Workshop on T. F. Torrance and the Natural Sciences - Call for Papers

February 8, 2022

Call for Papers: Virtual workshop, Summer 2023, with two tracks:

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

Workshop organizers and proceedings editors: Kerry Magruder and Brent Purkaple. Direct inquiries here.
Submit workshop title and abstract here. Priority given to title/abstract proposals received by September 22, 2022.  


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

To promote dialogue and reflection prior to publication, the Summer 2023 workshop will be open to contributors only and include ample time for conversation. 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. Workshop dialogue between presenters and respondents will catalyze general discussion. It is hoped that revised, published versions of many of the articles and responses (as well as the book reviews) will exemplify a constructive dialogue as a result of participation in the workshop and ongoing interaction among contributors.

We define “natural sciences” generously; for example, papers relating to the human and social sciences are welcome.
• A second workshop, not restricted to contributors only, might be held in Summer 2024 for publication-ready papers if deemed desirable by participants.

“T. F. Torrance and the Natural 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 Natural 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.


  1. Now through September 2022: Call for papers, submission of title and abstract.
  2. Summer 2023: Contributors-only workshop with pre-publication drafts.
  3. Summer 2024: Publication-ready essays due. Possibly a public virtual conference if participants desire.
  4. Winter 2024-2025: Publication of papers in two issues of Participatio: possibly Dec 2024 and Jan 2025. Actual publication date, and possible subsequent print publication, tbd as the project develops.

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. But in addition to receiving the prestigious 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 also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

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

Beyond theology proper, Torrance’s books touching on theology and natural science include:

  • Space, Time and Incarnation (#1969-262), and Space, Time and Resurrection (#1976-331), which examine the Incarnation’s implications for space and time. 
  • Divine Meaning: Studies in Patristic Hermeneutics (#1995-588) goes deeper into some of the same topics. 
  • Divine and Contingent Order (#1998-623) is Torrance’s magisterial work on divine freedom and contingent order in nature. 
  • 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. 
  • Theological Science (#1978-352) is his magisterial work in the philosophy of science and theology. 
  • The Ground and Grammar of Theology (#1980-369) originated as popular lectures, and so may be read as a relatively accessible general overview.

The above books comprise an introduction to Torrance’s views on science and religion. Additional books by Torrance touching on natural science include:

  • God and Rationality#1971-290.
  • Christian Theology and Scientific Culture#1980-368.
  • Belief in Science and in Christian Life: The Relevance of Michael Polanyi's Thought for Christian Faith and Life#1980-370.
  • Reality and Evangelical Theology: The Realism of Christian Revelation#1982-397.
  • An edition of James Clerk Maxwell, The Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field, to which Torrance added a significant introduction; #1982-399.
  • Reality and Scientific Theology#1985-450.
  • The Christian Frame of Mind: Reason, Order, and Openness in Theology and Natural Science#1989-505.
  • Preaching Christ Today: The Gospel and Scientific Thinking#1994-571.
  • Theological and Natural Science#2002-TFT-3.

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).

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 developed 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