Modern Believing

Before Science and Religion: Learning from Medieval Physics

Modern Believing (2021), 62, (2), 124–135.


Scientists today are surprised when confronted by the sophistication of natural philosophy of the thirteenth century. Although clearly of a former age and holding very different perceptions of material structure, its mathematical and imaginative exploration of nature is striking. It also finds a natural theological and contemplative framing; because of this it can work as a resource for contemporary projects constructing ‘theology of science’ and constructing different approaches to the relation of science and religion. Taking the work of the English polymath Robert Grosseteste from the 1220s as an example, I exemplify these claims in more detail through three aspects of medieval physics: 1) a teleological narrative for science; 2) a fresh apprehension of scientific imagination; and 3) a christological and incarnational metaphysics.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Barbour, Ian (1998) Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues. London: SCM Press. Google Scholar

Clines, D. J. A. (2006) Job 21-37. World Biblical Commentary, 18A. Nashville: Thomas Nelson. Google Scholar

Crombie, Alistair C. (1953) Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100- 1700. New York: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Dupuy, Jean-Pierre (2010) ‘The Narratology of Lay Ethics’, Nanoethics, 4, 153-70. Google Scholar

Fiddes, Paul (2014) Seeing the World and Knowing God. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Funkenstein, Amos (1986) Theology and the Scientific Imagination. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Google Scholar

Gasper, Giles (2016) ‘Hexaemeron’, in Jack Cunningham and Mark Hocknull, eds. Grosseteste and the Pursuit of Religious and Scientific Learning in the Middle Ages. Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer, 221-44. Google Scholar

Grosseteste, Robert (2011) La Luce, Introduzione, Testo Latino, Traduzione e Commento. Ed. by Cecilia Panti. Pisa: Edizioni Plus. Google Scholar

Grosseteste, Robert (2012) On the Cessation of the Laws. The Fathers of the Church, Medieval Continuation. Ed. by Richard Dales and Edward King. Trans. by Stephen M. Hilderbrand. Washington: Catholic University of America Press. Google Scholar

Harrison, Peter (2007) The Fall of Man and the Foundations of Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Harrison, Peter (2015) Territories of Science and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Kuhn, Thomas S. (1962) The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

McEvoy, James (2000) Robert Grosseteste. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

McLeish, Tom (2014) Faith and Wisdom in Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

McLeish, Tom (2019) The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Radford, Tim (2019) The Consolation of Physics. London: Scepter Books. Google Scholar

Rossi, P. (ed.) (1981) Robertus Grosseteste, Commentarius in Posteriorum Analyticorum Libros, Unione Accademica Nazionale Corpus Philosophorum Medii Aevi, Testi e Studi, ii, 281., quoted by R. Southern op. cit., tr. Sigbjørn Sønnesyn (personal communication). Google Scholar

Sagan, C. Cosmos (2002) London: Random House. Google Scholar

Schaff, Philip and Wace, Henry (eds.) (1893) Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Vol. 5. Google Scholar

Southern, Robert (1986) Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Google Scholar

Tilling, Chris (2018) ‘Paul, Christ and Narrative Time’, in Andrew B. Torrance and Thomas H. McCall, eds. Christ and the Created Order. Grand Rapids: Zondervan. Google Scholar

Tuchman, Barbara (1978) A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century. New York: Knopf. Google Scholar

Viereck, George Sylvester (1929) ‘What Life Means to Einstein: An Interview by George Sylvester Viereck’, The Saturday Evening Post, Indianapolis: Indiana Saturday Evening Post Society, 26 October, 17. Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

McLeish, Tom