Communities of Practice: Scientists in Congregations

Figure 1: License: CC0 Public Domain Figure 2: By Unknown photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1 (left): License: CC0 Public Domain
Figure 2 (right): [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
What do congregations have to teach scientists? This was the question that James K. A. Smith, Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, asked at the Scientists in Congregations conference in St Andrews last month. The theme of the conference was ‘Christ and Creation’, and the aim was to draw the conversation on science and religion beyond ideas of a generalised God to a discussion about science and Christianity. Continue reading

The Christian Roots of Modern Science

16th century manuscript, Andrew Beierle, www.sxc.hu
16th century manuscript. Photo © Andrew Beierle, http://www.sxc.hu

If I could travel back in time to ask Isaac Newton about the relationship between science and religion, he would probably be completely nonplussed by the question. In the late seventeenth century, when Newton was teaching maths at Trinity College, Cambridge, the word ‘science’ was used more broadly to refer to a body of organised knowledge. Theology, maths, classics, astronomy and all the other sciences were integrated into the body of ‘natural philosophy’, which was taught by ‘natural philosophers’. William Whewell, another Cambridge academic and Master of Trinity College, coined the word ‘scientist’ in 1834 to describe someone who carried out experiments to discover things about the natural world, and it wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that British natural philosophers actually began to call themselves scientists.

Denis Alexander used this story to illustrate his lecture on the history of the dialogue between science and religion at a recent retreat led by Faraday staff at Launde Abbey. He described the development of science as a relay race where the baton was passed from ancient Greek philosophers to Islamic scholars, and then on to Christians in Europe, including Newton. Obviously the early stages were important, but a number of ideas stemming from Christian theology were absolutely key to the development of what we now know as science. Continue reading