This diagram depicts the Newcomen steam engine.
Artokoloro / Alamy Stock Photo

he Preacher Who Ignited New Industry

It can be hard to imagine a world without cars, trains, and the endless varieties of goods available today. These were made possible by the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Perhaps the most important innovation behind this new era was the steam engine.

Thomas Newcomen, a British engineer and Baptist lay-preacher, is credited with inventing the first practical steam engine in 1712, which was used to pump water out of mines. Steam engines soon proved to be more efficient and versatile than machines that relied on wind or water, fueling the growth of factories and igniting the industrial age.

Already the steam engine works our mines, impels our ships, excavates our ports and our rivers, forges iron, fashions wood, grinds grains, spins and weaves our clothes, transports the heaviest burdens, etc.”
Nicolas Léonard Sadi Carnot, Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire, 1824

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The Cathedral of the Industrial Revolution

St. Mary’s Church, Handsworth, in Birmingham, England, is known today as the “Cathedral of the Industrial Revolution” because of its connection to key figures of the industrial age. James Watt, an engineer who dramatically improved on the Newcomen’s design 64 years later in 1776, is buried in the church. Watt’s business partner, Matthew Boulton, along with his colleague William Murdoch, is also commemorated in the church.

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This exhibition explores the Bible’s role in the historical relationship between science and religion. Many today believe that religious faith and the natural sciences are very separate subjects. Indeed, many consider the Bible to be an obstacle to scientific progress. Yet, for centuries, faith and the study of nature were very much entangled. At times, biblical beliefs helped encourage people to study the world. They even influenced the rise of science as we know it today.