Tuesday, 16 February 2010, 12:00AM
St Mary-le-Bow, Cheapside

The Boyle Lecture: The Legacy of Robert Boyle - then and now

Professor John Hedley Brooke

The revival of the Boyle Lectures in recent years has focused attention, as Boyle would have wished, on the relations between a culture of science and the plausibility of religious claims. Much of course has changed since Boyle in his Will endowed the original lecture series, but there remain certain parallels between his own time and ours. In the Preface to his book The Christian Virtuoso, Boyle observed the 'great and deplorable growth of irreligion, especially among those that aspired to pass for wits and several of them too for philosophers.' On the other side were their opponents, who by virtue of 'well-meaning but ill-informed zeal, had brought many good men to think that religion and philosophy were incompatible.'

The consequence, in Boyle's words, was that libertines thought a scientific virtuoso ought not to be a Christian and the others that he could not be a true one. My intention in this lecture is to introduce and revisit Boyle himself, who sought to mend this situation. Known to many only as the originator of a 'law' governing the behaviour of gases, Boyle repays closer study as one who thought deeply about the meaning of the word 'nature' and the reality of a spirit world.

I shall suggest that while many of the assumptions underpinning his natural theology would have to be regarded as obsolete, some of his arguments for the compatibility of theism with the sciences had a depth that enabled them to survive in subsequent religious rhetoric. After noting the longevity and diversity of appeals to 'design' in nature, I shall consider what remains valuable in Boyle's legacy today.

This is the 2010 Boyle Lecture. Other Boyle Lectures available include the following:
     The 2011 Boyle Lecture
     Misusing Darwin: The Materialist Conspiracy in Evolutionary Biology
     Psychologising and Neurologising about Religion
     Cosmology of Ultimate Concern

professor-john-hedley-brooke

Professor John Hedley Brooke was educated at Cambridge University, obtaining a first class degree in the natural sciences (1965) and a doctorate for work on the history of chemistry (1969). For 30 years he taught at Lancaster University, becoming a member of the International Academy of the History of Science in 1993. In 1995, with Professor 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 has spent time as a 'Distinguished Fellow' at the Institute of Advanced Study, University of Durham (2007). He has lectured worldwide on science & religion and in November 2001 gave the 'Distinguished Lecture' of the History of Science Society. From 2000 to 2003 he directed the European Science Foundation's Network on 'Science and Human Values'.

A former Editor of the British Journal for the History of Science, he has been President of the British Society for the History of Science, President of the Historical Section of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and President of the UK Forum for Science & Religion. He is currently President of the International Society for Science and Religion.

Among his books are Science and Religion: Some Historical Perspectives (Cambridge University Press, 1991), which won the Watson Davis Prize of the History of Science Society and a Templeton prize for outstanding books on science & religion; Thinking About Matter (Ashgate, 1995); and (with Geoffrey Cantor) Reconstructing Nature: The Engagement of Science & Religion (T & T Clark, 1998; Oxford University Press, 2000). He has also contributed to both The Cambridge Companion to Darwin and The Cambridge Companion to the Origin of Species.

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16 February 2010

The Boyle Lecture: The Legacy of Robert Boyle - then and now
Professor John Hedley Brooke

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