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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Hidden Histories: Black Scientists and Christian Theology

Black History Month is a time to remember people who are often overlooked but played a key role in society.

For example, last month marked the thirtieth anniversary of Dr Mae Jemison’s historic NASA mission as the first African American woman in space. Similarly, three Black mathematicians – two of whom were openly Christians – contributed to the moon landings, a story popularised by the film Hidden Figures. 

Another hidden element in today’s history of modern science is the contribution of Christian theology – in particular the doctrine of creation. 

Today we would correct any child who thought she could learn about the created order by sitting and thinking about how it should be in an ideal world, but that’s what some ancient Greek philosophers believed. 

Compare that with Isaac Newton, who wrote ‘we must not seek [knowledge about the laws of nature] from uncertain conjectures, but learn them from observations and experiments’. His science was driven by belief in a creator God who set the ‘laws of nature’ in place.  

Mary Seacole, arguably the first nurse practitioner (and not just the first of Afro-Caribbean descent), used the same skill of observation in honing and applying her prodigious knowledge of tropical disease, patient care, and herbal medicine. I was struck by a comment in her 1857 autobiography: ‘The faculty have not yet come to the conclusion that the cholera is contagious… but my people have always considered it to be so.’ In questions of science, it’s worth taking note of hard-earned practical experience. 

Another contribution of theology to science came from the Christian understanding of the Fall. Francis Bacon, a key figure in the development of the modern scientific method, believed that we can repair some of the effects of the fall through hard work and collaborative experiments (though affirming our need for Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection).  

George Washington Carver, a freed slave and (like Seacole) a lifelong Christian, put this into practice in his research on sustainable agriculture and food production in the American South, attributing his insights to God. 

History is never simple but it is always worth thinking about why these stories are so often overlooked. By bringing them to light, we can understand more about why we have arrived in a place where science seems to be dominated by white men, and science and faith are said to be in conflict. How can these ideas inform your conversations with scientifically-minded friends, family, or colleagues in the coming weeks? 

Ruth Bancewicz
Church Engagement Director, Faraday Institute of Science and Religion


  1. Also Charles R Drew from Foggy Bottom who pioneered saving blood plasma and was inspirational in blood banks. Received his medical degree 1940 as the first black American in 1940 and died without being permitted int The American Medical association.

    By Susan De Grazia  -  28 Oct 2022
  2. History is history, regardless of skin colour. Reminds me of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeixtYS-P3s

    By Axel Stone  -  28 Oct 2022
  3. Thank you so much for this. This will help us with our Young Black Boys group that aims to help them be confident in the person God has made them to be and to grow up to make positive contributions in society. These examples will be helpful.

    By Andrew Willis  -  28 Oct 2022
  4. In today’s cultural moment, the time is long-overdue to recognize the accomplishments of people of color that have been historically overlooked (in the best case) or avoided (in the worst case). Thankfully, we see that happening in different media as also evidenced by your article. The contributions by Christians, past and present, and their observations premised on the existence of our Creator God is another conversation. The bias against the possibility of intelligent design by the secular scientific and academic community is empirically irrational but also understandable in a post-modern worldview that cannot allow the possibility of moral absolutes established by the personal, infinitely intelligent and powerful Designer of the universe.

    By John A Spadafora  -  28 Oct 2022
  5. Hi – Good to see LICC and Faraday challenging the common view of who is engaged and has shaped science. So important if we are to inspire a wider range of people to think about entering science as a career especially from our Christian communities. And great to see LICC considering science in its whole life discipleship vision!
    Rev Dr Dave Gregory – Baptist Missioner for Science and Environment

    By Dave Gregory  -  31 Oct 2022
  6. Well done on sharing this part of the story. Too often historical records or books have been accounts of what the powerful have said or done and ignored others. An accurate telling of our human stories is essential. As a trained historian and a pastor, I know that telling the truth fairly about the past may be more complex than previously reported, but it is so enriching to know the real people and their stories who affected their societies for good and to learn at times sadly of other stories that had different outcomes. After all, the Bible provides accounts of what actually happened in so many contexts that make difficult reading at times, but God’s redemptive purposes can triumph over evil – that is a central theme in the gospel message we proclaim.

    By Dr Brian Talbot  -  11 Nov 2022

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