Love and the Cosmos: Trinitarian Perspectives on Science

This page introduces my online graduate course, “Love and the Cosmos: Trinitarian Perspectives on Science with T. F. Torrance and C. S. Lewis,” which was initially offered by Grace Communion Seminary (TH504) in Spring 2020.


Course structure

This class is 15 weeks long as currently designed. Week 1 is an Orientation, which features two external presentations to introduce you to T. F. Torrance and C. S. Lewis. Typical weeks have a regular weekly rhythm featuring two seminars, as shown below. Each “seminar” is comprised of three parts: a video lecture (with available PDF script), short readings to accompany the video, and forum discussion. The last week is for finishing assignments – including conversations with scientists or creation workers using the methods of oral history, and the final paper. The final paper is an ongoing essay on “love and the cosmos” revised in draft form each week throughout the semester.

During most weeks, seminars follow a sequence. The week as a whole is a thematic unit, where the first seminar introduces a perspective and the second seminar applies that perspective to one or more case studies, past or present. You will establish a breathing rhythm: inhale (perspective) and exhale (application). (The “Introduction” seminar has three applications: the “Flat Earth Myth,” and then two more in a bonus week.)

Topics follow an overall sequence week-over-week throughout the semester. For example, the “Natural Theology” seminar in Week 13 does not stand alone; like the “Evolution” seminar in the same week, it refers back to, and builds upon, every single week leading up to it. The “Thinking Theologically” video is the essential prologue to every other. So the course videos are best watched in sequence. No video stands on its own; rather, they are holistically-intertwined, with some degree of repetition and anticipation. They create an ever-widening spiral of inter-linked understanding.


Aims

  1. Rather than an issues-based course, the course is designed primarily to help one develop a Trinitarian theological instinct for science. That is the chief aim of the course.
  2. It is also, secondarily, a reading seminar, to prepare you for lifelong reading of Torrance and Lewis. Think of the videos as experiences in close-reading of select passages from their works, and the forums as places where you participate, seminar style, in the discussion of the passages quoted.
  3. A tertiary aim is to acquaint you with select episodes in the history of science that are of crucial significance for science and theology.

Outline

WEEK

PERSPECTIVE

APPLICATION

1

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

Thinking Theologically
Course Introduction; Why T. F. Torrance and C. S. Lewis?; Christian Theological Instinct.

Introductory case study – the history of science and religion: Flat Earth Myth

3

Introductory case study – the relations between science and religion:
The birth of mathematical astronomy in ancient Babylon

Introductory case study – the relations between science and scripture:
Babylonian astronomy, Daniel, and the Magi (note)

4

Thinking about Science and Religion
Models of God and Nature; Science and Religion; Christian theological instinct.

What difference does perspective make?
Copernicus and the Motion of the Earth

5

Language and Reality

The Galileo Affair:
1. Galileo: Life and Works (overview)
2. Galileo and the Bible

6

“The Scientific Method”

Incurved Science

7

Knowing Kata-physin

Interdisciplinary relations

8

Being and Relation

Relational Physics (and Genesis 1)

9

Divine Freedom and Contingent Order

Geohistory

10

Imagining God and Nature

Preparing to read Out of the Silent Planet

11

Stratified Reality

Reality in Many Dimensions

12

Dualism

Dilemmas of Design

13

Natural Theology

Darwin and Evolution

14

The Priest of Creation

New Creation

15

All regular and extra-credit assignments are due the beginning of Week 15, by Monday, 11 pm.

Week 15 is devoted to final revisions of your semester-ongoing paper on “Love and the Cosmos.”

Finals week

Final paper due 11 pm

Wednesday

Topics listed above link to Vimeo pages for watching each video. Video captions at Vimeo contain links to PDF scripts. Cf. the old course packet.


“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.
  • Each wrote prolifically on Christianity and science.
  • Each engaged in what Lewis called “rehabilitation,” a sympathetic reading and recovery of historical writers.
  • 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.

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.

T. F. Torrance

  • Torrance, Thomas F. “Theological Instinct.” An audio recording of a lecture recorded in October, 2002. Vancouver, BC, Canada: Regent College, 2002; #2002-TFT-4. $5.00 from Regent Audio, https://www.regentaudio.com/products/theological-instinct. 30 minutes.
  • Torrance, Thomas F. Space, Time and Resurrection (STR). Edinburgh: Handsel Press, 1976; #1976-331. ISBN: 9780905312002. 209 pp. 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.
  • Torrance, Thomas F. The Ground and Grammar of Theology (GGT). Charlottesville, Virginia: The University of Virginia Press, 1980; #1980-369. 192 pp. Also available in Logos Bible Software ($25). GGT originated as popular lectures, and so may be read as a relatively accessible general overview of Torrance’s creational theology. Original audio lectures are also available.


C. S. Lewis

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers.
  • Lewis, C. S. The Abolition of Man; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers.
  • Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers.
  • Lewis, C. S. Miracles; LibraryThing. About $10 at online booksellers.

Except for Out of the Silent Planet, we will only read excerpts from the books above.

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


Outcomes: 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, science and superstition in ancient Babylonian astronomy, Copernicus and the Earth’s motion in the heavens, 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 (or discussion groups; contact me if interested) to share ideas, concepts and reflections on the course materials.
  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.

Introduction

Here’s the Thinking Theologically perspective video, which serves as an introduction to the course.


Why 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.

Contact me if you would be interested to dialogue about any part of this course, or to be notified if an informal discussion group forms.

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2 Responses to Love and the Cosmos: 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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