Tom McLeish, Physicist, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York, and oh yes, Anglican Lay Preacher

Science is brilliant. Look at the way it’s helping with the Invisible Magic Friend’s holy virus. But science is also poetic and beautiful, something to inspire us in these dark days.

This is exactly like the Book of Job.

13 thoughts on “Tom McLeish, Physicist, Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of York, and oh yes, Anglican Lay Preacher

    1. And more objective. The God-window he talks about, that he thinks helps scientists view the world is always going to be a distorting one . Religions have never agreed what people are supposed to be seeing through it. Think of how archaeology in the ” Holy Land,” has been distorted for centuries by religious archaeologists trying to force their discoveries to fit in with their myths.

      The strong correlation between scientific success and a rejection of religious belief is strong and well-known. Normally , only one direction of a causal link is looked at. Scientific knowledge brings atheism. But this TftD had me thinking about the causal link the other way. That being an atheist generally makes people better Natural Philosophers.


  1. If you want to find out if some famous person is dead or alive, the first sentence of their Wikipedia page tells you all you need to know. It says either “X is…” or “X was…”, and that is enough to know their current status.

    From Wikipedia

    Natural philosophy or philosophy of nature (from Latin philosophia naturalis) was the philosophical study of nature and the physical universe that was dominant before the development of modern science. It is considered to be the precursor of natural science.

    In other words, Natural Philosophy was the guessing about nature that people used to do before they had the tools to look. This doesn’t make it futile, but it does make it redundant. In the modern world, what on earth is the point of a natural philosopher? Maybe something is like this, or maybe like that. How can we know? Oh yes, we can just go and ask the scientists in the next office.

    Maybe McLeish is the receptionist at York University. You come to him with a question about nature, and he directs you to the relevant department of scientists. It is pretty much the only thing I can think a natural philosopher is useful for.


    1. I always took Natural Philosophy to be synonymous with “physics”. I seem to remember that’s what Glasgow used to call its physics department – don’t know if still does.


  2. Wikipedia informs us that McLeish is a theoretical physicist interested in ‘soft matter’ such as foams. He has published over 200 scientific papers. He has also written about science and religion.

    So it is astonishing that he started off by describing science as if it was just a body of knowledge. Science isn’t about what you know; it’s about how you find out. Indeed, it’s the only effective way of getting to grips with the objective truths about the universe that are undoubtedly out there. As AndyM points out, religion can seriously get in the way of doing science properly. Contrary to what McLeish would no doubt assert, there are no ‘other ways of knowing’.

    And it is pretty dishonest for an apologist to come on this programme and make out that Job is a book of ‘staggering honesty’ about suffering, grief and pain, without once mentioning the cynical IMF-figure that brought about all that suffering in the first place.


  3. Speaking of physicists, I’ve been watching reruns of an old kids series called The Time Tunnel. Every week, Doug and Tony travel through time, where they encounter hunters, Roman legionaries, medieval knights, soldiers, pirates, swordsmen, wild west shooters etc.

    Naturally, none of these assorted professional warriors are a match for a pair of highly trained physicists, who win every time. It’s tremendous fun.


    1. And, of course, everybody speaks modern English. Either that or the two scientists are fluent in the language of every culture encountered. I do not remember any “automatic translator” being part of the time machine.


  4. Someone during the lockdown suggested that we all need 5 portions of fun every day. Coming on here and reading the put downs of the pious makes my day.
    If you want to get another portion and really cheer yourself up there is always Tim Minchin’s take down of belief in the miraculous that rules the lives of people like Tom –


  5. Aren’t we supposedly made in the image of Tom’s Invisible Magic Friend? I don’t understand why believers are impressed by our ability to observe & comprehend the world.
    As above, I feel disappointed when I hear that a scientist believes in an IMF. That may be uncharitable of me but it seems like the admirable pursuit of investigating the cosmos is trumped by religious belief (possibly founded on an inexplicable experience which gets attributed to whichever IMF is popular in one’s local area).
    When mentioning Job, Tom missed the chance to discuss the IICSA report. The killing of Job’s children by supernatural baddies could surely have been compared to/contrasted with the sexual abuse of real, modern children. It’s a shame mythical poetry was considered more important.


  6. I’m sure it’s been said here before, but if you are a scientist and an IMFist you are doing one of them wrong.


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