Gladstone: A Theologian, Scientist, or Both?

John Hall Gladstone’s interest in science and religion began during his childhood. He and his three brothers were tutored throughout their youth. They became quite interested in natural science through this education. Gladstone furthered his interest in science while attending chemistry lectures during his time at University College London. Additionally, during his adolescence, he held a great passion for religion and claimed he wanted to work for the ministry. In 1850, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, a prestigious group of European scientists who contributed a fair amount of research and work to the natural sciences. Gladstone’s interests ultimately focused on both science and religion.


Gladstone wrote “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science” in 1872. This work showcased his support for both religious and scientific hypotheses associated with creation. When considering his interest in both of these fields, it is evident why he supported these conflicting views on creation. Gladstone wrote this piece about a decade after Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species. Darwin made controversial arguments regarding how species were created in this work. He claimed that God was not the sole creator of all beings. Instead, he believed that evolution and natural selection were the root cause of this phenomenon. A great deal of Europe’s population, a society dominated by Christian ideology, felt frustrated by these assertions. Gladstone, however, was not horrified by Darwin’s views. He stated that while reading On the Origin of Species, “I felt no shock to my religious faith: indeed the progressive development of animated nature seemed to harmonize with that gradual unveiling of the divine plan which I had loved to trace in the Bible.”[1] Rather than seeing Darwin’s claims as an attack against Christianity, Gladstone believed they helped solidify many of his religious ideas regarding creation. He believed that scientific and spiritual beliefs regarding creation could coexist. By writing in this way, it is possible that both scientists and theologians agreed with his work.

Rather than solely supporting religious or scientific hypotheses on creation, Gladstone interestingly supports both in “Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science.” How do you think Europe’s population reacted to such claims? Although he exerted an interest in both ideologies throughout his life, do you believe he should have supported only one side on this controversial topic?

[1] Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science, 1872.

Gladstone’s Points of Supposed Collision Between the Scriptures and Natural Science

Author: John Hall Gladstone was a British chemist born in 1827. He was privately educated at home and went on to attend University College, London where he received a gold medal for original research, and publishing a paper on guncotton and xyloidine. In1847 he attended Giessen University, where he studied under Liebig and graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy. In 1848 he lost his wife along with his eldest daughter and only son, ostensibly only pausing his endeavors in science and social life. From 1850 to 1852 he was lecturer on chemistry at St. Thomas’s Hospital. He served as President of the Physical Society (which he founded) from 1874-76, and then as President of the Chemical Society from 1877-1879. Gladstone published work on bromination of rubber and commenced innovative efforts towards/in optics and spectroscopy. As an advocate and activist of education, he was an innovator in establishing practical and physical direction as well as the education of science to elementary school students. Gladstone was also involved  in Christian efforts, arranging religious meetings and bible classes among educated men and women. He was a member of the Royal Society. He died in 1902.

Context: Published in 1872, Gladstone initially gave this work as a lecture at the request of the Christian Evidence Society in order to defend Christianity and the influence of the bible from the incursion of New Science.

Language: The tone Gladstone uses is informative, he uses reasoning and scientific fact to prove his points. He gives his lecture from an educated point of view.

Audience: Christians and those who had doubts due to the increase of scientific knowledge. (the Christian Evidence Society)

Intent: Gladstone’s intent in this lecture was to convince his audience that science could explain and even verify religious beliefs and Christian sentiments. Gladstone addresses the skeptics view of controversy between science and religion. He also confronts Christian indignation and declaration of the irreligiousness of Darwin’s ideas.

Message: Gladstone’s message in this lecture was that science could support and maintain the historical beliefs of Christianity. He gave examples of earth structure change as well as fossils from beings that did not appear in the modern era, and related this to the Biblical story of Noah and the flood. He addressed the belief that the six days of creation were demonstrative of six different periods in history and concluded that Scripture could be proved by geology to be true and therefore the controversy over Genesis was mute. Gladstone professed interest in Darwin’s work and that although he did not agree with Darwin on the exact point at which evolution began, he respected the ideas Darwin had. Gladstone understood that religious individuals felt Darwin’s ideas attacked their beliefs of God’s active presence in the universe and their ideas on creation stemming from the Bible. He offered a different view of the matter, using textual evidence from the bible to prove that the idea of evolution did not negate the comprehension of the bible’s story of creation.