Reconstructing Wonder

Chemistry Informing a Natural Theology

by Timothy Weatherstone (Author)
©2017 Thesis 188 Pages


The book uses scientific discipline of chemistry to inform a Natural Theology. While Natural Theology typically employs scientific analysis from Cosmology, Physics, Mathematics and at times Biology the author extends the subject. He refers to the perception of beauty to provide a conceptual framework linking aspects of Epistemology, Theology and Chemistry. The volume presents a working definition of Natural Theology and a new definition of Beauty that bridges the conceptual gaps between the humanities and the hard sciences.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Religious Epistemology
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Contemporary Epistemological Approaches
  • 1.3 Conclusion
  • Chapter 2: Natural Theology
  • 2.1 Natural Theology within the Epistemological Framework: Introduction
  • 2.2 The Place and Relevance of Theologies of Nature
  • 2.3 Conclusion
  • Chapter 3: Chemistry and Natural Theology
  • 3.1 Appreciating Chemistry: the Historical Context and Contemporary Understandings
  • 3.2 Chemistry and Metaphysics
  • 3.3 Beauty as Bridge
  • 3.4 An Expanded Vision of Beauty
  • 3.5 Conclusion
  • Chapter 4: A Selective Survey of Current Organic Chemistry Research
  • 4.1 Purpose of the Survey
  • 4.2 The Selection Criteria
  • 4.3 The Papers
  • 4.4 Discussion
  • 4.5 Conclusion
  • Chapter 5: On God and Beauty
  • 5.1 Introduction
  • 5.2 The Two Streams
  • 5.3 The Aristotelian Stream
  • 5.4 The Platonic Stream
  • 5.5 Conclusion
  • Chapter 6: Discussion
  • 6.1 Introduction
  • 6.2 Defining Beauty
  • 6.3 Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Appendices
  • Appendix A: Some Notes on Chemical Structures
  • Appendix B: A Brief Introduction to Redox Reactions
  • Index of Names
  • Index of Subjects
  • Table of Figures

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The central argument of this book is that aspects of the natural science of chemistry as currently practiced, may inform a natural theology.

Firstly in chapter 1 I will seek to establish an epistemological methodology for the treatment of knowledge of and about the Christian God and of the justification of that knowledge consistent with contemporary understandings. This section on religious epistemology attempts to codify how the knowledge that follows later is justifiably rationally held. This is why it is present at all and moreover is why it is present at the start of this book. I believe we must lay the ground work of what can be rationally held before we can start to treat the material. Within this section on Epistemology the reader should note the prominence given to the tenets of a movement known as ‘Reformed Epistemology’ and within that, to the novel use of certain terms most notably ‘justification’. These are explained there. It is perhaps unfortunate that two such well-known terms as ‘reformed epistemology’ and ‘justification’ should be re-used in ways which are quite different from their anecdotally ‘obvious’ explanations.

I will then in the second chapter review the current state of natural theology and seek to establish an approach within this discipline of systematics that is consistent with the epistemology established in the first chapter and that might build on an area of current chemical research. How should a natural theology, in the context of this book, be understood? The Gifford lectures, of which we shall have more to say below, deal with natural theology head-on according to their founding principles. Their website by way of introduction, describes natural theology both as a classical discipline, and as a type of study in a contemporary nuanced form thus:

A more modern view of natural theology suggests that reason does not so much seek to supply a proof for the existence of God as to provide a coherent form drawn from the insights of religion to pull together the best of human knowledge from all areas of human activity. In this understanding natural theology attempts to relate science, history, morality and the arts in an integrating vision of the place of humanity in the universe. This vision, an integrating activity of reason, is religious to the extent it refers to an encompassing reality that is transcendent in power and value. Natural theology is thus not a prelude to faith but a general worldview within which faith can have an intelligible place. (Gifford, 2016)

This book seeks to build upon this understanding of the function of a natural theology: no longer a ‘proof’ but a ‘pulling together’ of various insights, in this case ← 9 | 10 → from chemistry. It will do so in the context of the conversation that must inevitably take place when such a “general worldview” is promulgated. More specifically and particularly, this is a conversation between a researcher in chemistry who does not profess a Christian faith and a Christian natural theologian. Thus a working definition of a natural theology as stipulated here involves a presentation of rational inferences from knowledge gained by human activities to the actions of the Divine in creating and directing the Universe. Within this overall definition I go further in this book, in that by ‘the Divine’ I mean the Christian God, with the natural theology being presented by a Christian natural theologian.

I suppose this Christian natural theologian to be an ‘orthodox Christian’ by which I mean a person who treats the texts of the Bible, both the Hebrew scriptures and the explicitly Christian parts, as ‘inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and training in righteousness’ (2 Timothy 3.16); who holds to what are termed the ‘catholic creeds’; and who treats meeting and engaging in worship with other Christian people as part of his regular practice. I have explicitly not spoken of the degree of that regularity or the nature or type of that worship and neither have I made any mention of denomination. One might reasonably expect such an ‘orthodox Christian’ to be a regular attender at the place of worship of one of the mainstream Christian denominations, be that a church or a home or even a school. The reader will also notice that for the sake of brevity I have not defined precisely which books of the Bible should be regarded as canonical or part of it.

I imagine such a chemistry researcher, this partner in dialogue, to be an ‘honest enquirer’ who may for the sake of personal interest, investigate the claims of the person of Jesus Christ by visiting one or more meetings of one of these ‘mainstream Christian denominations’. Wil Derkse speaks of the value of such a conversational approach when he remarks:

The position of dialogue, or, as I prefer to call it, conversation, might be seen as a stage in a continuing process of integration of science and religion, both being human and cultural activities ….. persons active in separate domains can converse about contents, attitudes, evaluations, motivations (just a side-remark, perhaps the motivation in scientific practice is aesthetically), moral quality. (Derkse, 2001, p. 167)

Hence it will be plain that this book is to employ an attempt to hold in tension: people, human beings, who espouse a scientific approach to the elucidation of knowledge, together with those who also perceive matters in terms of Christian aesthetics.

Modern natural theologians often engage in somewhat of an obfuscation: as Chad Meister remarks, contemporary authors in this discipline do not suppose ← 10 | 11 → that their writings constitute proof of God’s existence yet very much seek to demonstrate the rationality of theistic, not to say Christian, belief (Meister, 2013, p. 155). That said, such authors in their own personal conduct do not rest their own faith and practice on such a basis alone: they are frequently committed believers and practitioners and not uncommonly are ministers in their respective Christian denominations. There is therefore something of a subterfuge going on, or is there? Is the promulgator of a natural theology, whatever his proposed particular strategy, saying one thing but fervently believing another? Not at all, because natural theology is a common way of presenting the faith to ‘honest enquirers’ or at least to those who are not opposed to the Christian Gospel (in that such a theology is consonant with the faith of “ordinary believers”, see Wynn 1999, p. 3). Such authors are offering an accessible methodology with which to approach the faith, to enable the Gospel to be seen as a rational and systematic response to contemporary life. In this present book I seek therefore as I have stated, to develop this argument as a conversation, as J V L Casserley has also suggested (Casserley, 1955, p. 7) between such an imagined honest enquirer, and in this case I imagine her/himself to be a chemist researcher, and myself offering the natural theological argument.

Among the contemporary physical sciences, chemistry stands out as one not generally thought to be helpful in contributing towards or informing, such a natural theology. Why this is so, is explained below. This project is therefore also an investigation into whether modern developments within the fields of epistemology, chemistry and theology might allow for a reappraisal of this hitherto largely accepted position. If this is possible, how might a proposed conversation of the type proposed above be re-invigorated, indeed re-legitimated, by and through contemporary revised understandings in epistemology? In chapter 3 I will discuss what is it about chemistry that lends itself to being implicated in such a revised appreciation. This will also require a brief historical survey of interactions between chemistry and theology from roughly the 17th century until the present time. In this chapter I will also expand on my opening remark above concerning the suitability of chemistry informing a natural theology.

Chapter 4 will include an analysis of a set of recent research papers in a particular area of chemical research. This analysis will look for commonalities in language, in assumptions and in methodologies so as to underline the common approach which I am proposing is used to speak in a cross-disciplinary manner.

This will be followed in chapter 5 by a brief thematic survey of the relationship between God and Beauty including the role of the researcher when framing his conclusions. ← 11 | 12 →

Finally in chapter 6 all of these elements will be drawn together to see what value might be obtained by applying this strategy to an appreciation of chemistry such that it may be allowed to have a place in informing natural theology.

The overall objective of the book is as has been said, to contribute towards the furthering of the dialogue between those in the disciplines of theology and chemistry: between Christian believers and chemist researchers wishing to enquire into the Faith.

Thus in short, the project will be addressed in the following order:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (March)
Epistemology God and Beauty Humanities Sciences
Frankfurt am Main, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 188 pp., 4 b/w ill., 1 coloured ill.

Biographical notes

Timothy Weatherstone (Author)

Timothy Weatherstone studied Chemistry and Theology in London and Norwich in the UK and Tilburg in the Netherlands. He ministers as an Anglican priest in the Diocese of Norwich, UK, and teaches in both adult and youth settings.


Title: Reconstructing Wonder