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Science

John Wesley's interest in natural philosophy derived largely from its theological and apologetic value, just as his interest in electricity was as much pragmatic as theoretical. In the early decades of the nineteenth century Methodists like the railway engineer Timothy Hackworth and manufacturers like John Mercer contributed to applied science in engineering and industry, rather than to scientific knowledge for its own sake; while the transition to pure science was exemplified in the career of DrJohn B. Melson, who also did much to popularize scientific discoveries. The response of Methodists, as of other Christians, to the challenge of Darwinism was more positive than is credited in popular mythology, though WM tended to be more negative and conservative than the other denominations, exemplified in many anti-Darwinian contributions to the London Quarterly Review, especially between 1860 and 1877.

The need to bridge the widening gap between the latest science and traditional religion was nevertheless a real one and was met by men like the WM microscopist William H. Dallinger and the PM John P. Bellingham in their books and magazine articles. The Wesley Naturalist, published between 1887 and 1889, was the journal of the Wesley Scientific Society. In the later part of the century John Couch Adams was a distinguished astronomer. Contributors to the continuing debate between religion and science in the twentieth century included the mathematical physicist Charles A. Coulson and the atomic physicist W. Russell Hindmarsh, both Vice-Presidents of the Methodist Conference. Professor Herbert Butterfield made a historical contribution in his Origins of Modern Science 1300-1800. More recently, the interaction between science and religion continued to be explored through the Christ and the Cosmos Initiative', initiated by William Gowland.

Quotations

'The Wesleyan Methodist Magazine ran a routine denunciation of Darwinianism in March 1867. The following October it warned that, in biblical matters, "old views upon several points may yet yield to scientific objections, which as yet remain in suspense". In December 1868 it became more explicit, remarking, casually enough, that "It may be assumed that man has been much longer a resident of this world than the commonly received chronology admits." By August 1873, the date of creation was regarded as an open question.'

Robert Currie, Methodism Divided:A Study in the Sociology of Ecumenicalism (1968) p.115

Sources

  • Elmer B. Holifield, 'The English Methodist Response to Darwin', in Methodist History, 10 (January 1972) pp.14-22
  • 'Evolution and Creation': articles in Epworth Review, vols. 12-15 (1985-1988)
  • Stuart Andrews, 'Methodism and Science', in Epworth Review, September 1987, pp.32-39
  • John C. English, 'John Wesley's Scientific Education', in Methodist History, 30:1 (October 1991) pp.42-51
  • Thomas H. Yorty, 'The English Methodist Response to Darwin Reconsidered', in Methodist History, 32:2, January 1994, pp.116-25
  • J.W. Haas, 'John Wesley's Views on Science and Christianity…', in Church History, vol. 63 (1994) pp.378-92
  • Peter J. Lineham, 'Methodism and Popular Science in the Enlightenment', in Enlightenment and Dissent, no. 17 (1998) pp.104-25
  • Randy L. Maddox, 'John Wesley's precedent for theological engagement with the natural sciences', in Wesleyan Theological Journal. 44:1 (Spring 2009) pp.23-54
  • Randy L. Maddox, 'Wesley's Engagement with the natural sciences', in Randy L Maddox and Jason E. Vickers (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (2010) pp.160-75

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Subject

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