Trinitarian Perspectives on Science

This page introduces my online course, “Love and the Cosmos: Trinitarian Perspectives on Science with T. F. Torrance and C. S. Lewis,” offered by Grace Communion Seminary (TH504). Discussion forums and other resources are located on the GCS website. It was first offered in Spring 2020; revisions are underway for when it might be offered again.


As with most GCS courses, this class is 13 weeks long. Week 1 is an Orientation, which features two external presentations to introduce you to T. F. Torrance and C. S. Lewis. If you wish, the Orientation assignments (including reading the long course packet) may be started a week before the semester officially begins. Weeks 2-11 have a regular weekly rhythm featuring two seminars, “Perspective” and “Application,” as shown below. Each seminar combines a video, short readings, and forum discussion. Weeks 12-13 are for finishing assignments – including the final paper, which is an ongoing essay on “love and the cosmos” revised in draft form throughout the semester.

During Weeks 2-11, the seminars follow a sequence within each week: each week is a thematic unit, where the first video introduces a perspective and the second video applies that perspective to one or more case studies, past or present. You will establish a breathing rhythm: inhale (perspective) and exhale (application). The seminars also follow an overall sequence week-to-week throughout the semester. For example, the Evolution video in Week 10 refers back to, and builds upon, every single week leading up to it. The first video, “Thinking Theologically,” is the essential prologue to every other. So the 20 videos are best watched in sequence. They create an ever-widening spiral of inter-linked, holistic understanding.

Rather than an issues-based course, the course is designed to help one develop a Trinitarian theological instinct for science. That is the chief aim of the course. It is also a seminar in reading, to prepare you for lifelong reading of Torrance and Lewis. Think of the videos as seminar-style experiences in close-reading of select passages from their works, and the forums as places where you participate in the discussion of the passages quoted.

WEEK

PERSPECTIVE

APPLICATION

0

Jan 2

Registration begins.

Week 1 Orientation assignments open.

1

Jan 14

Orientation #1:
Thomas A. Noble, “T. F. Torrance on the Centenary of His Birth” (audio; no video)

Orientation #2:
Max McLean, “C. S. Lewis on Stage: The Most Reluctant Convert”DVD or streaming from Amazon Prime)

2

Jan 20

Thinking Theologically
(“Course Intro” section in Week 1; remaining sections in Week 2)

Flat Earth Myth

3

Jan 27

Language and Reality

The Galileo Affair

4

Feb 3

Knowing Kata-physin

Interdisciplinary relations

5

Feb 10

Being and Relation

Relational Physics (and Genesis 1)

6

Feb 17

Divine Freedom and Contingent Order

Geohistory

7

Feb 24

Imagining God and Nature

Preparing to read Out of the Silent Planet

8

March 2

Stratified Reality

Reality in Many Dimensions

9

March 9

Dualism

Dilemmas of Design

10

March 16

Natural Theology

Evolution

11

March 23

The Priest of Creation

New Creation

12

March 30

All regular and extra-credit assignments for weeks 2-11 are due by Monday, April 7, 11 pm.

Weeks 12-13 are devoted to final revisions of your semester-ongoing paper on “Love and the Cosmos.”

13

Apr 7

Final paper due 11 pm

Wednesday, April 9, 2020.

Topics listed above link to Vimeo pages for watching each video. Video captions at Vimeo contain links to slide/script PDFs. A lecturesTOC.pdf outlines the main sections of all 20 videos. See the Course Packet for the other regular weekly assignments, including readings and discussion forums. Note: the Week 1 Orientation above is new for next time, and shifts the videos to Weeks 2-11; until the videos are revised, their week numbers may not match the weeks as indicated.

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
– William Butler Yeats (attributed)


Why T. F. Torrance? Why C. S. Lewis?
Examining the views of Torrance and Lewis are helpful because:

  • They are two of the most highly regarded 20th-century Christian writers.
  • Each wrote in the Nicene theological tradition of Athanasius.
  • The theology of each is encountered in-depth in other GCS courses.
  • Each wrote prolifically on Christianity and science.
  • Their books are not textbooks, but classics, for life-long learning.
  • Many report that reading their books is an intellectually exhilarating, life-changing experience.
  • Each spoke anchored in the Church, for the sake of the world.

Books:

From the LibraryThing links below, you should be able to click through directly to Amazon and other online booksellers for your country. Any edition is fine. The approximate price indicated is based on a recent edition at Amazon (US); the other booksellers may offer copies at lower prices. Please obtain these before class begins.

  • Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time and Resurrection (STR). Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1976; #1976-331. ISBN: 9780905312002. 209 pp.; we will read selections. About $30 at online booksellers. Available in many editions, including Apple Books and Kindle.
  • Torrance, Thomas F. The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1988; #1988-489. About $27 online for ISBN 0567665585 edition. Available in many editions, including audio lectures, Apple Books and Kindle. 345 pp.; we will read selections. The Trinitarian Faith is also recommended reading for TH505 Doctrine of the Trinity.
    • Bibliographic information for works by Torrance is for the first edition, but any edition is fine. Click on any “McGrath number” (e.g., #1976-331) to go to the first edition record at tftorrance.org. Look in the right margin of that record to find links to all known later editions, translations, digital editions, and original audio lectures, as well as to booksellers via LibraryThing, Amazon, Bookfinder and AbeBooks.

  • Lewis, C. S. Out of the Silent Planet; LibraryThing. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1965. Originally published in 1938. 160 pp. About $10 at online booksellers for ISBN 0743234901 edition. Available in many editions, including Apple Books, Kindle and in audiobook format. The audiobook is 5 hours and 31 minutes long.
  • Max McLean, “C.S. Lewis On Stage – The Most Reluctant Convert,” 2019. 77 minutes. Amazon US. About $14 at online vendors. Available on many streaming services; available free in the US with Amazon Prime. This video is watched in the Orientation week; please acquire access to it before the semester begins.
  • Recommended:
    • Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers. We will only read excerpts from this book.
    • Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers. We will only read excerpts from this book.
    • Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers. We will only read excerpts from this book.
    • Lewis, C. S. Miracles; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers. We will only read excerpts from this book.

“How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!” Henry David Thoreau


This course will equip participants to…

  1. Converse with scientists and creation workers about their vocational callings, in order to gain experience that will help make our churches safe and welcoming places for those who practice, or who wish to pursue, any of the fields of the natural sciences, including geology, evolutionary biology, healthcare, technology and engineering, agriculture, and conservation.
  2. Critically analyze misconceptions that underlie the most common caricatures of conflict between Christian faith and modern science such as the flat Earth myth, the trial of Galileo, the immensity of the universe, the plurality of worlds, the age of the Earth, Darwin and evolution, and the Church and ecology, in order to be able to respond to persons, unbelievers and believers alike, who are working through such issues.
  3. Develop and demonstrate a practice of thinking theologically about God and nature, or faith and reason, according to a “Christian theological instinct” that reasons from a Trinitarian basis and goes beyond responding in an ad hoc manner to select misconceptions about Christianity and science.
  4. Develop and articulate a “relational natural theology” which arises naturally and organically from the nature of the gospel and the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity. That is, to practice drawing out the implications of the Incarnation and the Trinity for a Christian perspective on creation and the natural sciences.
  5. Describe and explain select perspectives of T. F. Torrance and C. S. Lewis on faith and science.
  6. Enter into regular weekly discussions with other students in the course to share ideas, concepts and reflections on how the course materials apply to ministry.
  7. Practice reading well by adopting strategies appropriate to the nature of the text, such as close reading for the dense prose of T. F. Torrance and literary reading for the Ransom Trilogy of C. S. Lewis.

Here’s the first video for Week 2, which serves as an overall introduction to the course. It is longer than usual since it combines material for the first two weeks; begin watching it during the Orientation Week. Plan to watch it over a longer space of time with breaks between sections to take a walk and stretch your legs, warm up your tea or make a cup of coffee, and give your mind space to process.

TH504 Wk2 Perspective from Kerry Magruder on Vimeo.


Why would I want to pay for the course when the videos are available online?

I’m a huge fan of MIT’s Open Courseware, where they make MIT lectures available for free. They are confident that the value of an MIT education lies in the interaction with mentors and fellow students. This class certainly bears that out! The videos are merely a prelude to participation in the forums, interacting with one another, which is the essential DNA of the course. The personal contributions of every participant make it relational in nature, as genuine learning must ever be. Special thanks to all the students in Spring 2020, who made it a joyous learning experience through active participation in service of others. So if you’re interested in the videos, you’ll find that they come alive through interaction offered by the GCS course.

Check out Grace Communion Seminary and see if it’s right for you: https://www.gcs.edu/. I’m grateful to GCS for making a place in their curriculum for a class on theology and science.

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2 Responses to Trinitarian Perspectives on Science

  1. Ian Woodley says:

    Hello Kerry, I am very interested in this online course (I have previously taken some GCS courses). As a result, I have been reading all the material you have supplied. I notice that a few assignments require a discussion with a ‘scientist’ or ‘creation worker’. Could you expand on what the types of position this could involve? The reason for my question is that I want to be sure that I have the right kind of contacts to be able to fulfill the task. Much better that I find out now, rather than later!
    Many thanks
    Ian

    • admin says:

      Hi Ian, I apologize for not noticing your comment until now! The conversation assignment is explained in the course packet, so take a look there for context and info. You raise an excellent point, and next time I offer the course I’ll be sure to make clear that I will help arrange conversations for anyone who does not feel they have contacts of their own.
      Peace, Kerry

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