The ideas in Circles of Thorns are being explored in Canterbury in the form of two lectures. If you would like to follow the themes and structure of Circles of Thorns in your own Lenten study, then please feel free to:
- listen to the podcasts. The Sunday evening sermons (c 20 mins) and the Tuesday lunchtime Lent lectures (c 40 mins) will appear the day (DV) after delivery.
- use this series of thoughts, readings, meditations and questions. A PDF can also be downloaded for easier printing and later reference.
Circle 2 / Week 2 / Elements
It is indeed, marvellous that science should ever have revived amid the fearful obstacles theologians cast in her way. Together with a system of biblical interpretation so stringent, and at the same time so capricious, that it infallibly came into collision with every discovery that was not in accordance with the unaided judgement of the senses, and therefore with the familiar expressions of the Jewish writers, everything was done to cultivate a habit of thought the direct opposite of the habits of science. The constant exaltation of blind faith, the countless miracles, the childish legends, all produced a condition of besotted ignorance, of grovelling and trembling credulity that can scarcely be parallelled except among the most degraded barbarians.
William Lecky, The History of the Rise and Influence of the Spirit of Rationalism (1865)
How much does the usual story of the warfare between science and religion affect you? Do you think science and scientific discoveries should inform your faith? Do you think science threatens religion, or your faith?
Usually even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of this world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and the moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.
St Augustine of Hippo, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, e. C5th AD
What science do you think is necessary for the believer to know? Are you comfortable with Christian leaders or believers “talking nonsense” about science?
In medieval science the fundamental concept was that of certain sympathies, antipathies, and strivings inherent in matter itself. Everything has its right place, its home, the region that suits it, and, if not forcibly restrained, moves thither by a sort of homing instinct.
C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (1964)
In what ways does Chaucer’s “kyndely enclyning” of creation still find expression today?
The universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe-inspiring. The kinds of views of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is. The universe presented by organised religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited.
Richard Dawkins, ‘A Survival Machine’ (1996)
What works of art, religious or otherwise, do you know which express a “genuinely, mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe-inspiring” view of the universe. Is it a film, a book, a painting, a photograph, a piece of music? What moves you, and why?
Questions for further reflection
- Do you think it is important for Christian believers to understand the latest scientific discoveries?
- Is it possible to be a Christian and a scientist?
- Should Christians ever oppose the consequences of scientific discoveries? If so, on what should the opposition be based?
- Theology was once called the “Queen of Sciences”. Does it still have something to teach science today?
- C. S. Lewis said “astrology was a hard-headed, stern, anti-idealistic affair; the creed of men who wanted a universe which admitted no incalculables.” In what way is this similar to the role of science in our society today?
Lenten Study Guide for Circles of Thorns: Week 2 (42.6 KiB, 73 hits)
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