Faith science interface

Why God loves science and science loves God

By John Pilbrow

Tom McLeish FRS, Professor of Physics at Durham University, a world authority on ‘soft matter’, and David Hutchings, a Senior Physics Teacher, both committed Christians, have produced an engaging and easy-to-read monograph that examines the basis of science from a fresh perspective. Though I have thought about the relationship between faith and science for almost six decades, on reading this book for the first time, my first reaction was, “Why didn’t I think of this?”

What motivated the authors? Hutchings finds his students are incredulous when they discover their Physics Teacher is also a Christian. He asks, “Who has told them this? Science-hating God people? God-hating scientists?” He muses that “there has not been much real thought involved in their forming of ‘it’s either God or science’ conclusion”. McLeish, for his part, wants to move the conversation away from the usual “How can you reconcile the conflict between science and faith?”

The major themes of Let There Be Science are that science is a Gift from God and that God loves science. The authors locate the foundation for these themes in the extensive questioning found in the Bible – pointing out there are more than 3000 questions in the Bible! They recognise questioning is a God-given talent that we all share. It lies at the heart of a ‘scientific mindset’ essential for all good science.

Though the authors range far and wide across both the Old and New Testaments, they find particularly compelling insights from the ancient wisdom in the Book of Job, where God challenges Job to be mature and to question everything.

Hutchings and McLeish reveal that science, formerly known as Natural Philosophy, has had a long history and it did not suddenly appear in the 17th Century as is so often thought! This is exemplified in the many examples of great thinkers who lived long before modern science emerged and whose insights demonstrate a recognisable ‘scientific mindset’. Take for example, Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln in the 12th Century, whose ideas regarding light and the origin of the universe would not be out of place today. The examples don’t stop there as the modern era, up to the present time, is rich with examples of well-known scientists whose Christian faith strongly influenced their attitude to science.

The authors are gifted expositors of major themes from modern science, chosen here from physics. Readers will enjoy the absolutely fascinating example of jelly formation from McLeish’s own research. I can also commend the quality of the exposition of many of the ideas of modern, and not so modern physics. For example, “Why moving clocks run slow?” (from Einstein’s Relativity), the strangeness of the quantum world and much besides. The technical detail is presented in a chatty easy-to-read style.

While the authors don’t claim a monopoly position for scientists who are Christians, they make the important point that all scientists, whether religious or not, have to make certain assumptions, such as the world is rational and knowable, and that we have a capacity to interrogate it. They claim that these necessary assumptions have a religious origin!

I commend this book to anyone concerned to have a better understanding of the faith-science interface. Perhaps local community libraries could be persuaded to purchase copies.

There is much in this little monograph to provide Clergy with excellent sermon material!

For those readers wishing to go deeper along the lines of Let There Be Science I can recommend McLeish’s Faith and Wisdom in Science [2014].

The Foreword by the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, is well worth reading.

Dr John Pilbrow is Emeritus Professor of Physics, Monash University, and an Honorary Fellow and Former President of ISCAST (Christians in Science and Technology).

Let there be Science: Why God loves Science and Science Loves God by David Hutchings and Tom McLeish (Lion, Oxford 2017 $14.99)