T. F. Torrance and the Sciences - Call for Papers

Call for Papers, with two tracks anticipated for two Participatio issues:

  • “T. F. Torrance and the Sciences in Historical Context”
  • “T. F. Torrance and the Sciences in Ongoing Dialogue”

Issue editors: Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple. Direct inquiries here.
Submit title and abstract here.  


Contributions are welcome which explore Torrance and the dialogue between theology and the sciences in two complementary tracks: “T. F. Torrance and the Sciences in Historical Context,” consisting of critical interpretation of Torrance in historical context; and “T. F. Torrance and the Sciences in Ongoing Dialogue,” comprising critical appreciation of Torrance for ongoing work in related fields.  


  • Article submissions may be of varying length up to 10,000 words, in a combination of formats ranging from papers to responses to short essays to book reviews.

  • To promote dialogue and reflection prior to publication, a Summer 2024 virtual workshop may be held. If so, it may be open to contributors only. Workshop dialogue between presenters and respondents would catalyze general discussion. It is hoped that published versions of many of the articles and responses (as well as the book reviews) will exemplify a constructive dialogue as a result of ongoing interaction among contributors such as participation in the workshop.

  • Our objective is to document and explore T. F. Torrance in a multidisciplinary context, attending to his professional relationships, dialogue with other disciplines, and the ramifications of his theology for the entire suite of sciences and disciplines beyond theology proper. We welcome papers relating to any of the natural sciences, the human and social sciences, and philosophy and the history of science.

“T. F. Torrance and the Sciences in Historical Context”

Perhaps uniquely among leading theologians of the 20th century, T. F. Torrance engaged the natural sciences extensively on several fronts including the history, philosophy, and theology of science. Despite a resurgence over the last twenty years of scholarship on Torrance from the standpoint of theology, his engagement with the natural sciences has thus far received scant attention from historians of science and from other historians with specific interest in Torrance’s own historical context. The complex contexts within which Torrance's ideas developed and spread are yet underappreciated. With this track, we invite historians of science and other scholars who study the history of the science and religion dialogue to investigate Torrance’s biography and to interpret Torrance’s work in light of 20th-century themes and developments. Despite initial work in this area, much more remains to be done to place Torrance’s engagement with science and religion in intellectual, biographical, and historical context. For a list of possible topics, in addition to the "Torrancean Perspectives" noted below, see this Historical Context Topics page. It lists possible topics suggestively, rather than prescriptively or exhaustively, in order to illustrate the potential scope of select contributions.

“T. F. Torrance and the Sciences in Ongoing Dialogue”

For this track, we welcome papers undertaking critical appreciation of Torrance’s perspectives. Papers might consider how to take his spirit of engagement further, updating, extending, adjusting, and correcting his perspectives, building upon them as contributions to ongoing work in science and religion, assessing their potential future relevance in related fields, or exploring ways in which they might be translated into new domains. For a list of possible topics, in addition to the "Torrancean Perspectives" noted below, see this Ongoing Dialogue Topics page. It lists a number of possible topics suggestively, rather than prescriptively or exhaustively, in order to illustrate the potential scope of select contributions.

Provisional Timeline

  1. Through Spring 2024: Call for papers, submission of title and abstract.
  2. Fall 2023 - Fall 2024: Unofficial works-in-progress discussion groups may be scheduled as desired.
  3. Summer 2024: Possible workshop with papers circulated beforehand to facilitate dialogue and discussion.
  4. Fall 2024: peer review.
  5. Winter 2024-2025: Publication of papers in two issues of Participatio.

T. F. Torrance: Brief Introduction

Torrance as a theologian is best known for his work in two areas:

1. Barth reception:

Torrance became the leading facilitator of Barth’s reception in the English-speaking world by founding the Scottish Journal of Theology and by serving as the general editor of the multi-volume English translation of Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Torrance also wrote two books of his own interpreting Barth’s work and its significance (#1962-177 and #1990-517). Torrance was Barth’s choice to succeed him in Basel, but Torrance declined, preferring to stay in Edinburgh.

2. Trinity:

Torrance’s primary area of theological focus was the doctrine of the Trinity. He was a leading figure in the 20th-century resurgence of theological work on the Trinity. In addition to publication of several major books on the Trinity (e.g., #1988-489 and #1996-595), Torrance led ecumenical discussions between the World Reformed Alliance and representatives of the Orthodox Church which culminated in a landmark joint statement on the Trinity in 1991. For this effort, Torrance was awarded a Pectoral cross and made an honorary Proto-Presbyter in the Orthodox Church, a distinction that is unprecedented in Orthodox tradition.

Yet Torrance was also a major figure in the dialogue between science and religion – which might seem paradoxical given the widespread impression that Barth's theology is not particularly relevant to the natural sciences.

Torrance wrote 14 books engaging topics in science and religion (listed below) as well as numerous shorter publications. In addition, Torrance edited a book devoted to the philosopher of science Michael Polanyi, and edited the only separate edition of an important paper of James Clerk Maxwell, whose work Einstein regarded as the major achievement that made possible his theory of relativity. Torrance was involved in the Gifford Lectures on natural theology and edited two series of publications related to theology and science: “Theology and Scientific Culture” and “Theology and Science at the Frontiers of Knowledge.” In addition to receiving the Templeton Prize, awarded in 1978, Torrance was active in two relevant academic societies: the Académe Internationale des Sciences Religeuses from 1969, and the Académe Internationale de Philosophie des Sciences, from 1976. He served as president of the former from 1972-1981. Torrance was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and a Fellow of the British Academy.

Biographical summary

Thomas F. Torrance was born in Chengdu, China, in the province of Sichuan, in 1913, and died in Edinburgh in 2007. As the oldest son of the Reverend Thomas Torrance and Annie Torrance, who were missionaries in China, Torrance grew up with a missionary vision. He was a teenager before he moved to Scotland for advanced schooling. After his initial degrees at the University of Edinburgh, Torrance studied under Karl Barth in Basel, Switzerland, from 1937 to 1938. Although his studies were interrupted by World War II, he completed a thesis on the doctrine of grace in the Church Fathers in 1946. During the war, Torrance served in North Africa, the Middle East, and Italy in a regimental pastoral role with the Church of Scotland’s “Huts and Canteens” commission. Torrance occasionally undertook special missions and at times was a stretcher-bearer near the front lines; these war experiences profoundly influenced him. In 1950 Torrance became a professor of Church History, and then of Christian Dogmatics, in New College, the School of Divinity of the University of Edinburgh. He served as Moderator of the Church of Scotland, its highest honor, in 1976-1977. After receiving the 1978 Templeton Prize for Progress in Science and Religion, Torrance retired from New College in 1979 to pursue independent scholarship.

Torrance's publications on theology and science

Torrance’s books touching on theology and science include:

  1. Space, Time and Incarnation (#1969-262), and
  2. Space, Time and Resurrection (#1976-331), which examine the Incarnation’s implications for space and time. 
  3. Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (#1995-588) goes deeper into some of the same topics. 
  4. Divine and Contingent Order (#1998-623) is Torrance’s magisterial work on divine freedom and contingent order in nature. 
  5. Transformation and Convergence in the Frame of Knowledge: Explorations in the Interrelations of Scientific and Theological Enterprise (#1984-433) contains many important essays related to science and religion. 
  6. Theological Science (#1969-263) is his magisterial work in the philosophy of science and theology. 
  7. The Ground and Grammar of Theology (#1980-369) originated as popular lectures, and so may be read as a relatively accessible general overview.
  8. God and Rationality#1971-290.
  9. Christian Theology and Scientific Culture#1980-368.
  10. Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation#1982-397.
  11. Reality and Scientific Theology#1985-450.
  12. The Christian Frame of Mind: Reason, Order, and Openness in Theology and Natural Science#1989-505.
  13. Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking#1994-571.
  14. Theological and Natural Science#2002-TFT-3.

The first seven books comprise an essential introduction to Torrance’s views on science and religion. In addition, there are many miscellaneous items including book reviews, collaborations with other authors in various publication endeavors, and articles not republished elsewhere such as "Intuitive and Abstractive Knowledge from Duns Scotus to John Calvin" (#1968-258), as well as books edited by Torrance such as:

  • Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi's Thought for Christian Faith and Life#1980-370.
  • An edition of James Clerk Maxwell, The Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, to which Torrance added a significant introduction; #1982-399.

Orienting resources

There is a lively academic society devoted to Torrance’s theology, the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, which is an auxiliary organization of the American Academy of Religion. For a quick orientation, we suggest the following:

Torrancean Perspectives

A select list of perspectives on science and theology which Torrance engaged in the works listed above might include the following:

  • Essential harmony of theology and science; dialogue between them as challenging but also mutually beneficial
  • Doxological science (the daily experience and practice of science)
  • Semantic reference (realism in the relations between language and reality)
  • Disciplinary integrity (against scientism)
  • Kata physin knowing (arduous realism)
  • Integration of form and method
  • Personal knowledge
  • Rejection of classical natural theology
  • Contingent reality of creation (contra self-existence)
  • Contingent intelligibility of creation (the mystery of the intelligibility of nature)
  • Unitary rationality of creation
  • Open and relational character of reality
  • Onto-relations (or substantive relations; that relations are part of essential being)
  • Divine freedom to love
  • Contingent order of creation
  • Contingent history of creation
  • Contingent freedom of creation
  • Social coefficient of knowledge 
  • Relations between the sciences
  • The stratification of knowledge / truth / disciplines / reality
  • Irreducibility (against determinism and reductionism)
  • Providence, miracles, and the openness of natural order
  • Against dualism (cosmological and epistemological)
  • Role of ultimate and penultimate beliefs in science
  • Human significance, freedom, and love
  • Stewardship, caretaking mandate
  • Eschatological hope and the new creation