK, and Gainesville, Florida, in the USA.
“Working at the University of Aberdeen I am the honorary Quaker chaplain.”