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Prof. John Hedley Brooke

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Proving God from Nature: The Functions and Fortunes of Natural Theology

Contrary to modern stereotypes, Robert Boyle believed that only those who had not studied “nature” could possibly be atheists. Evidence of divine craftsmanship and design so pervaded the natural world that Boyle saw in the sciences a powerful resource for the defence of Christianity. The belief that science was on the side of the angels was to feature in Anglophonic scientific culture until the time of Charles Darwin. In this talk I shall consider reasons why arguments from design came to prominence during Boyle’s lifetime and the stresses and strains to which they were subject during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.


John Hedley Brooke taught the history of science at Lancaster University from 1969-1999. In 1995, with Geoffrey Cantor, he gave the Gifford Lectures at Glasgow University.  From 1999 to 2006, he was the first Andreas Idreos Professor of Science & Religion at Oxford University, Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre and Fellow of Harris Manchester College.  Following retirement, he was designated “Distinguished Fellow” at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Durham (2007).  He has been President of the British Society for the History of Science, President of the Historical Section of the British Science Association, of the International Society for Science and Religion and of the UK Forum for Science & Religion. Among his books are Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (1991, 2014), Thinking About Matter (1995); and (with Geoffrey Cantor) Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science & Religion (1998). His most recent book, co-edited with Ronald Numbers, is Science & Religion around the World (New York 2011).

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.

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