Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish, review – rich and discursive

By Tim Radford,  The Guardian

Decades ago, when I first started writing about science, I would often ask the scientist I happened to be quizzing whether he or she believed in God. (I probably started reading Richard Dawkins at about the same time). I stopped doing so quite soon, because a surprising number of distinguished researchers cheerfully volunteered that they were active Christians with a role within their churches.

I should not have been surprised. At that time, people who never normally gave religion a thought still got married in a church, sang carols at Christmas and were buried by a vicar. There were bibles in every hotel room. Many of us went to church schools, not because they were “better” schools but because they were there. We learned about metaphysical poets and physical chemistry and the four gospels and Charles Darwin and thought nothing of it.

Newton and Faraday were more than usually devout readers of the scriptures, there was a long English tradition of the cleric-experimenters and vicar-naturalists and Einstein invoked God even when he didn’t believe in him. Religion was an inertial force: it was just there, like football and Shakespeare.

As Tom McLeish points out in this rich, crowded and discursive book, there are a multitude of historical, cultural and anthropological reasons to explore science and theology as part of a single cultural “city”. He doesn’t buy the argument that religion is about turning untested belief into truth: science, he points out, also makes claims that turn out to be false. “Good science is arguably about being false in a constructive way that takes us nearer to truth.”

In Faith and Wisdom in Science, McLeish delivers a picture of science as a questioning discipline nested within a much older, wider set of questions about the world, as represented by the searches for wisdom and a better understanding of creation in the books of Genesis, in Proverbs, in the letters of St Paul, in Isaiah and Hosea but most of all in that wonderful hymn to earth system science known as the Book of Job...

Read the article: Radford, T. (Sep 19, 2014). Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish, review – rich and discursive, The Guardian.

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