This lecture explores the emergence, flourishing, and eventual decline of the movement known as “natural philosophy”. Although this is often glossed as an early version of the natural sciences, it is much more than this – an attempt to learn about nature, and also to learn from nature. Professor McGrath will explore the development of this movement, looking particularly at Johann Kepler, Robert Boyle, and Isaac Newton, and ask what can be learned from this movement. Finally, Professor McGrath will consider the question of whether it might be possible to revive natural philosophy today, and what might be learned from it. The lecture is based on his recent book Natural Philosophy, published in November 2022 by Oxford University Press.
Alister McGrath recently retired as the Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University. As an undergraduate at Oxford, McGrath studied chemistry, specializing in quantum theory, before doing a doctorate under the supervision of Professor Sir George Radda and developing his interest in theology, eventually becoming Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford. His interest in natural philosophy emerged during his period as the Gresham Professor of Divinity at Gresham College, from 2015-18. This chair was founded in 1597. Gresham College played a major role in developing natural philosophy in England during the seventeenth century.