The third and final day of the Grosseteste conference began with the third plenary lecture from, Christopher Southgate, on contemporary perspectives on Science and Religion, in a Christian context, and in English-speaking literature. Moving from the period 1966-2006 and the influence in particular of Barbour, Peacocke, Polkinghorne to the more recent themes and encounter and engagement between the New Atheism, the work of Sarah Coakley, and areas of positive engagement between religion and science, such as neurophysiology, the lecture ended with some of challenges and difficulties facing the way in which science is able, or not, to present its conclusions to a wider audience. The place of theology within ecological debates is a case-study in both the importance of such a coalescence of disciplines, but the fragmentary way in which it is often carried out. Taken with Tom’s paper of the previous day, the wider context for humanities and science engagement, in whatever period-boundaries, is a serious series of opportunities to bring forward the deeper narratives so vital for re-locating the place of learning within wider society.
Following a wonderful Sunday lunch, with all the trimmings, the penultimate session of parallel papers included Nadr El-Bizri, Greco-Arabic precusors of Grosseteste in the Science of Optics. Nadr took the examples of Al-Haytham (Latinised to Alhazan), from 11th century Cario, and Al-Farisi, later 13th and early 14th century (d.1319), to explore the development of optics within Islamic thought throughout the period. The notion that medieval Islam stopped evolving new modes of scientific thinking in the period is another shibboleth which requires re-thinking and re-phrasing. In detail, the influence of al-Haytham, especially on Roger Bacon, formed the subject for questions, and the idea of the experiment and its parameters in the two authors under scrutiny. Yael Kedar’s paper focused on the form of corporeity and the nomological image of nature, with Roger Bacon to the fore. Sean Eisen Murphy, took the subject of the corruption of the elements and the science of ritual impurity in the early 13th century.
The final session featured another set of philosophical paper: Victor Salas on Grosseteste on infinitude, Dónall McGinley on the complexities of drawing parallels to religion and science debates in the 13th century, with a discussion of the subject matter of both in contemporary terms, and Jeremiah Hackett on religion, philosophy and science in Roger Bacon. Jeremiah explored the traditions of thought which emphasise Bacon as an experimentalist, and stressed the importance of the theological within what can be identified as a 13th century view of science, along with the crucial comparison of Bacon with his contemporaries rather than more modern thinkers. Scripture and Nature emerge once more as the two strands which form the structure for 13th century science.
With that, and coffee, the conference cam to a close. It is left to thank Jack Cunningham and all of the staff at Bishop Grosseteste University for putting on a great event, for their warm welcome, and for a very stimulating set of papers and lectures. Thanks too, to the Montgomery Trust, the Society for the Study of Medieval Language and Literature for helping to sponsor the conference, and of course the International Grosseteste Society.