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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: September 2010

9 - Wesley’s engagement with the natural sciences

from Part III - Wesley’s work


Among the many topics that could be included in a Companion to John Wesley, readers might be surprised to find a chapter devoted to Wesley's engagement with the natural sciences. Or, based on some influential precedents, they may anticipate an exposé of Wesley's opposition to scientific theories and reasoning. Over a century ago, in his History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876), Sir Leslie Stephen contended that “we already find in Wesley the aversion to scientific reasoning which has become characteristic of orthodox theologians” (2:412). Andrew Dickson White echoed this evaluation twenty years later in his (in)famous History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). One shortcoming of these critiques of Wesley is that they relied mainly on secondary sources and passing comments in his Sermons and Journal. As a result, they provide little sense of the scope of Wesley's interest in and publications about the natural world. In 1763, Wesley issued for the benefit of his Methodist people A Survey of the Wisdom of God in Creation; or, A Compendium of Natural Philosophy, a two volume work distilling his reading of several book-length works as well as extracts from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge and other journals.