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Textbooks, popular lectures and sermons: the quantum chemist Charles Alfred Coulson and the crafting of science

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 September 2004

ANA SIMÕES
Affiliation:
Departamento de Física and Centro de História das Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Faculdade de Ciências da Universidade de Lisboa, Campo Grande, C8, Piso 6, 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal.

Abstract

In this paper I address C. A. Coulson's teaching activities, writing textbooks and delivering popular science lectures, as well as his popular lectures on religion and the ‘scientific’ sermons delivered in his capacity as a lay preacher of the Methodist Church. I will pay particular attention to his thoughts on science. His commitment to forging a way to reconcile science and religion was built upon a reflection on the aims and methods of science within the broader framework of science's role in post-Second World War society. By noting that Coulson valued chemistry, mathematics and science in general, as a kind of religious activity, I argue that he wrote masterful textbooks and delivered popular science lectures as lay sermons. These were activities which Coulson pursued energetically to build a community of science adepts and proselytes. And winning young, and indeed not so young, people to science meant teaching them one of the languages that could be used to reach God. In the same way, I extend my argument to his popular lectures on religion and his ‘scientific’ sermons and claim that they should be viewed as popular science lectures addressed to an audience that was often ignorant, or even suspicious, of science.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
2004 British Society for the History of Science

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Footnotes

This paper is a revised version of a talk delivered at the workshop ‘Training scientists, crafting science’, organized by David Kaiser, at MIT, on 24–6 January and 19–21 September 2002. I thank all participants for their criticisms, but especially David Kaiser, Mary Jo Nye and Bob Kohler for written comments which led me to sharpen my original idea of presenting Coulson's thoughts on science and religion as an important aspect of his pedagogical efforts. I also thank Ana Carneiro and Olga Pombo for comments on an earlier draft of this paper; Manolis Patiniotis for his clarification of several points concerning natural theology and his support of my first incursion on the history of science and religion; J. H. Brooke for a very enlightening discussion on a summery afternoon in late April 2002, in Oxford, about problems and pitfalls in writing about science and religion issues; Kostas Gavroglu for always being there and for his willingness to use the last days of his summer vacations to read and comment on such a long paper; and Crosbie Smith and the two anonymous referees for their helpful suggestions to improve the manuscript. Finally, I extend my thanks to Ursula Klein for her invitation to visit the Max-Planck Institut für Wissenschaftgeschichte, in July 2003, where I found the necessary peace of mind to bring this paper almost to its final form, and to Susan McMahon, a member of her group, for profitable lunchtime discussions.
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