The following is a review of David Hutchings & Tom McLeish's 2017 book, Let There Be Science: Why God Loves Science, and Science Needs God (Oxford: Lion, 2017).
Andre Geim, a physics professor at Manchester University and 2010 Nobel Prize winner, once poured water into an electromagnet. In his own words, ‘Pouring water in one’s equipment is certainly not a standard scientific approach. I cannot recall why I behaved so unprofessionally…[but] as a result we saw balls of levitating water.’ Geim had to float a frog in this piece of equipment before his colleagues would pay enough attention to try to replicate his results, but in the end they discovered something very useful about the relationship between magnetism and water.
Stories like this are used throughout Hutchings and McLeish’s book, taking the reader relatively effortlessly through the relationship between science and religion while learning a good deal of science (especially physics) on the way. Let There Be Science is a popular version of McLeish’s Faith and Wisdom in Science (Oxford University Press, 2014, reviewed in Science & Christian Belief (2015) 27, 218). The bulk of the writing was done (at McLeish’s admission) by Hutchings, who is clearly a very talented physics teacher. The storytelling is excellent, and the essential content of the OUP book has been transmitted for a new audience – though with a stronger emphasis on the positive partnership between science and specifically Christian faith.
Every day of his working week, Hutchings encounters young people who feel they have to choose between science and faith. Whenever his pupils find out that he is a Christian, they exclaim ‘But you’re a science teacher!’ Instead of going on the defensive, the central message of this book is that science thrives within the context of Christian faith. Listening to some of the great thinkers over recorded human history who have loved the natural world, as well as delving into parts of the Bible beyond Genesis 1-3, McLeish and Hutchings hope to make a convincing case that Christianity might be the essential ingredient science needs in order to be successful.
The biblical content of Let There Be Science focuses primarily on the book of Job, and its descriptions of the natural world. By comparing scientific and biblical stories, the authors show that science is a deeply human activity, not limited to the last three hundred years of history. The biblical account, in fact, invites us to seek wisdom by exploring the world around us. We learn that Christians are well-equipped to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even when that involves a painful change of mind. They are ready to persevere through the often painful process of discovery, and seek restoration in the world. They are familiar with the wonder of overall order emerging from chaos, and are encouraged by the Bible to keep asking questions and searching for answers.
Stephen Hawking once wrote, ‘humans are an adventurous species. We like to explore and are inspired by journeys to the unknown. Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion.’ Christians know that it can take great love to persevere through a difficult process, and scientists clearly need to bring this sort of love to their work. This sort of emotion might be fuelled by wonder or awe at certain scientific processes, and it is sometimes needed to overrule reason – which might try to reject a theory before it is fully developed.
In the end, Christianity is about the reconciliation of people to God. Science, in its own way, is also about people being reconciled to the world around them, so Christianity can help in that process. We have to ask the question, say the authors, of whether this seemingly positive relationship between science and religion is a spurious correlation – similar to the increased divorce rate in the state of Maine that almost exactly followed the increase in US margarine eating over the same period? But unlike the effects of low-fat spread on marital relationships, the correlation between science and religion seems to be more direct. The idea that Christian faith can create an environment where science thrives is one that makes sense.
Let There Be Science is an entertaining and easy read that achieves what it sets out to do, showing ‘why God loves science, and science needs God’. Both the authors have a strong evangelical faith that comes across very clearly, and the overall story is strongly apologetic. Let There Be Science would be an interesting read for anyone who wanted to find out how a scientist who is also a Christian can fit the two together, and especially encouraging for any Christian who is new to the science-faith discussion. This book gives a very optimistic view of the relationship between science and Christian faith, but that isn’t a bad thing. There are more than enough publications describing the flare-ups between science and Christianity, and we could probably do with a few more books like Hutchings and McLeish’s to balance things out. Debates happen, and are entirely necessary, but conflict need not be the dominant narrative in the story.