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Renowned science writer says religion has been an inspiration for science

A ustralian physicist and science writer Margaret Wertheim told a Methodist College audience March 23 that the science of physics was developed, for the most part, by scientists who believed in a divine creator. In a lecture entitled “God and Physics: A Brief History,” Ms. Wertheim shared some of the historical research she had done for her 1994 book Pythagoras’ rousers: A History of the Relationship between Physics and Religion. She was the guest speaker for Methodist’s second annual John Templeton Endowed Lecture in Science and Religion. While studying the history of physics from Pythagoras to Stephen Hawking, Wertheim said she learned that, “God and religious questions were always there.” She said physics originated in the 6th century B.C. with Pythagoras, the Greek

Margaret ertheim

philosopher and mathematician who believed that all reality is mathematical in nature.

“In the 12th century,” she continued, “people began to see the world as both a divine and mathematical creation. This ushered in the Scientific Revolution, a Western phenomenon.” Wertheim said mathematics came into its own as a science with Newton and Galileo in the 17th century. “Newton was a religious fanatic,” she said, “who thought gravity was a divine creation. In the 17th centur , physicists thought they were studying the mind of God.”

The popular science writer challenged the notion that the Roman Catholic Church has been “anti-science,” saying “No scientists have been killed or burned for their scientific beliefs.”

She said the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century and Darwinism in the 19th century created a rift between science and religion. “Kant and Rousseau said science had nothing to say about God and vice versa,” she explained. “They felt these subjects had to be studied independently.”

Wertheim said physics did not produce practical results or new technology until the late 19th century, when discoveries in thermodynamics led to better steam engines. She said two modern physicists—Stephen Hawking (author of A Brief History of ime) and Paul Davies (author of The Mind of God)—believe the universe operates according to mathematical laws which may have a divine origin.

“There are few physicists today who believe in the traditional Christian God beyond a creator,” she noted. “Most do not feel that religion and

Summer 2001


theology have a lot of academic credibility. But history shows religion has been an inspiration for science.”

After her lecture and a brief question/answer session, Wertheim suggested several books and a collection of lectures for those interested in reading more about the relationship between science and religion. Titles she mentioned include: ssues in Science and Religion by Ian Baker; God, Faith and the New Millennium: Christian Belief in an Age of Science by Keith Ward; Religion and Science, a collection of lectures edited by Wesley J. Wildman and W. Mark Richardson; and God and Nature by David C. Lindberg and Ronald L. Numbers.

In Memoriam

F. D. Byrd J ., Trustee Emeritus

Franklin Douglas Byrd Jr. of Fayetteville, a trustee emeritus of Methodist College, died June 23; he was 93. Mr. Byrd served as superintendent of the Cumberland County schools from 1946-1972. Douglas Byrd High School is named for him. In 1957, when L. Stacy Weaver was elected president of Methodist College and ceased to be a member of the board of trustees, F. D. Byrd Jr. was elected to take his place. He served on the board until 1978. Born in Columbia, SC and reared in Lillington, NC, Mr. Byrd graduated from Campbell College and Wake Forest College. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1946, attaining the rank of lieutenant. He served on the Board of Deacons and chaired the Finance Committee at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church. Mr. Byrd is survived by his wife, Rebecca J. Byrd of Fayetteville; a son, Doug Byrd III of Raleigh; a sister, Meredith R. Byrd of Raleigh; and two grandsons, Doug Byrd IV of Greensboro and Stephen Byrd of Manteo. F. Douglas Byrd J .

Ann Wilkin, Religion Instructor

Ms. Sara Ann Wilkin, 72, of Atlanta, GA, died Dec. 29, 2000 of lung cancer. She taught religion at Methodist from 1964-68. The youngest of 11 children, she was a graduate of Georgia State College in Valdosta and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. She was remembered as a “trailblazer”—the first woman to preach at Emory University’s Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church.

After returning to Atlanta in 1968, Ms. Wilkin served as director of the Downtown YMCA for six years; in 1974, she became a supervisor at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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