Faith and Wisdom in Science

ISBN : 9780198702610

Tom McLeish
304 Pages
140 x 223 mm
Pub date
May 2014
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  • Communicates science from within real stories over a timespan of millennia
  • Argues that science can be a deeply religious activity
  • Takes the most significant Biblical book for science to be Job (rather than e.g. Genesis)
  • Takes the most significant science area for thinking about science and meaning/purpose as Statistical Mechanics (rather than e.g. Quantum Mechanics or Cosmology)
  • Insists that rather than debating "science and theology" we need both "science of theology" and a "theology of science"
  • Readers will be able to use suggestions practically, whether in church, politics or university

"Can you Count the Clouds?" asks the voice of God from the whirlwind in the stunningly beautiful catalogue of nature-questions from the Old Testament Book of Job. Tom McLeish takes a scientist's reading of this ancient text as a centrepiece to make the case for science as a deeply human and ancient activity, embedded in some of the oldest stories told about human desire to understand the natural world. Drawing on stories from the modern science of chaos and uncertainty alongside medieval, patristic, classical and Biblical sources, Faith and Wisdom in Science challenges much of the current 'science and religion' debate as operating with the wrong assumptions and in the wrong space. Its narrative approach develops a natural critique of the cultural separation of sciences and humanities, suggesting an approach to science, or in its more ancient form natural philosophy - the 'love of wisdom of natural things' - that can draw on theological and cultural roots. Following the theme of pain in human confrontation with nature, it develops a 'Theology of Science', recognising that both scientific and theological worldviews must be 'of' each other, not holding separate domains. Science finds its place within an old story of participative reconciliation with a nature, of which we start ignorant and fearful, but learn to perceive and work with in wisdom. Surprisingly, science becomes a deeply religious activity. There are urgent lessons for education, the political process of decision-making on science and technology, our relationship with the global environment, and the way that both religious and secular communities alike celebrate and govern science.


1: A Clamour of Voices
2: What's in a Name? Stories of Natural Philosophy, Modern and Ancient
3: Creation, Curiosity and Pain: Natural Wisdom in the Old Testament
4: Order and Chaos: The Comet, the Storm and the Earthquake
5: At the Summit: The Book of Job
6: Creation and Reconciliation: the New Testament creation narratives
7: A Theology of Science?
8: Mending our Ways, Sharing our Science and Figuring the Future
Epilogue: a Parable for Science

About the author: 

Tom McLeish is Professor of Physics and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University. He studied for his first degree and PhD in polymer physics at the University of Cambridge and in 1987 became a lecturer in physics at the University of Sheffield. In 1993 he took the chair in polymer physics at the University of Leeds. He took up his current position in Durham in 2008. He has won several awards for his work on molecular rheology of polymers, including the Weissenberg Award of the European Society of Rheology (2007), the Gold Medal of the British Society of Rheology (2009) and the Bingham Award of the Society of Rheology (2010). He is also involved in science-communication with the public via regular radio, TV and schools lectures, discussing issues from the Physics of Slime to the interaction of Faith and Science. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the American Physical Society and the Royal Society.

A densely argued and erudite book. - David Lorimer, Network Review

Rich and discursive ... it has a lot to offer. - Tim Radford, The Guardian

McLeishs desire for science to be re-assimilated into the interconnected whole of human activity is clear. Only from such a position will our work as scientists be understood and truly appreciated - John Singleton, Physics World

This is the best book I have read all year, and the best I would expect to read for a long time to come. It is a superbly crafted exploration of the relationship between science and faith ... The book flows smoothly from one difficult topic to another, erudite but not showy, scholarly but not dense, bold but not brash. - Anthony L. Blair, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
The author describes his book as one scientist's search for an answer to the haunting question of Job: where can wisdom be found? It is not, he contends, to be found in popular understandings of conflict, complementarity, or segregation of the cultures of science and theology. Writing as a distinguished physical scientist and committed Christian, he injects new life into an old debate by advancing a "theology of science", which gives to scientific endeavour a special significance in the larger narrative of humanity's experience of pain and hopes for the healing of a broken world. There is verve and vision in his writing, as moving as it is instructive. - John Hedley Brooke

This unique book is for those who are tired of the usual debates over science and religion. It's an intriguing read that includes stories from the lab about the quirkiness of scientific discovery, a deep meditation on the book of Job, and reflections on the current roles of science in society. McLeish offers a thought-provoking view of the place of chaos and suffering in a universe under God's control. - Deborah Haarsma, President of BioLogos

Tom McLeish's engaging passion for science is matched by his unique ability to help the reader locate science in a complex and enriching relationship with ancient texts and stories, contemporary culture and the big questions of human existence. - David Wilkinson, Durham University

Highly recommended. - Church of England Newspaper

It is refreshing and remarkable that a distinguished scientist has written such an eloquent and wide-ranging book. - Sir Martin Rees

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