Posts by Richard Gunton

Book of nature graphic

Where does scientific knowledge come from?  Today I want to share some thoughts on this and to reflect on the surprisingly widespread view among Christian thinkers that science is a form of divine revelation. 

The Territories of Science and Religion by Peter Harrison (2015) is one of the most illuminating books I've read recently.  I'd like to enthuse with you about a book that gave me much food for thought regarding Christianity as a 'religion' as well as the nature of 'science'.

I want to share some experiences from inviting Christian friends to contribute to a course on "the values of nature", and my own shifting position on one of the major ethical issues of our age.

Until recently I tried to steer clear of academic treatment of ethics and values.  I was trained as a natural scientist, where ethics were never discussed except as extrinsic issues to be avoided (or navigated with minimal fuss) when planning research projects.  Then the term "values" also seemed to have postmodern overtones of subjective preferences detached from any normative reality.  Finally, I felt, as a Christian, that ethics was so closely tied to my faith that it was daft to imagine it could be studied in a neutral secular way.  But was I being narrow-minded?

Cambridge Scholars Network logo

Of all the discipleship opportunities open to Christian PhD students in the UK, perhaps the Cambridge Scholars Network offers evangelical thinkers the most sustained and intense mentoring experience you could easily apply for.  This year's event runs from 12 to 18 July, and I'd like to encourage eligible readers of this blog to apply.

Recently I wrote about my impression of a predominance of religious worldviews and practices among the most celebrated mathematicians.  I concluded by indicating that I wouldn't be surprised if religious worldviews were more conducive to great advances in maths and other disciplines, because of the way that faith and imagination are involved in discovery.  Today I'd like to explore some slightly more specific ideas about how that might work.  This is very tentative, largely because I'm clearly not one of those mathematical geniuses myself!  But I want to share some ideas and see what others think.

dinner table awaiting guests

I've always felt sad at the passing of Christmas Day: at how quickly the world moves on to Boxing-Day sales, extinguished fairy lights, discarded fir trees and raucous New-Year revelries.  Perhaps it's partly nostalgia, but I yearn for those past times when the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated in full.  For me, Christmas is worth lingering on, because it's a sign of the world to come.

Portraits of Euler, Gauss, Cantor, Ramanujan, Noether, Hilbert, Godel

[Portraits of (L-R) Euler, Gauss, Cantor, Ramanujan, Noether, Hilbert and Gö​del from the public domain]

In teaching elementary probability and statistics to undergraduates, I've been reading about some of the great mathematicians who are commemorated in the names of functions and constants. This has led me to ponder the role of religious worldviews in mathematical genius, and it's on that topic that I'd like to share a few thoughts today.  I hope that some readers here may have further knowledge and ideas to share.

Coming up in two weeks' time is the next in the series of Forming A Christian Mind conferences in Cambridge.  Entitled "Christ, the Academy and the (Post-)Modern World: Approaching Your Subject in the Light of the Gospel", this event is slated as the first of three conferences for this academic year.  The keynote speaker is David McIlroy, Visiting Professor in Law at SOAS (University of London), who will speak on ‘The Narratives of Modernity and the Christian Story’ and ‘Christianity and the Modern Conception of Rights’.  At the end of the day there's a plenary talk by Daniel Hill, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool: ‘Serving in Academia as Christian’.

A major challenge for younger academics is the increasing prevalence of both fixed-term contracts and institutional mobility.  A year ago I wrote about moving from a university to a business environment, and now I'm back in a university again, with another shift in my research area.  So I thought it might be helpful to share the story of these transitions and what I've learned through them. 

Christian thinkers have proposed a range of ideas about what science is, ranging from reading the book of God's works and "thinking God's thoughts after Him" to studying how the Universe runs itself if God doesn't intervene.  Views like these were expressed by early modern scientists (Galileo, Bacon, Newton and others) who were Christians of one sort or another, but they needn't be the last word for a theistic perspective on science.