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Prof Lawrence Principe

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Robert Boyle and the Stubborn Myth of the “Warfare of Science and Religion"


Robert Boyle styled himself the “Christian Virtuoso” and held that science and religion mutually support one another. This position may sound curious to modern people who have so often been told that an inherent conflict exists between science and religion. Indeed, the conflict myth is constantly repeated even though no serious historians of science accept it.  This talk will reveal the myth’s empty foundations and its popularization by two late nineteenth-century authors who confected it for personal and political purposes. A comparison with Boyle’s attitudes, and those of his early modern contemporaries, reveals a completely different dynamic between the two, and raises the question of why this radical shift in thinking took place, and why the myth continues to be repeated to this day.

Lawrence M. Principe is the Drew Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University in the Department of History of Science and Technology and the Department of Chemistry. He is the author of The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest (1998), The Scientific Revolution: A Very Short Introduction (2011), and The Secrets of Alchemy (2012). In 2005, he received the Francis Bacon Medal for his contributions to the history of science, and is currently completing a study of chymistry at the Académie Royale des Sciences.

Session Chair: Michael Byrne established the new Boyle Lectures at St Mary-le-Bow in 2004 (the original series having run from 1692 to 1731).  He graduated in genetics from Trinity College Dublin in 1981 and worked in accountancy, management consulting, investment banking and executive search.  He holds Masters degrees in history, theology and aviation management as well as a PhD in history of science.  A former magistrate, Honorary Fellow of Birkbeck College London, and member of the governing bodies of both Birkbeck and Heythrop College London, he is co-editor (with George R. Bush) of St Mary-le-Bow: A History (2007) and (with Russell Re Manning) of Science and Religion in the Twenty-First Century: The Boyle Lectures at St Mary-le-Bow (2013).  His Waterford 1480: Dean John Collyn and the Chantry Chapel of St Saviour was published in 2013.