It is the 28th of November, 2023. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.
Today marks an auspicious day in the history of the Western World- and, as you might guess, listening to this show: the history of the church.
The world as we know it today was profoundly marked by certain intellectual movements- the first being 5th century (BC) Athens- think Pericles and Democracy. The second was 12th century Paris- this was the birth of the University of Paris and the growth of what were “cathedral schools” into the modern University. The third is 15th-century Florence- the cradle of the Renaissance. The 4th is marked by a meeting that took place on this, the 28th of November in 1660- it was at Gresham College in London where “twelve individuals gathered who had common interests concerning the remarkable results that could be gained from the study of nature.” This was the birth of the Royal Society- an institution that heralded the birth of modern science and the coming revolutions.
As Christians, especially in the anglophone world, we might have a particular bias against what was first called “natural philosophy” and then, as we call it today, “science.” This is on account of the work of Darwin, or rather the work of Darwin, which promoted a kind of blind universe. Then, the Scopes Monkey Trial in the 1920s forever split so-called “modernists” from “fundamentalists.” It is a terribly unfortunate series of events that has led some Christians to an anti-scientific worldview- something that could not be further from the establishment of the first “scientific community,” which began on this day and in the direct shadow of the church.
Consider the man who called the organization together- John Wilkins. He was a Cromwellite- that is, during the English Civil War, he sided with Parliament and Cromwell. While this led to him losing his positions at the restoration of the Crown, his reputation was such that he could be a founding secretary of the Society and a proponent of a broad Christian ecumenism that would be a foundation of the new scientific community. He would also serve as a Bishop in the Church of England, and besides his work in mechanics, he wrote his first book on the art of preaching and later a work on prayer. His understanding of the natural world and God’s creation is parallel to that of Robert Boyle.
Boyle was a founding member of the Society and is famous for his works in atmospheric sciences, but he also helped to found Christian missions and translations of the Bible. He wrote:
“If the omniscient author of nature knew that the study of his works tends to make men disbelieve his Being or Attributes, he would not have given them so many invitations to study and contemplate Nature.”
That is: God created us to study and contemplate his creation. “Science” and “religion” are not sealed-off branches of study but are one and the same. The modern distinction between the two would be unthinkable to those who founded the most important modern society for studying nature.
It was the broadly Christian ecumenical setting of the Royal Society that helped it to flourish- that and a royal charter from Charles II- gone were the days of Galileo and a crown suspicious of modern learning. The Royal Society proved itself helpful to the crown and state in the wake of the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London in 1666. Contemplating and studying the world was both a God-glorifying endeavor and an extremely practical one at that.
And a nod to Producer Gillespie- one must not forget the role of both Christianity And coffee (a favorite combo for the man at gillespie.coffee)- it was noted that the new coffee houses in London and across Europe gave rise to modern salons of conversation and learning- and these coffee houses allowed people to meet for hours in a place and not end up sleepy or on their sides- but rather invigorated and stimulated to more work. Coffee is perhaps evidence that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
Society would go on to name the founders of the “Scientific revolution”- the likes of Newton and Einstein, and Turing and the modern world with electricity, refrigeration, the laws of physics, modern astronomy, and archaeology. Today, we remember the founding of the society that marked a turn to the modern world and one fully embedded in the church- the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge” on this day in 1660.
The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from Psalm 25.
Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 28th of November 2023, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.
The show is produced by a man whose blood type, it turns out, is Arabica. He is Christopher Gillespie.
The show is written and read by a man still wondering about the comparison to a sailor at Costco… maybe I should shave? I’m Dan van Voorhis.
You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.