Perhaps no more vexatious question, no question passed over in more silence, no question more [unpersuasively] pontificated upon, is that of the relationship between science and theology. The two don’t make easy bed-fellows. In fact, so the caricature goes, they’re more likely found sleeping in separate rooms, unwed. When the two do meet (Daniel Dennett, say, and Oral Roberts), it’s usually for an unsatisfying one-nighter in the alley behind the bar that both would rather forget, and it requires an ice-cold shower back in the safety of their own disciplinary apartment to wash off the filth. (Excuse the colorful image.) So it goes in the 20th and 21st centuries.
It has not always been this way. In Wittenberg, in fact, the sciences lived comfortably in what was at the time known as the Philosophical Faculty or the Arts Faculty, taken up by the master’s (M.A.) candidates and their teachers as the Quadrivium after they had successfully demonstrated mastery at the bachelor’s level (B.A.) of the other three arts. Indeed, there was no road to the higher faculties—to Law, Medicine, and Theology—but that that led through both the Trivium (B.A.) and the Quadrivium (M.A.). And in Wittenberg it is the case that by the mid 16th century, the humanistically-reformed curriculum that emerged was pointedly weighted toward the two elements that arose as central in the B.A. and M.A. curriculum: philology in the Trivium; science in the Quadrivium.
This historical fact and element of our intellectual heritage as Lutherans beckons us, it seems to me, to take the sciences seriously in the curriculum. But that raises hackles and comes with a set of questions that needs to be addressed before the sciences can find their home—not a place, but their home—in the curriculum of a Lutheran college radically dedicated to the Wittenberg way both intellectually and theologically.
Following are some of the questions that, at first blush, seem to be basic and preliminary to any further consideration:
Has so much scientific water flowed under the bridge since the 16th century that it is impossible today to make the sciences at home in a Lutheran curriculum?
Is there such a thing as a Lutheran approach to science? And if so, how does it differ from, how does it complement other views? How might it be regarded as better or deficient?
What need does the Church have of the sciences, if any? Put the other way around, what would be missing for the Church without the sciences? And are all sciences equal? Which are necessary, which are not?
What sort of philosophical or theological Weltanschauung is necessary to work under in order to have a healthy scientific community on a Lutheran campus?
Will 16th-century guide-posts be helpful or harmful in this discussion? If helpful, how can they be enlisted?
Can a science-less curriculum offer a responsible Wittenberg education?
Do the big quarrels, such as that between evolution and intelligent design, materialism and non-materialist views, matter? Do they drown out the healthy discussions, or do they create a context in which a healthy discussion may occur? Are they the only “going paradigms” that may be adopted?
In the coming weeks, I hope we can address this. I’ve enlisted the help of my friend, Stevin Gehrke, Professor in the School of Engineering at KU, pious Lutheran committed to classical, orthodox, confessional Lutheranism, and thoughtful interlocutor. Actually, this discussion finds its impetus in his proddings. Some things will get posted here on the blog. We can also use the Renascentes Musae Facebook page for less formal exchanges. If you have not yet joined us there, look us up, and welcome aboard.
But what’s your reaction, now, to this matter? Do you have any helpful things to say in addressing the questions above? Do you have other matters that you think can help the discussion along? Do you think that something like an intellectually and theologically rigorous and responsible science can be articulated from the Wittenberg perspective? Please weigh in!
[Image: Aritmetica; mosaic]