Science is perhaps the most successful endeavour that human beings have ever engaged in. It is tempting to think that it should also answer the big questions of life, such as why we are here and whether there is a purpose to life.
Such hopes give impetus to modern versions of secularism. At the same time a fully fleshed out scientism, the idea that only science brings us reliable knowledge about the world, remains unpopular in the academy, in part because it hollows out these existential questions. I will argue that it is not hard to see that neither science, nor any conceivable advance of science, can answer such existential questions. Nevertheless, implicit versions of scientism remain surprisingly influential in the academic world. What can and should we do about this? (See also Tom McLeish & Sy Garte lectures on science and faith)
The Appeal of Caesar: the Future of Christians Living in the Authoritarian Context of the Middle East.
Thursday, January 20, 2022 @ 7:00 PM
Dr. Paul Rowe
Professor of Political and International Studies Chair of the Department of History, Political, and International Studies at Trinity Western University.
The past decade of crisis in the Middle East has claimed the lives and livelihoods of tens of thousands of its indigenous Christian populations. Among those small communities that remain, age-old strategies of survival under authoritarian governments persist. What are these strategies, and how might small numbers of Christians continue to claim a place in a region that seems singularly hostile to their persistence?
Dr. Paul Rowe,Professor of Political and International Studies Chair, Department of History, Political, and International Studies at Trinity Western University. He earned a PhD from McGill University in 2003. His dissertation title is “Ancient Crosses and Tower-Keeps — the Politics of Christian Minorities in the Middle East.” He has spent extended time in the Middle East and continues to study the politics of religious groups in developing countries. He is author of Religion and Global Politics, Toronto: Oxford University Press Canada, 2012; and The Routledge Handbook of Minorities in the Middle East. Routledge, 2018.
“A freed activist, a captive church? How do Christians navigate new forms of authoritarianism in the Middle East?” ~Paul Rowe
Brian Bird, Assistant Professor Peter A. Allard School of Law, UBC DCL (McGill), BCL (Oxford), JD (Victoria), BA (Simon Fraser), of the Bar of British Columbia
The Struggle for Tolerance
Thursday, November 18 at 4 PM
In many liberal democracies, there has been a tectonic shift in how we handle ideological conflict. Whereas the starting point was once a robust form of tolerance (live and let live), this principle is now fading. Tolerance, once widely regarded as an essential element of free and democratic societies, has become suspect. It is much easier to exhibit tolerance when we agree with each other. But we must also do the same—perhaps especially—when we disagree. If a grassroots rediscovery of tolerance does not occur, and tolerance fades further from view, our society will inevitably gravitate closer to the so-called tyranny of the majority, or at least the tyranny of an intolerant minority within the majority. Such a state of affairs is antithetical to the essence of liberal democracy. It also runs the risk of creating a vicious cycle: in which today’s tyrannized minority will be tempted to become tomorrow’s tyrannizing majority. Human nature, we can agree, is flawed. We do well to avoid inviting such human frailties to take centre stage in today’s culture.
Brian Bird is an Assistant Professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. Before joining Allard Law, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He clerked for judges of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and for Justice Andromache Karakatsanis at the Supreme Court of Canada. Brian completed his doctorate at McGill University on The Freedom of Conscience and holds degrees from Oxford, University of Victoria, and Simon Fraser University. Brian’s academic writing has appeared in venues such as the Dalhousie Law Journal, Cambridge Law Review, Alberta Law Review, Supreme Court Law Review, and Manitoba Law Journal. He is co-editor of The Forgotten Fundamental Freedoms of the Charter (2020, LexisNexis Canada). His primary research interests are constitutional law and theory, interactions between courts and legislatures, jurisprudence, philosophy of law, legal history, and bills of rights.
Tom McLeish, Department of Physics, University of York
The Poetry andMusic of Science
Wednesday, September 29, 12 Noon, 2021
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This lecture will be recorded
Tom McLeish FRS, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of York, also affiliated to the University’s Centre for Medieval Studies and the Humanities Research Centre. He has conceived and led several interdisciplinary research projects, and is a recognized UK expert on formulating and evaluating interdisciplinary research. He co-leads the Ordered Universe project, a large interdisciplinary re-examination of 13th century science. From 2008 to 2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University and was from 2015-2020 Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. He is a brilliant, creative mind and has won many awards for his work and teaching. He is the author of two important books on science and religion: Faith and Wisdom in Science (2016); and The Poetry and Music of Science (2019).
In this address, Dr. McLeish suggests that the ‘Two Cultures’ division between the arts and the sciences is not the best classification of creative processes, for all creation calls on the power of the imagination within the constraints of form. The three modes of visual, textual and abstract imagination have woven the stories of the arts and sciences together, using different tools. As any scientist knows, the imagination is essential to the immense task of re-creating a shared model of nature from the scale of the cosmos, through biological complexity, to the smallest subatomic structures. McLeish draws on past testimony and personal accounts of scientists, artists, mathematicians, writers, and musicians to explore the commonalities and differences in creation. He offers close-up explorations of musical, literary, mathematical and scientific creation, illustrating how creativity contributes to what it means to be human, drawing on theological ideas of the purpose of creativity and the image of God.
“The Romantic era of nature-writing constitutes one of the great hopeful chapters of history, where imaginative writing and imaginative science seemed on the edge of becoming the warp and weft of a single cultural tapestry.” (175-6)
“We are meaning-seeking animals immersed in a world of the aleatory and contingent as well as the wonderful and sublime. Part of our desire to make sense of the world seems to find an outlet in its recreation, or at least in creation of models of it. An experiment becomes a window on the world, and a local habitation for it.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 188)
“The ability to bring something new and valuable into being is a wonder. At every turn we have found the process of creation to draw on the deepest human energies, most radical thought, and most powerful emotion. Hope, desire, cognition, vision, dreaming, craft, skill, expertise and passion are summoned in the task of conceiving and realizing our imagination. They weave a much more complex picture.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 301).
Four Stages of Creation: Ideation, Incubation, Illumination, Verification
“Art and science must both reassure and trouble, call on extension of both seeing and hearing, must both distance and immerse…. Art and science share the same three springs of imagination. The visual image offers perspective, insight, illumination. The written and spoken word bring the possibility of mimesis through the textual, the experimental, and the narrative form for the story of creativity itself. The wordless depths of number, the musical and mathematical draw on the ancient insights of the liberal arts at the limits of comprehension. These are the trinity of disciplines and of modes of creation that transport our present longings for a fruitful and a peaceful home in the world, toward a future in which we are less ignorant, wiser in our relationship, but no less caught up in the wonder of it.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 336, 339)
“Science becomes a moral and spiritual exercise in personal and corporate healing and flourishing…. The embedding of the scientific imagination within a much larger narrative of human advancement towards the divine constitutes a modern echo of the narrative described by Anselm and Grosseteste in their own times, but emerging within the new experimental programme of enlightenment science.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 269 and 276)
-The Creation Narrative: we begin with a blurry vision of something–>desire to respond–>series of attempts to create–>encounter with constraint–>the final answer/idea emerges from the subconscious.
-Tom sparks memory of Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge.
-Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
-see Mary Midgley’s Science and Poetry, a rebuttal of Richard Dawkins’ reductionism.
-beauty is what the human mind responds to at its deepest place.
-Malcolm Guite: “Science and poetry are sisters.”
-Goethe: “Science and poetry come from the same cradle.”
-Three creative mode commonalities across the disciplines: Visual, Textual, Abstract
Comparing Creativity in Science and Art
Challenges the obvious assumption that science is less creative than art and illustrates the contrary (contra C.P Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’)
digging down to a foundational core of science and humanities
Treats art and science on an equal footing and shows their interplay
Shows the points of contact between science and music, literature and visual art
Draws on historical and contemporary examples to provide a broader understanding
Brings medieval philosophy and theology to bear on current questions of creativity
Discusses the conscious and non-conscious mind involved in a breakthrough
Reports on individual conversations with artists and scientists and provides personal perspectives on their personal creative processes
Illustrates with rich and detailed examples such as a close reading of mathematics and music
Offers a rich conversation within academia and beyond–a wellspring of issues for dialogue and reconciliation
Supported in part by the UBC William G. Murrin Fund
Co-sponsored with Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation
Professor of Indigenous Theology at the Vancouver School of Theology
Can We Handle the Truth and Take Responsibility for Reconciliation?
Wednesday, March 10, 2021 @ 4 PM
In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report on residential schools, Canadians have often viewed Christianity as the enemy of Indigenous people. But there is another side to the story, claims Professor Ray Aldred. Almost two-thirds of Indigenous people in Canada actually call themselves Christian and appreciate what they have learned from Christian leadership over the years. Aldred notes that there is currently real hope for a better day, a way forward for our Indigenous people. This hope begins in community, in rethinking our identity, who we are and where we have come from. In this address, he will show the need to tell the truth and use human imagination to heal relationships with the land/creation, with family, clan and community, and with the Creator. At the heart of Indigenous peoples’ quest for healing is a shift in identity from shame to dignity of heritage. Mohawk writer Patricia Monture notes that key to this shift is a decision to take responsibility for all relationships, “Responsibility is at the heart of Indigenous freedom and self-determination.” We must strive to live in harmony with all things and all peoples, including the new visitors. We also wish to heal our treaty covenant relationships: through the threefold strategy of telling the truth, listening to one another, and seeking a common plan to repair the damage of abuse. Employing the principles of restorative justice, the difficult task of retelling our stories offers an important, creative way forward. These stories help us revisit the pain, face reality, and rediscover the good roots of our heritage. These vital steps constitute the effective direction of hope, as Ray has discovered through much experience.
Reverend Dr. Raymond C. Aldred holds a Master of Divinity from Canadian Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Theology from Wycliffe College, Toronto School of Theology. Currently he is the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program, whose mission is to partner with the Indigenous Church around theological education. He is professor of Theology: Narrative, Systematic, Indigenous at the Vancouver School of Theology on the UBC campus. A status Cree, he is ordained with the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Canada. Born in Northern Alberta, he now resides with his wife in Richmond. Formerly Ray served as the Assistant Professor of Theology at Ambrose Seminary in Calgary, Alberta. He is former Director for the First Nations Alliance Churches of Canada, now a committee member, where he works to encourage Indigenous churches. Ray also has had the privilege of addressing several college conferences and meetings to raise awareness of these issues. He and his wife, Elaine, are involved in ministry to help train people to facilitate support groups for people who have suffered abuse.
Critical Realism: An Enduring Epistemology for Science and Theology
Wednesday, January 27 at 4:00 p.m.
Critical Realism emerged as a way of thinking about knowledge in the mid twentieth century. After disillusionment with positivism and straightforward empiricism, critical realism (CR) established itself as a way that many scientists and scholars think about how knowledge is won and progress achieved. This realization came with an associated insight that reality is made up of different strata of reality: molecular, biological, psychological and spiritual, rather than a picture of reductionism of various entities to simple parts. Borrowing from the historian of science Ernan McMullin, the Canadian philosopher Bernard Lonergan and several other thinkers, I want to affirm two things about CR: 1) it best describes how to affirm reality in judgments whilst conceding the variety of historical paradigms that have affected how we know things to be true. 2) CR can help us understand how to do theology, notably with respect to scriptural testimony and doctrinal claims that were written and formulated in different cultures and in accord with different assumptions than our own.
Dr. Paul Allen specializes in systematic theology, the science-theology dialogue and theological anthropology. He taught at Concordia University prior to coming west. His publications include his doctoral dissertation, published as Ernan McMullin and Critical Realism in the Science-Theology Dialogue and (with Peter M.J. Hess), Catholicism and Science. More recently, he has written Theological Method: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2012) as well as articles in journals such as Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, The American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Heythrop Journal of Theology and Neue Zeitschrift für Systematische Theologie und Religionsphilosphie.
Senior Fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture
Senior Fellow, Miller Center of Public Affairs
University of Virginia
Three decades after its supposed permanent global triumph, democracy is in trouble nearly everywhere. In the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, constitutional self-government is on the back foot, as polarization destroys societal trust and anti-liberal populist movements and leaders gain power. Autocracy is becoming even more entrenched in the two giants, China and Russia. Some other countries proclaim the desire to be more like them. Once seen as an inevitability, democracy now appears a fragile achievement. In world politics, there is an evolutionary dynamic which the international environment selects for some types of state. Since World War II, the United States and other mature democracies have deliberately tried to preserve democracy at home by shaping the international environment through a liberal-internationalist foreign policy. In the language of evolutionary theory, they have engaged in niche construction, altering their environment to “select for” constitutional self-government, and “select out” authoritarianism. They enjoyed great success, but in recent decades, the niche has actually come to undermine democracy, favoring autocracy. Liberalism itself has been transformed from its earlier classical forms to a cosmopolitan version that seeks to erase all barriers to economic and social interaction in the name of individual fulfillment. Such cosmopolitan liberalism has provoked a cultural and economic backlash that acts to jeopardize constitutional democracy itself. China and Russia meanwhile are constructing their own niches, reshaping the international order to select for autocracy. Defending democracy from the outside will require a reformed liberal internationalism that will de-polarize electorates, restore solidarity among democracies, and be less inclusive of authoritarian regimes. As the most powerful constitutional democracy, the United States retains the most important role in this reformation.
John M. Owen is Ambassador Henry J. and Mrs. Marion R. Taylor Professor of Politics, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and the Miller Center of Public Affairs, at the University of Virginia. Owen is author of Confronting Political Islam (Princeton, 2015), The Clash of Ideas in World Politics (Princeton, 2010), and Liberal Peace, Liberal War (Cornell, 1997), and co-editor of Religion, the Enlightenment, and the New Global Order (Columbia, 2011). He has published scholarly papers in the European Journal of International Relations, European Journal of International Security, Global Policy, International Organization, Internationale Politik und Gesellschaft, International Politics, International Security, International Studies Quarterly, Perspectives on Politics, and several edited volumes. His articles have appeared in Foreign Affairs, The Hedgehog Review, The Hill, The Washington Post, National Interest, TheNew York Times,and USA Today. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of Security Studies; he serves on its editorial board and that of International Security. Owen has held fellowships at Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Oxford, the Free University of Berlin, and the WZB Berlin Social Science Research Center. He is a recipient of a Humboldt Research Prize (2015). He holds an AB from Duke, an MPA from Princeton, and a PhD from Harvard. In Fall 2020, he is a Visiting Professor in the Political Science Department at the University of British Columbia.
Respondent: Tyler Chamberlain’s research interests sit at the intersection of philosophy and political science. He is particularly interested in early modern political thought, conservatism, and the Classical Realist tradition in International Relations. Tyler’s writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The Canadian Political Science Review and The Canadian Journal of Political Science.”
Karl Mannheim 1942: “With the coming of the Renaissance and Liberalism, Christianity failed to remain the basic ferment and integrating force in social life… The spiritualization and regulation of human affairs, public and private, has gradually been left to the competing institutions in society… This secularization produced a stimulating variety of human experience… But the fact that the competing value systems cancelled each other out led to the neutralization of values in general. This is one of the reasons why liberal society at its present stage is handicapped in resisting the spiritual and political challenge coming from the totalitarian states… A liberal and competitive economy and its society can function quite well with neutralized values as long as there is no threat from within or without which makes a basic consensus imperative… [in which case] liberal education for intelligent partisanship… must gradually be replaced by a new education for responsible criticism, wherein consciousness of the whole is at least as important as awareness of your own interests… Such a new morality can only be achieved if the deepest sources of human regeneration assist the rebirth of society”.
Tolstoy predicts the current epidemic of fake news: “The more men are freed from privation; the more telegraphs, telephones, books, papers, and journals there are; the more means there will be of diffusing inconsistent lies and hypocrisies, and the more disunited and consequently miserable will men become” (The Kingdom of God is Within You – 1893).
Jonathan Chaplin’s Faith in Democracy: Framing a Politics of Deep Diversity (SCM Press, 2021). Although focusing exclusively on the UK situation, it is a model of faithful political reasoning and shows how the rich resources of the Christian intellectual tradition can help regenerate and reshape the decaying democracies in many of our countries. In one of his chapters Chaplin has a footnote reference to a forthcoming volume Christianity and Constitutionalism, co-edited by Nicholas Aroney who is on this Listserve. It looks like another worthwhile read for those of you in law and politics.
Visiting Lecturer Sy Garte, Biochemist, Former Professor and Division Director National Institute of Health, Washington, DC
A Sense of Wonder: the Long Journey of a Scientist to Faith
Raised as an enthusiastic atheist and trained as a top biochemist, Dr. Garte began to question materialistic naturalism at one point in his career. This was sparked by his study of quantum physics and molecular biology: for example, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the observer effect, and quantum entanglement, the complexity of biochemical systems such as protein synthesis, photosynthesis and abiogenesis. These scientific findings made him question the pure materialism outlook: he began to wonder about the God question, and it was science itself that guided him forward.
Sy (Seymour) Garte, PhD in biochemistry, has been a tenured professor at New York University, Rutgers University, and the University of Pittsburgh, Division Director at the Center for Scientific Review of the National Institutes of Health, and interim vice president for research at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He has published over two hundred peer-reviewed scientific papers and four books. He has also published articles in Perspectives in Science and Christian Faith and is the editor-in-chief of God and Nature. His faithjourney is published inThe Works of His Hands (2019, Kregel).
Co-sponsored with the Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation
Audio Recording of UBC GFCF Sy Garte Lecture
Regent College Sy Garte Lecture Monday September 28.
Pre-eminent McGill University Emeritus Philosopher Charles Taylor is an iconic international scholar in the field of the late modern self. His critical thinking bridges Continental and Anglo-American thought. Millennials are currently facing a significant existential identity struggle and Taylor’s work can help.
Dr. Carkner will trace the contribution of Charles Taylor on the question of identity, drawing on his three major tomes: Sources of the Self(1989); A Secular Age (2007); The Language Animal (2016). Throughout his work, Taylor offers a highly sophisticated approach; he helps the individual to develop a strong consciousness that avoids identity crisis and collapse of meaning, with its accompanying anxiety (angst). For the reflective person, he believes that identity, morality and spirituality are inescapably interwoven. But the quest for identity also involves a quest to recover lost or repressed human language capacity—in particular, constitutive language. This recovery can open whole new worlds for Millennials and others as they wrestle with identity and purpose. In The Language Animal, Taylor reveals the various contours of language necessary for this recovery of a robust identity. Significant to this perspective are the moral sources within one’s moral framework that are discovered through building a relationship to the good. The best account of life makes sense of these moral sources of metabiological (human) meaning. Taylor notes that as we grow morally, our maturing meanings involve us in “seeing better, believing better and ultimately living better”. Dr. Carkner will apply these insights to one current existential dilemma in the West, the crisis of affirmation.
Dr. McDonald will focus on the application of Taylor’s idea of moral footing and its implications for dialogue across difference within the celebrated Canadian cultural mosaic. He will show how this insight applies, with special reference to the Gerard Bouchard-Charles Taylor Commission Report of 2008 called “Building the Future: a Time for Reconciliation.” https://www.cpac.ca/en/programs/public-record/episodes/14595692/ Taylor gives us deep insight into this dynamic identity question. It is critical for fruitful dialogue and bridging between groups who represent diversity to each other. Discernment is required for mature integration. What is the respect and dignity that is due others? What will it cost us and how will it benefit all concerned? Taylor’s astute understanding increases our ability to reframe this important discussion.
Gordon E. Carkner holds a PhD in philosophy of late modern culture from University of Wales, UK (2006). His dissertation is entitled “A Critical Examination of Michel Foucault’s Concept of Moral Self-Constitution in Dialogue with Charles Taylor.” He has been invested in the work of Charles Taylor for over two decades. His own writing and research interacts regularly with the Taylor’s thought including the 2016 publication, The Great Escape from Nihilism: Rediscovering Our Passion in Late Modernity, a critique of Western culture which analyses the quest for identity. In the context of the UBC’s Graduate Christian Union and The Forum, Gordon is passionate about questions of meaning and identity, faith and culture, science and religion. His work as a chaplain and meta-educator helps to shape young leaders for a strong future contribution. He offers graduate students extracurricular space to reflect on their work and their lives at UBC, feeding them targeted resources and faculty support. His research interests are in the area of freedom, identity and the moral good, secularity and philosophical anthropology.
Marvin McDonald is a professional psychologist, Associate Professor of Counselling Psychology, and is involved in thesis supervision in the Gender Studies Program at Trinity Western University. He directed the MA in Counselling Psychology during 2001-2017. He is a writer whose work engages theoretical psychology and positive psychology. A gracious interlocutor, Marvin loves dialogue across worldview perspectives. He believes in a creative interface between philosophy and psychology, and articulates responses to his graduate student inquiries from a vast landscape of knowledge and insight. https://www.twu.ca/profile/marvin-mcdonald
Diversity Skill Set & Wisdom for Dialogue
Able to pursue ideas amidst diversity and think for yourself.
Champion a continual search for the truth, and disagreement with lies and deception, propaganda, poor scholarship.
Beware: too much choice can be harmful to one’s psychological and sociological wellbeing.
Don’t buy into relativism or subjectivism (unfortunately, 70% of Canadians do just that). It cannot be lived well—definitely notgood for human flourishing.
Remember that your personal opinion might be poorly examined and ill-informed, weak empirically, bigoted or seriously biased.
Celebrate high values/virtues/ideals: honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, decency, respect for life, good environmental stewardship, taking responsibility for your behaviour and for others (inclusive humanism).
Shun dishonesty, cheating, abuse, exploitation, theft, fraud, plagiarism, things causing emotional pain and suffering to others, the not-so-good or dark side of human character.
Ask yourself what leads to a truly good life?
Learn to distinguish between good, better, best decisions. Not all theories or worldviews are of equal value. There is a hierarchy among the moral goods.
Think about the consequences of your actions and decisions, including the unintended ones.