The Boyle Lecture 2020

‘Mental Health and the Gospel’

18 February 2020 at 6.00pm
St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: The Revd Professor Christopher Cook
(Durham University)
Responder: Professor Fraser Watts
(Visiting Professor of Psychology of Religion, University of Lincoln)

Mental health has become a domain of professional and scientific endeavour, distinguished in the modern mind from spirituality (whether religious or “spiritual but not religious”), which is understood as a more subjective, transcendent, and private concern. This sharp separation has been challenged in recent decades by scientific research which claims to demonstrate the positive benefits of spirituality/religion for mental health. Increasing scientific interest in the topic is to be welcomed, but the contribution of theology to the debate has been neglected. It is proposed here that Jesus’ life and teaching are presented in the synoptic gospels as fundamentally concerned with what we now call mental health. The relationship between S/R and mental health is best understood not as one of independent and dependent variables but as an interdisciplinary conversation between science and theology. An example of this is found in Jesus’ teaching on worry. Worry may be considered as the psychological component of anxiety, a symptom of common mental disorder. Psychological therapies offer various strategies for dealing with worry and anxiety. The synoptic gospels present Jesus as also being concerned about worry, and aware of how debilitating it can be. There is a distinctively religious strategy for dealing with worry, in the form of prayer, about which Jesus teaches. Prayer provides an effective and constructive response to worry, involving disciplined attention rather than avoidance. Critical interdisciplinary conversations between science and theology on matters such as worry offer a constructive approach to understanding the human condition in the context of adversity.

Professor Christopher Cook qualified in medicine from St George’s Hospital Medical School, London in 1981. He specialised in Psychiatry and from 1997 to 2003 was Professor of the Psychiatry of Alcohol Misuse at the University of Kent. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 2001 and is now an Honorary Minor Canon of Durham Cathedral. He has research doctorates in psychiatry and in theology. Chris is now Professor of Spirituality, Theology & Health in the Department of Theology & Religion at Durham University, and Director of the Durham Centre for Spirituality, Theology & Health. He was President of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality from 2014-2018. His book publications include: Hearing Voices, Demonic and Divine (2018), Spirituality and Narrative in Psychiatric Practice (eds Cook, Powell & Sims, 2016), and Mystical Theology and Contemporary Spiritual Practice: Renewing the Contemplative Tradition (eds Cook, McLean & Tyler, 2018).

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

A video recording of the lecture is available to watch on You Tube here. Photographs of the Boyle Lecture 2020 © Harris Wiseman

The Boyle Lecture 2019

‘Science, Religion and Ethics’

18 February 2019 at 6.00pm
St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: The Revd Professor Michael J. Reiss
(University College London)
Responder: Emeritus Professor Janet Soskice
(University of Cambridge)

For much of human history, religion was presumed to be either the or a principal source of ethics. Over time, two developments challenged this. First was the establishment of the discipline of moral philosophy. Foundational texts, such as Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, and the growth of coherent, non-religious approaches to ethics, notably utilitarianism, served to marginalise the role of religion. And then, secondly, the late twentieth century saw the rapid growth of evolutionary biology with its enthusiastic presumption that biology was the source of ethics. In this lecture I begin by surveying these developments and then examine the extent to which religion is still needed for a coherent account of ethics.


Michael Reiss is Professor of Science Education at UCL Institute of Education, Visiting Professor at the Universities of Kiel, York and the Royal Veterinary College, Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association and of the College of Teachers, Docent at the University of Helsinki, a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and a Priest in the Church of England. His research interests are in science education, bioethics and sex education. He is President of the International Society for Science & Religion and of the International Association for Science and Religion in Schools and writes on the interface of science education and theology.

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here.
Photographs of the Boyle Lecture 2019 © Harris Wiseman | Recording of the Boyle Lecture 2019 © Cole Prosser

The Boyle Lecture 2018

‘Apocalypses Now: Modern Science and Biblical Miracles’

7 February 2018 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: Dr Mark Harris (University of Edinburgh)
Responder: Professor John Hedley Brooke (University of Oxford)

As a physicist working in a theological environment,
Mark Harris is interested in the complex ways in which
science and religion relate to one other.

Active in physics for many years, he is known as co-discoverer
of ‘spin ice’, currently a major research area in the physics of
magnetism. Midway through his scientific career he discovered
theology, which he describes as ‘a moment of awakening not
unlike that provided by my first chemistry set at the age of ten.’ After ordination as an Anglican priest, and spells in university chaplaincy at Oxford and cathedral ministry in Edinburgh, he now combines his academic interests in physics and theology with running the Science and Religion programme at Edinburgh.

Dr Harris is currently working on a project to create online distance learning programmes in Philosophy, Science, and Religion (funded by the John Templeton Foundation). His research interests include the relationship between the physical sciences and theology, and the impact of science on modern views of the Bible, especially in thinking on miracles and divine action. He is working on a book project on naturalism (the philosophical basis for the natural sciences), and the ways that historical debates on naturalism in geology provide a new way of looking at miracles.

Mark Harris delivered the 2018 Boyle Lecture on the following topic:

‘Apocalypses Now: Modern Science and Biblical Miracles’

‘I explore an intriguing area that has managed to creep under the radar of today’s science-and-theology conversation, namely scientific studies of the big miracle and catastrophe stories of the Bible (e.g. Noah’s flood, or the plagues of Egypt).

On the one hand, this area is nothing new, since notable scientists of the early modern period – even some Boyle lecturers – took an interest in applying their naturalistic wisdom to the mysteries of the Bible. But on the other hand, contemporary studies have brought the much-advanced empirical rigour of today’s sciences (especially earth science) to bear.

What is remarkable is that even the most spectacular and unlikely of the biblical miracles succumbs to this approach: quite simply, it seems there is almost nothing that the modern sciences cannot explain if sufficient ingenuity is brought to bear. This flies in the face of our usual understanding of a miracle as an ‘impossible’ event in natural terms, since these studies show that the seemingly impossible biblical stories are quite ‘possible’ in naturalistic terms, if unlikely.


So what is going on? Do these scientific accounts disprove the miraculous nature of the stories? Or do they
affirm it?

A clue to what is at stake here is a surprising disagreement between the relevant experts. While the scientists believe their naturalistic interpretations represent a major advance in understanding the stories, professional biblical scholars show little interest, or are openly disdainful, claiming that these explanations are implausible.

I point out the striking parallels between this disagreement and a long-lasting and foundational controversy in the ‘historical sciences’ (geology and evolutionary biology) known as the ‘catastrophism-uniformitarianism’ debate. Although this debate reached its zenith in the nineteenth century, many of the central questions have resurfaced in contemporary geological debate. Assessing it today (and how modern earth science has reached a resolution) takes us deep into philosophical questions about the meaning and method of science, including naturalism, the unity of science, and the possibility of a science of unique or rare events.

I suggest that it also takes us towards a novel kind of natural theology. Here, the spectacular scientific explanations of the biblical miracles do not deny their miraculous character so much as provide a uniquely modern purchase on the transcendent quality of the narratives. In that sense, the scientific interpretations are “apocalypses now”.’

 The Vote of Thanks to Mark Harris was delivered by John Hedley Brooke,
Andreas Idreos Professor Emeritus of Science & Religion, University of
Oxford, and a long-standing member of the Boyle Lectures Advisory Board.
Professor Brooke also directed the Ian Ramsey Centre at Oxford and was
Gifford Lecturer at the University of Glasgow from 1995–96. After his
retirement in 2007, John Brooke became an Emeritus Fellow of Harris
Manchester College, Oxford, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute
of Advanced Study in the University of Durham.

He was editor of the British Journal for the History of Science from
1989-93, served as president of the British Society for the History of
Science from 1996–98, and has been president of the Science and
Religion Forum since 2006. He was also president of the
International Society for Science and Religion from 2008-11.

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here.

The Boyle Lecture 2017

‘Exploring the influence of theology on scientific research programmes: natural theology in reverse’

29 March 2017 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: Professor Robert J. Russell
(Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences and Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union)

The Rt Revd and Rt Hon. The Lord Williams of Oystermouth
(Master, Magdalene College, Oxford)

The key claim advanced in this year’s Boyle Lecture is that theological convictions held by research scientists can play a fruitful and creative role both in the construction of new scientific theories and also in choosing between existing theories, particularly when those theories are equally supported by empirical evidence. Such “natural theology in reverse” is not meant to offer support for theology from the success of these scientific theories, but it does show that theology includes cognitive claims about the world as created by God and that those claims can be of value to research scientists who study this world using standard scientific methodologies.

Professor Russell’s lecture reviews key developments in 20th century cosmology and physics to explore this “natural theology in reverse”. It draws on contemporary philosophy of science to provide support for the claim that “extra-scientific” factors play a vital role in constructive science. It further considers the claim with reference to the conflict between Albert Einstein’s Big Bang cosmology and Fred Hoyle’s steady state cosmology, as well as the development of quantum mechanics in the period 1900-1930. The lecture concludes by suggesting ways in which the influence of theology in science might be more actively and explicitly pursued, starting with hints from the writings of Wolfhart Pannenberg and John Polkinghorne, and concluding with Professor Russell’s own use of the term “creative mutual interaction” to model this dynamic two-way interaction.


Robert John Russell is Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS). He is also the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU). He has written and edited a great deal on possible scientific mechanisms for the beliefs of Christianity.

Russell is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. He received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Santa Cruz, a B.S. in physics from Stanford University, an M.S. in physics from UCLA, and an M.A. in Theology and an M. Div. from Pacific School of Religion. He taught physics at  arleton College and science and religion with Ian Barbour for several years before joining the GTU in 1981. His wife, Charlotte, is an associate minister at First Congregational Church,
Berkeley, California.

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Download a transcript of the response here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here.

The Boyle Lecture 2016

‘Natural Theology in a Changed Key?
Evolution, Cooperation and the God Question’

3 February 2016 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: Professor Sarah Coakley
(Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge)

Responder: Professor Christopher Insole
(Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University)

Sarah Coakley writes: ‘The latter part of the 20th century saw a revulsion against classic forms of “natural theology” which was propelled as much by theological fashion as by secular scientific resistance. This lecture lays out a cautious case for the reconsideration of a new style of “natural theology”. It does so in the light of remarkable new discoveries in mathematicalized accounts of evolutionary “cooperation” which significantly challenge the idea of pervasive randomness in evolutionary processes. The ethical and teleological questions which are raised by these cooperative phenomena, it is argued, demand some sort of meaning-making response and ultimately metaphysical issues cannot be shirked. The question of God is reconsidered in this context, with a surprising final twist to the argument in which the human epistemic subject is itself drawn towards an invited transformation.’

As Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, Sarah Coakley holds the established chair at the University of Cambridge in philosophy of religion. She has previously held positions at the Universities of Lancaster, Oxford, and Harvard, and a visiting professorship at Princeton. She has been awarded honorary degrees by the University of Lund, the University of St Andrew’s and General Theological Seminary, New York. In 2012 she delivered the Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen on the topic Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God. In 2012 she was also elected a member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, and in 2013 the President of the British Society for Philosophy of Religion.

The first volume of Professor Coakley’s four-volume Systematic Theology, God, Sexuality and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity’ (Cambridge, CUP) appeared in 2013. The second volume was recently given as the Warfield Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary. Her 2012 Gifford Lectures are due to be published in book form (Oxford, OUP and Grand Rapids, Eerdmans) in 2016/17.

Christopher Insole is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at the University of Durham. His work is concerned with the relationship between fundamental metaphysical and doctrinal commitments, and patterns of thought in meta-ethics and practical reasoning. This interest underlies publications on realism and anti-realism, the relationship between theology and political liberalism, the place of natural law language in the work of Edmund Burke, and (most recently) the role of theology within Kant’s metaphysics, epistemology and ethics.

His recent book, Kant and the Creation of Freedom: a Theological Problem (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), shows that important features of Kant’s philosophy were forged out of difficulties he had in reconciling his belief in God as creator with the concept of human freedom.

Professor Insole’s current research involves investigating the implications of these difficulties (in relating divine action and human freedom) for Kant’s account of autonomy, and his conception of happiness.

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here.

The Boyle Lecture 2015

‘Natural Theology Reconsidered (Again)’

25 February 2015 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: Dr Russell Re Manning
(Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Ethics, Bath Spa University)

Responder: Dr Louise Hickman
(Senior Lecturer in Philosophy and Ethics, Newman University)

Throughout recorded history people have consistently looked to nature as a source of knowledge about God. Robert Boyle shared this view and the Lecture series he founded became synonymous with such natural theology; however most in the West now consider that such speculations are illegitimate. My Boyle Lecture looks again at the history of natural theology to contest the dominant narrative of its rise and fall and to suggest some new directions for its future development.

Russell Re Manning is a philosopher of religion with wide-ranging research and teaching interests in modern and contemporary philosophy and theology.

His research engages four related areas: the intellectual history of natural theology; theologies of culture; philosophy of religion; and topics in science and religion. Current projects include work on contemporary revivals of natural theology, a study of the Boyle Lectures (1692-1732), an analysis of the use of the concept of emergence in Christian theology, and development of a critical edition of the works of Paul Tillich in English.

Dr Re Manning is Visiting Fellow of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge. He was co-chair of the American Academy of Religion Group ‘Tillich: Issues in Theology, Religion, and Culture’ and is past-President of the North American Paul Tillich Society.

In November 2011, Dr Re Manning presented The Paul Tillich Lecture at Harvard University, with the title: ‘The Religious Meaning of Culture: Paul Tillich and Beyond.’

In June 2012 Dr Re Manning was awarded a grant from the Uses and Abuses of Biology Grant Programme to fund a two-year investigation (‘Emergence: From Biology to Theology’) into the uses (and abuses) of the concept of emergence in contemporary theology.

Recent publications include The Oxford Handbook of Natural Theology (OUP, 2014), Science and Religion in the Twenty-First Century (SCM, 2014) and The Cambridge Companion to Paul Tillich (CUP, 2009). He has also edited two books in the Barnes & Noble ‘30-Second’ series: his 30-Second Religion (2011) has sold over 58,000 copies worldwide and been translated into seven languages, and his 30-Second Bible was published in 2013. He is co-editor (with Michael Byrne) of Science and Religion in the Twenty-First Century: The Boyle Lectures at St Mary-le-Bow (2013).

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here.

The Boyle Lecture 2014

‘New Atheism – New Apologetics:
The Use of Science in Recent Christian Apologetic Writings’

22 January 2014 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: The Revd Professor Alister McGrath
(Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education, King’s College, London)

Responder: The Rt Revd and Rt Hon. the Lord Harries of Pentregarth
(Bishop of Oxford 1987-2006)

The rise of the New Atheism has stimulated a new interest in Christian apologetics, both in the academy and the churches. The appeal to science in the writings of leading ‘New Atheists’, such as Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, is reflected in two apologetic strategies.

In the first place, the use made of science to defend atheism by Dawkins and Dennett has been challenged as unrepresentative and improper. In the second, defences of the rationality of faith have been developed which reflect inductive or abductive approaches, paralleling those used in the natural sciences.

This lecture explores the ways in which the natural sciences have been used in recent Christian apologetics, and assesses their significance.


At the time of this lecture, Alister McGrath was Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education at King’s College London and Head of its Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture. He was previously Professor of Historical Theology at the University of Oxford, and was also principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford until 2004. He also studied and taught at Cambridge University.

He holds priest’s orders in the Church of England, and minsiters in a group of parishes in the Cotswolds.


After studying chemistry at Oxford, McGrath undertook scientific research under the supervision of Professor Sir George Radda, before going on to study Christian theology in depth. McGrath holds three earned doctorates from the University of Oxford: a DPhil awarded for research in Molecular Biophysics, a Doctorate of Divinity awarded for research in historical and systematic theology, and a Doctorate of Letters, awarded for research in science and religion. McGrath will return to Oxford to take up the Andreas Idreos Professorship of Science and Religion and the Directorship of the Ian Ramsey Centre in April 2014.

McGrath is noted for his work in historical theology, systematic theology, and the relationship between science and religion, as well as his writings on apologetics. His most recent publications include his 2009 Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, published as A Fine-Tuned Universe (2009), and his 2009-10 Hulsean Lectures at the University of Cambridge, published as Darwinism and the Divine (2011). He is also noted for more accessible writings in the field, particularly his textbooks.

His two most recent books are a highly acclaimed biography of C. S. Lewis, published in 2013 to mark the 50th anniversary of his death, and a new study of the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner (2014), focussing on his relevance for the dialogue between science and religion.

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here.

The Boyle Lecture 2013

‘Science and Religion in Dialogue’

8 April 2013 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: The Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS
Responder: The Rt Revd and Rt Hon. Dr Richard Chartres KCVO DD FSA
(Owing to illness, Dr Polkinghorne was unable to attend and his lecture was read by Professor John Hedley Brooke.)

John Polkinghorne writes:

The key to understanding the relationship between science and religion lies in the recognition that both are, in their own specific ways, concerned with the search for truth, a truth that is attainable through commitment to well-motivated beliefs. The ‘new atheists’ fail to acknowledge this fact, polemically alleging that religious people believe without evidence, or even against the evidence. This false caricature results in the new atheists paying no honest attention to serious theological discussion. Their writings are full of assertion but lacking in engaged rational argument.

Of course, in their search for truth science and religion are exploring different dimensions of the human encounter with reality. Science is concerned with impersonal encounter – reality treatable as an ‘It’, you might say. This is a realm in which experience can be manipulated and repeated as often as is desired. This ability gives science its great secret weapon of experimental testing. If you do not believe that the pressure and volume of a given quantity of gas at constant temperature are inversely proportional, just investigate for yourself and you will find that Robert Boyle was right. Yet we all know that there is a different dimension of reality, the personal and transpersonal, where reality is encountered not as an ‘It’ but as a ‘Thou’, and in that realm testing has to give way to trusting. If I am always setting little traps to see if you are my friend, I shall soon destroy the possibility of friendship between us. The attempt to manipulate God and put God to the test is the sinful error of magic. It is in this rich and profound realm of personal and transpersonal experience that religion pursues its quest for truth. 


I see a cousinly relation between my scientific experience and my theological experience. I like to say that I am two-eyed, viewing reality with both the eye of science and the eye of religion. I believe that with this binocular vision I can see further and deeper than I could with either eye on its own.


The Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS began his career as a Physicist at Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1956 he was appointed a Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at Edinburgh: returning to Cambridge as a Lecturer in 1958, he was promoted to Reader in 1965 and Professor in 1968. In 1974 he was elected FRS and awarded the ScD by Cambridge. In 1979 he resigned his Professorship to train for the Anglican Priesthood, studying at Westcott House. He was Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral 1994-2005 and Six Preacher, Canterbury Cathedral 1996-97. He was appointed an Honorary Professor of Physics at the University of Kent in 1984. In 1986 he was appointed Fellow, Dean and Chaplain at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and in 1989 he was appointed President of Queens’ College, from which he retired in 1996. He was made KBE in 1997. He was awarded the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion in 2002 and also in that year became the Founding President of the International Society for Science and Religion. He is an Honorary Fellow of St Chad’s College, Durham, St Edmund’s College, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He is the author of many books about science and religion.

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here

The Boyle Lecture 2012

‘Christ and Evolution: a Drama of Wisdom’

31 January 2012 at St Mary-le-Bow, London

Lecturer: Professor Celia Deane-Drummond
(University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA)

Responder: Professor Fount LeRon Shults
(University of Agder in Kristiansand, Norway)

Professor Deane-Drummond writes:

Perhaps the distinguishing characteristic of Christianity compared with other religious traditions is belief in God incarnate in Christ, the Word made flesh. But what might this mean in the context of modern evolutionary understanding of the human as ultimately emergent from simplest life forms? One way to solve this problem might be to suggest that Christ expressed the divine through his perfect actions in history. This avoids, however, the deeper challenge and meaning of the incarnation as traditionally expressed. Another way to solve the problem is to ignore the challenge of science altogether, and posit that the way we think about Christ is merely connected with different cultural forms. However, this ignores the central place of science in Western culture, keenly felt by the founder of this lecture series, Robert Boyle. I recognise elements of truth in the importance of how Christ acts in history as expressive of his divinity, and the close connection of Christology with culture. But I also suggest that it is possible to retain a more traditional, deeper understanding of Christ incarnate in a way that is compatible with evolutionary understanding by using the category of drama. Drama is, in effect, a different gloss on how to understand historical theology, the action of God in history. It is similar to narrative, except that drama puts more emphasis on contingency. This is crucial, in my view, as it allows evolutionary accounts that put most emphasis on contingent events to be woven into the theological account, but without loss of autonomy within the biological sphere. I will also suggest that the drama we see in Christ is a drama of Wisdom, where Wisdom is understood as a theological category expressing God’s being and action. Wisdom also expresses the profound nature of the world as created in and through Wisdom. Christ as human and divine expresses, therefore, a drama of Wisdom incarnate.


Professor Celia Deane-Drummond is professor in theology at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana, USA. She graduated in natural sciences from Cambridge University and obtained a doctorate in plant physiology at Reading University. She subsequently took up a lectureship in plant physiology at Durham University before turning her attention to theology, obtaining a doctorate in systematic theology from Manchester University.

From 2000 to 2011 she held a professorial chair in theology and the biological sciences at the University of Chester. In May 2011 she was elected chair of the European Forum for the Study of Religion and Environment. She was editor of the international journal Ecotheology from 2000 to 2006. From July 2009 to July 2010 she was seconded to the spirituality team at the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD), working in the area of environmental justice and climate change.

Since 1992 Professor Deane-Drummond has published as a single author or as an editor twenty two books, as well as thirty three contributions to books and forty three articles in areas relating to theology or ethics. Her most recent books include Christ and Evolution: Wonder and Wisdom (Minneapolis: Fortress/London: SCM Press, 2009) and Seeds of Hope: Facing the Challenge of Climate Justice (London: CAFOD, 2010).

Download a transcript of the lecture here.

Watch a video recording of this and previous lectures on You Tube here