Recently I wrote about my impression of a predominance of religious worldviews and practices among the most celebrated mathematicians. I concluded by indicating that I wouldn't be surprised if religious worldviews were more conducive to great advances in maths and other disciplines, because of the way that faith and imagination are involved in discovery. Today I'd like to explore some slightly more specific ideas about how that might work. This is very tentative, largely because I'm clearly not one of those mathematical geniuses myself! But I want to share some ideas and see what others think.
Posts by Richard Gunton
I've always felt sad at the passing of Christmas Day: at how quickly the world moves on to Boxing-Day sales, extinguished fairy lights, discarded fir trees and raucous New-Year revelries. Perhaps it's partly nostalgia, but I yearn for those past times when the twelve days of Christmas were celebrated in full. For me, Christmas is worth lingering on, because it's a sign of the world to come.
[Portraits of (L-R) Euler, Gauss, Cantor, Ramanujan, Noether, Hilbert and Gödel from the public domain]
In teaching elementary probability and statistics to undergraduates, I've been reading about some of the great mathematicians who are commemorated in the names of functions and constants. This has led me to ponder the role of religious worldviews in mathematical genius, and it's on that topic that I'd like to share a few thoughts today. I hope that some readers here may have further knowledge and ideas to share.
Coming up in two weeks' time is the next in the series of Forming A Christian Mind conferences in Cambridge. Entitled "Christ, the Academy and the (Post-)Modern World: Approaching Your Subject in the Light of the Gospel", this event is slated as the first of three conferences for this academic year. The keynote speaker is David McIlroy, Visiting Professor in Law at SOAS (University of London), who will speak on ‘The Narratives of Modernity and the Christian Story’ and ‘Christianity and the Modern Conception of Rights’. At the end of the day there's a plenary talk by Daniel Hill, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool: ‘Serving in Academia as Christian’.
A major challenge for younger academics is the increasing prevalence of both fixed-term contracts and institutional mobility. A year ago I wrote about moving from a university to a business environment, and now I'm back in a university again, with another shift in my research area. So I thought it might be helpful to share the story of these transitions and what I've learned through them.
Christian thinkers have proposed a range of ideas about what science is, ranging from reading the book of God's works and "thinking God's thoughts after Him" to studying how the Universe runs itself if God doesn't intervene. Views like these were expressed by early modern scientists (Galileo, Bacon, Newton and others) who were Christians of one sort or another, but they needn't be the last word for a theistic perspective on science.
Today, as I write, it is Pentecost. We marked the festival at church this morning, and the coming of the Holy Spirit is regularly celebrated at churches throughout the world. But what does Pentecost mean for research? Should scholars celebrate it outside of church services?
To find a series of books that join up the dots in whole swathes of one's previous education is a wonderful experience. That's my experience of the writings of philosopher Marinus Dirk Stafleu, which I first discovered a year ago. His multi-volume project Philosophy of Dynamic Development flows from his career as a Christian studying physics and philosophy: from a PhD in quantum mechanics to teacher-teaching in Utrecht, in his native Netherlands.
Christianity and the University Experience should be read by everyone concerned with ministry to students. It's the outcome of a project in 2009–2012 across thirteen English universities, investigating patterns of religious commitment among undergraduates identifying themselves as Christian. And perhaps the most striking finding of all was that 51% of all respondents identified themselves as "currently belonging" to the "Christian tradition", yet almost a third of these did not go to church at all: neither while at university nor during vacations.
When God's Spirit brings about a movement of change, it often seems to begin in disparate places and diverse ways through people who don't know each other. For example, a remarkable number of broadly Evangelical organisations for cultural engagement seem to have sprung up in England in the 1980s – of which Thinking Faith Network (originally WYSOCS) is one. Now in our own time, I believe God is doing something important for Christian engagement in academia in Europe – starting with Christian doctoral students.