Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Faith & Wisdom in Science

In the third edition of his 'Donating my night shelf' series, Stephen Town negotiates the web of theory around faith, religion and science.

McLeish, T., Faith & Wisdom in Science, in the University Library at C 15 MCL

Photo: St Peter's school - founded 627AD
by Ramson. Reproduced under a
Creative Commons license
St Peter’s School in York lays claim to being the oldest School in Europe and fourth oldest in the world, founded in 627 AD. It was shortly after this time that the first great library in York’s history was also created by the Archbishop Egbert, and developed by Albert and Alcuin in the following century. In an age when faith and education were inextricably connected all these foundations for learning grew from the Church.

Modern day St Peter’s offers a lecture series of high quality, drawing academics, researchers, other experts and the public together to discuss wide ranging topics from the history of World War I to the art and design of the London Underground. Last week, Tom McLeish of Durham University (and a St Peter’s parent) graced the series with an introduction to his ideas on science and faith. These strands of thought are further developed in his book “Faith and Wisdom in Science” which is my third donation to this series.

Photo: Professor Tom McLeish, speaking at St Peter's School, 2014
Reproduced with permission from St Peter's School.
As professor of physics at Durham, McLeish has impeccable scientific credentials. But he is also an Anglican Lay Reader, and judging by the lecture has a deep grasp of classics, theology and philosophy. McLeish’s thesis is that much of the current debate on science and religion is in the wrong space. His manifesto is that “Science needs a cultural narrative”, and a stronger one than the narrow assumptions presented by those funding state research in these times.

The book provides a different, and rather more intellectually satisfying contribution to the science/faith debate. It questions the arguments from those who present science and religion as irreconcilable and encourages you to think more holistically about the origins of each. McLeish talks about the history of seeking wisdom through natural philosophy as stemming as much from religious impulse as from other sources. I doubt many of his audience at St Peter’s will have followed his injunction to go home and read chapters 39 to 42 of the Book of Job, but, as a result of an entertaining and stimulating evening, plenty will have purchased his book and will hopefully be challenging their own thoughts on the subject.

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