Study the History of Science with Oxford Professor Peter Harrison
A common myth about modern science is what the philosopher Charles Taylor calls "a subtraction story." According to this widespread myth, scientific enlightenment was a triumph over religious belief. The relationship between the two is construed as dichotomous: either reason or faith; either science or theology. In short: more science, less religion. This myth has been roundly criticized as a false dichotomy (consider, for example, Alvin Plantinga's most recent book, Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism). More importantly, historians of science have pointed out that this false dichotomy is simply not true to how science emerged in the West. Far from being a detriment to scientific exploration, a number of scholars have pointed out that it was precisely Christian theological concepts--and especially those that emerged during the Protestant Reformation--that propelled empirical investigation of nature. So science wasn't a way to lose one's faith; it was Christian faith that compelled scientific exploration. We shouldn't simply confuse the history of science with the rise of naturalism. However, the story is complicated and complex. And no one helps us appreciate that more than Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at the University of Oxford. A historian of science with training in philosophy and theology, Harrison has an uncanny ability to appreciate the theological nuances at stake in emergence of science in the seventeenth century--and how this was informed by theological shifts in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Harrison is not content to generically speak of "religion;" he zooms in to consider the specifics of different Christian theological traditions and their impact on the emergence of what we now call "science." For example, in his masterful book, The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science (Cambridge University Press, 1998), Harrison deftly shows how it was a shift in biblical hermeneutics that gave rise to a very different way of "reading" nature that we now associate with the scientific method. In The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science (Cambridge University Press, 2007), drawing on careful analysis of theological and scientific texts, Harrison argues that what motivated close empirical investigation of nature was a deep sense of how much how knowledge had been corrupted by the Fall. In both of these studies, Harrison goes beyond simple notions of a Creator to explore the specific theological doctrines that impacted the emergence of science in the West. Indeed, his work has influenced us here at The Colossian Forum and we encourage folks to acquaint themselves with Harrison's work. And in some ways, we see our emphasis on the specific riches of the Christian theological tradition for engaging science as an extension of his work. Which is why we're excited to share news of a unique opportunity: Teachers and scholars from Christian colleges and universities (along with select seminar professors and pastors) have a chance to spend three weeks studying with Peter Harrison next summer. Harrison will be directing a seminar July 8-21, 2012 at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI. The seminar, entitled "Religion, Modernity, and the Hermeneutics of Science," is an opportunity for professors who teach at the intersection of science & religion to "get up to speed" on the history of the early modern period, gaining a special appreciation for the hermeneutical issues involved. Admittance is competitive, but scholars from across the continent are welcome to apply. There is no cost; and accommodations are provided, including accommodations for family members to join you. Check out the information for applicants and consider spending a few weeks in West Michigan next summer. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn alongside one of the most important scholars in the field.