Latin: the Buttress of English

If you ever visit Paris, you cannot miss the Gothic cathedral of Notre Dame. It is essential to any tourist’s list of places to visit. Not only is the interior spectacular, but the exterior is as well. If you approach the church from the front, you will be struck by the imposing façade designed to reflect the majesty of God. If you see the church from another angle, however, it is less imposing and has an intricate, beautiful quality about it. In the midst of the stained glass windows and the detailed stonework, the flying buttresses are impos- sible to miss.

They were not in the original plans for Notre Dame. As the builders raised the walls higher and higher—taller than the building convention at the time—they started to notice cracks. They solved the problem with flying but- tresses. These flying buttresses are not in contact with the wall except for where they meet at the top. Buttresses had existed before but they were always up against the building, effectively forming massive walls. Flying buttresses added to the beauty of the building and provided support to the tall, thin walls.

Latin is the support holding up English. It adds a beautiful dimension to our language. And without Latin, English would be nothing like we know it today.

Possibly the most important influence of Latin on our language is the alphabet. Old English was originally written in runes borrowed from other Germanic tribes. Around the 9th century, Irish Christian missionaries applied the Latin alphabet to the Old English language.

In addition to taking Latin’s alphabet, somewhere around 60% of English vocabulary is derived from Latin. Over half our words come from the Romans. In fact, it is rare to find a Latin word that has not been brought into English in some way. The lexicon of English pays daily tribute to Latin. Take a look at words like “rebel,” from the Latin rebellare meaning “to fight back,” “imperial” and “em- pire” from imperare meaning “to command,” and “force” from fortis meaning “strong.” And lest the examples give one the impression that it is mainly military terms that are from Latin, check out “deciduous” from decedere meaning “to retire,” “turbulent” from turba meaning “crowd,” and “eject” from jacere meaning “to throw.”

The grammar and style of English also owe a lot to Latin. Rules such as not splitting an infinitive—whether you agree with it or not—come from Latin where the infinitive is just one word and thus cannot be split. Requiring subjects and verbs to agree in number, even if it might sound odd to the native speaker, is also a holdover from Latin (e.g., “None of us is perfect” instead of “None of us are perfect”).

This dependence of English on Latin is rooted in the time of Julius Caesar. He was the first Roman to lead an expedition into Britain, and his political dealings with the Britons were a precursor to the relationship Latin would have with English. After his second invasion he chose to install a local king who would be an ally, ceding all territory back to the Britons instead of setting up a Roman governor- ship. It would be a full century before Claudius conquered Britain. In the same way that Rome did not rule Britain in Caesar’s time, Latin has never ruled English but has guided, informed, and changed it.

It would be negligent not to note that Latin was present in Britain before English arrived. Before the Romans brought Latin with them, the Britons spoke Brittonic, a Celt- ic language. Throughout the Roman occupation, Latin was spoken by the upper classes while Brittonic lasted as the common language in many parts. When the Anglo-Saxons came, Old English, the ancestor of our language, became the primary language throughout the land.

While the English language itself owes a debt to Latin, the major support Latin gives to English has to do with instruction. English has by some estimates over one million words. It also has a grammar that is, in a sense, in- tangible. Because the language is built around word order, the very concept the word conveys as well as its context must be examined to find what part of speech it is. In con- trast, an inflected language like Latin shows its grammar through the word itself.

If a student were to be confronted with the English sentence “The girl desires a lamb,” he must ask himself, “What is a ‘girl’? Is it a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, or other part of speech?” He has to remember that a noun is a person, place, or thing, and check “girl” against those con- cepts. Only after he figures out that “girl” is a noun can he deduce that it is the subject. And he must go through that process for each word in the sentence. This is a very difficult task for any student in middle school or younger. If, how- ever, the student was given the Latin sentence Puella agnum cupit, he immediately knows that puella is a noun and is most likely the subject by the “a” on the end of it. The “um” on the end of agnum tells him it is also a noun and must be the direct object. The “-it” ending of cupit is clearly the third person singular present active indicative form of cupio. The grammar is tangible.

Every English teacher can vouch that year after year the same students need to be retaught grammar concepts covered the year (or years) prior. That inability to grasp these concepts fully is the crack in the wall of our English cathedral. We try to build higher and higher, cracks start to form, and we don’t know what to do. Latin should be the support.

Different methods of building such a prop are available. Some people choose to study Latin and Greek root words as an English vocabulary building exercise. They learn roots like docere which means “to teach” and the English words that come from them like “documentary” and “indoctrinate.” This method of leveraging Latin to help students of English can be likened to the original buttresses in Romanesque architecture: big, bulky, and not all that beautiful.

Others choose to study part of the Latin language.

They learn vocabulary and its derivatives and begin memorizing grammar forms. They may even start doing simple translations like “Mary walks” or “The boy jumps the fence.” However, they stop before they complete their study of all five declensions or call a halt before they even reach the passive voice. Parents and students feel they have learned Latin because they can recite amo and servus.

In this case, while this limited understanding of Latin grammar helps the student understand basic concepts of English grammar, it falters when the student really needs the help: for the complex ideas of participles, gerunds, sub- junctive, subordinate clauses, et cetera. Through imitation, students use these constructions but do not know what they are. They are unaware of the rules and thus are ignorant of the errors they themselves make. Studying these advanced grammatical concepts in Latin allows the student to play with them in a controlled environment. They can experi- ment with participial and gerund phrases and realize that while the present participle and gerund in English have the same form (e.g., “praising”), in Latin they are different. “He rejoices in praising God” would be translated Laudando Deo gaudet while “He is killed praising God” would be Laudans Deum occiditur. In this way the student learns the verbal qualities of a gerund and a participle.

You can imagine the beauty that would be lacking, and the perilous position Notre Dame would be in if it only had half its current flying buttresses. It would be like the first construction of the Roman Pantheon: Lacking support, it crumbled to the ground.

Rather than only learning roots or part of the language, the best way to reinforce the English cathedral is to study the entire Latin language. This means learning vo- cabulary and derivatives, as well as the complete morphol- ogy and syntax of Latin. Some start it in Kindergarten, but it is preferable to begin in second or third grade. It will take at least through seventh grade to complete such a study of the Latin grammar alongside a normal course load. It would be a shame to spend all that time and not dedicate time in high school to reading the classics in Latin.

This seems overwhelming, but a serious study of Latin will alleviate the struggle to master English vo- cabulary and grammar. The effort needed for a student to conceptualize that a participle is a verbal adjective disap- pears when they see that a participle is formed from a verb but has adjectival endings. It is obvious—it has both verbal and adjectival properties. The idea of agreement (between subject and verb, noun and adjective, pronoun and ante- cedent) becomes second nature to them because they must implement it over and over. Grammar becomes their daily bread. They become familiar with it and their learning spills over into all their other writing. Most adults who studied Latin for enough time to master the entirety of the grammar will say they don’t remember much of it, but what they do remember is their grammar.

After all this discussion about how Latin bolsters an English speaker’s knowledge, it must be pointed out that Latin should not be learned purely for its secondary ben- efits. To assume otherwise would be to think that the flying buttresses at Notre Dame are not beautiful in themselves. Even without the benefits of supporting English, people still study Latin because there are other reasons to learn it, among which are access to the original works foundational to Western civilization and a host of mental skills trans- latable to other disciplines. That, however, is a topic for another day.

The development of mental skills is why Dorothy Sayers advocates teaching Latin in her speech “The Lost Tools of Learning.” She laments that people just learn facts and are no longer taught how to think:

Do you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a “subject” remains a “subject,” divided by watertight bulkheads from all other “subjects,” so that they experi- ence very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon—or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philoso- phy and economics, or chemistry and art?

Later on she states explicitly, “Although we often succeed in teaching our pupils “subjects,” we fail lamenta- bly on the whole in teaching them how to think.” She then proceeds to lay out the three stages she sees (Poll-Parrot, Pert, and Poetic) and draws the analogy to the Trivium. In the Grammar stage she states “Latin should be begun as early as possible,” having defended it earlier because “the best grounding for education is the Latin grammar” and “even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labor and pains of learning almost any other subject by at least fifty percent.”

In accord with Sayers, it seems the Grammar student is most adept at learning the Latin grammar forms. But a Logic student must begin to translate in order to practice the skill of analysis. In Puer bonus sororem docet, the nouns must be identified, their number determined, their gender remembered, the case ending recalled, and the case use established. Then the same must be done for the adjective, with the difference that the gender has to be identified from the ending. The verb has to be parsed out into person, number, tense, voice, and mood. Adjectives and nouns must be found to agree, subject and verb must agree. Only then can all the information be synthesized into a translation: The good boy teaches his sister.

Complex and compound sentences add to this skill- building exercise. Those comfortable with Latin start to for- get the amount of work it takes to translate a Latin sentence; it can become second nature and happens unconsciously. But the student learning Latin will have to walk consciously through each and every step time and time again. The habit of examining words and their endings in Latin transfers over into examining words and ideas in literature, details in math, evidence behind scientific theories, and motivations of historical figures.

Just as the flying buttresses aren’t only about hold- ing up the walls of Notre Dame but are beautiful in them- selves, learning Latin would be worthwhile even if it didn’t have the vocabulary and grammar benefits for the English speaker. So, once you have mastered the language, don’t forget to go read Cicero, Augustine, Vergil, and Tertullian exactly as they expressed themselves.

More Than a Subject: the Purpose, Place and Power of Language

Picture a city, established long ago through the wisdom and virtue of those who founded and built it, but gradually weakened by the long neglect of that wisdom andvirtue. Now it finds itself assaulted by a tyrannical and temperamental enemy whose weapons consist of deception, envy, and confusion.

What should they do, return to the forgotten virtues, or forsake them entirely and learn instead to think and act like the attacker? Could they win with the second option? If they did, would such a city be worth living in?

Language has been under assault for a long time. For one thing, the logic of technology is to reduce reality to something it can manage, but language can never be managed. Furthermore, the dual philosophical attacks of Relativism and Utilitarianism (“meaning is determined by usage alone”) have severed the fruitful bond between language and both the things it names and the insights it prompts through its generative forms.

I was asked, “Why subject children to the agony of learning to sustain a line of thought in well-ordered written paragraphs in the computer age which has redefined human communication and freed us from linear thinking. Isn’t it akin to teaching children to build catapults in the age of the nuclear guided missile?”

One is struck by the use of weapons technology for the metaphors, typical of the modern thinker even in this post-modern age. Power, it assumes, is found in machines and techniques.

There are better metaphors with which to think about education. For example, it was once common to think of education as a tree. We still speak of the branches of learning, and, occasionally, of the fruit of study. It is less common to mention the trunk of the tree of learning.

The conventional curriculum, however, presents branches of learning lacking both trunk and roots. But the classical curriculum attended assiduously to trunk and the roots, allowed the branches to grow naturally from the trunk, and watched those branches bear fruit.

source of life, rendering it as fruitful as a branch lopped from a tree. It is a liberating art reduced to a specialized subject. But writing cannot be a mere subject, it must be an expression of rhetoric, and rhetoric must be recognized as the focal point and organizing principle of the whole tree of learning.

Therefore, the argument I offer in this article is that writing is at least as important as ever, and for this reason it must be taught correctly. Writing is important for two reasons, each of which I will develop while considering what it means to teach correctly. First, writing is the practical integrating principle of the curriculum. Second, writing is an art of truth-perception.

To realize the significance of these two values, let us consider how to teach writing correctly in five areas, each drawn from the heart of the Christian classical tradition. Writing must be taught according to its nature, its purpose (i.e. for the right reasons), its modes (i.e. in the right ways), its parts, and its relations (i.e. it must be given its proper place in the curriculum).

According to its nature

First, to teach writing correctly, we must understand what it is, and the most important thing we must understand about it is that it is a Liberating Art, not a mere “subject.” To be precise, writing is an element flowing through the three language arts contained in the classical trivium. I cannot overemphasize the fact that the trivium does not consist of isolated “subjects,” but rather of the skills that flow through and, in fact, enable what we call subjects (though this is an unfortunate use of the word).

The liberating arts are arts of truth perception, and writing is a tool those arts use extensively. Therefore, the second biggest mistake a school can make with writing is to treat it like a specialized subject, equal to any other, when it is truly an art on which every other study depends.

Thus writing must be taught as an art that enables students to perceive and reflect on truth and that enables the subjects, activities, and artifacts that compose the rest of the curriculum. It must not be treated like a specialized

The trunk of the tree is the seven liberating arts. Writing severed from this trunk does not abide in its activity or an isolated subject, but as the heart of the classical trivium.

According to its purpose

Next, writing must be taught for the right reason. Wisdom instructs us to distinguish purpose from blessings. It is for us to faithfully fulfill our commission; it is for God to bless according to His wisdom. When we approach teaching writing classically, our goal must not be to seek the known benefits that writing usually provides, but to faithfully fulfill its God-given purpose.

Only love of God and neighbor provide an adequate motivation and sufficient purpose for writing instruction. Well-ordered thought is a fine way to express love for your neighbor. Disordered thought is self- indulgence.

Since, above all, our odyssey requires wisdom and virtue, cultivating them is the secondary purpose of writing instruction. A virtue is a human ability (a faculty) refined to a pitch of excellence. Language is a faculty given to us by God to glorify, know, and enjoy Him and to bless and love our neighbors. Writing is a means to transform our use of language from a natural ability into a virtue. No lesser purpose will reveal the extent of its power or achieve its full benefits.

In addition, writing should be taught to teach us how to think and communicate. It is the most effective way we humans have ever come up with to practice thinking, explore our thoughts, and communicate them with each other.

Thus writing must be taught to the end that the writer is better able to love God and neighbor, both of which are nourished through the cultivation of wisdom and virtue.

According to its modes

To these noble ends, writing must be taught according to its modes, or in the right ways. Once again, this means, not as a specialized activity or isolated subject.

Specialized writing courses want to take a single path – and that a shortcut – to good writing, but there are six paths on which the student must travel, some of which are not usually considered “writing.”

These six paths are:

  • The Literary Path: writers must read the best

    writings available to them,

  • The Linguistic Path: writers must learn a

    foreign language,

• The Theoretical Path: writers must study the principles, elements, and forms of writing,

• The Critical Path: writers must master the rules and customs of good writing (e.g. Spelling, grammar rules, rhetorical conventions, etc.),

• The Practical Path: writers must practice the coached exercises that discipline their raw skills.

• Life: the aspiration to write requires that the writer live a little and pray a lot, or at least open himself to inspiration.

In other words, learning to write takes a very long time with consistent coaching, examined experience, and wide learning.

According to its parts

Furthermore, no one can learn to write well unless he is taught its elements (the practical path). Writing embodies three canons, or elements, of classical rhetoric: Invention, or coming up with something to say, Arrangement, or ordering what has been discovered, and Elocution, or expressing the materials appropriately.

Invention might well be the pith of the trunk of the tree of learning because it provides the most fundamental and universal tools of thinking: the questions that we ask no matter what we are thinking about. These questions, which comprise both material and formal logic, are the tools of perception, which is partly why I argued earlier that writing is a tool of truth-perception: what we perceive depends on what we ask.

In addition, the topics of Invention equip students to read at ever higher levels by teaching them to ask their own questions. Students answering text-book questions are necessarily reading at a low level, if only because they are not engaged in self-directed reading. Giving them the tools of Invention enables them to read well on their own.

The second canon of rhetoric is Arrangement, which teaches writers the structures of the various types
of writing, enabling them to write and to read ever more challenging compositions. Arrangement tends to be boring; however, it is one of the areas where love of neighbor most manifests itself in the writer’s character.

The third canon of rhetoric is Elocution, which consists of schemes, tropes, and revision. The forms learned through Elocution reveal the generative power of limits. By learning about subordinate clauses, the student is enabled to pursue a raw thought in multiple directions.

By learning about parallel structures, he learns to explore relations between real things (not just words). By learning how to rhyme or use alliteration he experiences the sensory pleasure of words and is often surprised by the insights generated by the coincidences in words. By learning how to generate similes and metaphors he learns about surprising relationships between the things that make up the universe of images created by the Good Creator.

According to its relations

I have insisted repeatedly that writing is a liberating art, not a mere subject. I have also argued that, as a liberating art, writing is the foundation for every other subject. What I am trying to stress is that writing is not and cannot be a class or subject but that it is the very core, the only appropriate integrating activity, of the curriculum. Nothing else flows between the subjects without mingling and confusing them. Not only is it appropriate for writing to be used in the subjects, it is writing, or at least the trivium, that makes the subjects possible. The Trivium, therefore, is the trunk of the tree of learning.

I should perhaps clarify what I mean by a subject. Indeed, the very word subject is a vague and almost meaningless substitute for what the classical tradition called arts (ways of making) and sciences (things known). The liberating arts are liberating because they are used to make knowledge, knowledge can only be of truth, and truth liberates us. Arts > Truth perception > Liberty.

Subjects don’t concern themselves with such idealistic matters.

Think for example of history. If you see it as a subject, and most students do, then it’s easy to see how you could regard writing as unnecessary. You just need to learn a lot of information about history and go on to the next subject. But if you see it as a moral science, as the classical tradition does, then you need to think about the questions it raises, not simply remember information. You need to apply the liberating arts of reading and writing, logic and dialectic, and rhetoric to the issues raised in historical

studies. That way, you learn to perceive the sorts of truths history teaches which can strengthen a nation’s liberties, not through indoctrination but through truth.

When you begin to think, you need to write.The decline of writing in the school curriculum, therefore, is a product of the loss of the classical curriculum and a cause of the loss of freedom.

One could go on, and comment on how writing prepares the writer to speak, supports his memory, and disciplines the mind in a dozen ways while opening to him the “realms of gold” about which Keats sang. But I am out of space. I will only say that this gold is the Christian classical curriculum and that writing prepares the student to love and feed on it.

Our duty is to teach writing as a thread of classical rhetoric, for the right reasons, in the right modes, including the right parts, and in the right relations. God will attend to the blessings that will flow from that according to the measure of His good will, though some of them are bound up in the nature of writing and can be realistically expected.

It takes a long time with intensive coaching over many years to learn how to write. All six paths have to be walked intelligently. All three canons must be mastered. The relations between writing and other subjects and artifacts needs to be recognized and nourished. But the blessings it contains are more than any student or teacher will ever know.

A closing thought: it wasn’t hard for me to purge my mind of the ideas that poured into this article. Most of my time went into putting it in order so you could follow
it and think about these things for yourself. I hope it was worth the trouble because it was done out of respect to you, my dear reader/neighbor.

“What’s in a Name?”

All education is learning to name rightly, as Adam named the animals.”

— Richard Weaver Ideas Have Consequences

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” We know what Shakespeare was getting at here, but it’s worth noting that if the rose didn’t have a name, he wouldn’t have been able to say this. I’m quite sure he’s not recommending we’d be better off as a society of mutes with heightened olfactory sensibilities. Names are important; things need names so that we can think and communicate clearly and accurately.

Naming things involves making distinctions; it requires discernment and understanding. Adam’s vice- regency over God’s Creation was intellectual and moral as well as physical, explains Patrick Henry Reardon in the Sept/Oct 2015 issue of Touchstone. God charged Adam with naming the animals He brought before him by exercising his ability to distinguish the differences among all the kinds that God had created. “Adam thus became mankind’s first cataloguist, the father of scientific and analytical study, the very founder of philosophy,” states Reardon.

There are those in modern culture who have an aversion to the naming and labeling of things. As Michael Hintze explained in a talk to our school’s faculty, these people see labelers as arrogant; the labeler “by labeling things seems to be setting a distance between them and himself and, worse, seems by naming them to be marking them as a possession…as though nature existed primarily in relation to man, as though nature were made for man, as though man the namer were somehow the master, and not simply a fellow ingredient in the Great Soup.” God gave man dominion over all that He had made. Fallen man can and certainly does abuse that dominion, but making proper distinctions and naming things rightly is not a form of abuse. …to recognize kinds and classes and singularities, to distinguish essence from attributes, and general from particular, to name in the image of God who separated light from darkness and labeled the light, ‘Day’, and the darkness, ‘Night’, to name, as the descendants of Adam who in his holiness named the beasts that were presented to him—whether we name the speed of light or the organs of bodies or even a thing so profound as the nature of a noun—to name is to know and to know the works of God… Our work as teachers is to a great extent the work of presenting things to our students and helping them to learn to name these things rightly and then to remember those names. In classical mythology the goddess Mnemosyne (Memory) was responsible for the naming of things. When we teach the art of grammar we are providing students with language for naming and remembering all that they see in the world around them. More is involved here than merely remembering words. “A word with meaning is an act of remembering the being of the thing itself,” says Stratford Caldecott in his glorious book on the trivium, Beauty in the Word. He goes on, “Through language we demonstrate and activate our humanity, and channel the faculties of memory, imagination, and thought.”

Learning to name the kinds of words we use helps us to see how language works to communicate clearly about both visible and invisible realities. For instance, nouns name the substance of things while adjectives name the qualities of things. I love how J.R.R. Tolkien talks about adjectives in his essay “On Fairy Stories.” He explains how our use of adjectives reveals the ability of the human mind for abstraction, for seeing qualities as apart from objects.

The human mind, endowed with the powers of generalization and abstraction, sees not only green- grass, discriminating it from other things, but sees that it is green as well as grass. But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Fairie is more potent. And that is not surprising; such incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythological grammar. The mind that thought of ‘light’, ‘heavy’, ‘grey’, ‘yellow’, ‘still’, ‘swift’, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and still rock into swift water…in such ‘fantasy’, as it is called, a new form is made; Fairie begins: Man becomes a sub-creator.
Our ability to name qualities and play with them in stories is a mark of our being made in the image of the Creator of all things.

Cut off from this understanding modern culture is busy finding ways to do away with our need for words. Communication could be so much more efficient if there were fewer words and those words and what they denote were reduced either to images or abbreviations. Emoticons and acronyms take the work out of communication and speed it up. C.S. Lewis writes in the introduction to his book Studies in Words of the danger of verbicide, the killing of words. Words are necessary to keep ideas alive. When we kill words by overuse or misuse, we alter people’s ways of thinking. In his essay “The Death of Words” Lewis
says, “To save any word from the eulogistic or dyslogistic abyss is a task worth the efforts of all who love the English language…When you have killed a word, you have blotted from the human mind the thing the word originally stood for. Men do not long continue to think about what they have forgotten how to say.” Lewis perhaps did not imagine that now fifty years later we would need to also be working against the disuse of words!

Evidence for this killing of words can be found in the clever obituary by Ann Wroe carried in the Dec 2015 issue of The Economist and entitled “Elegy for lost verbiage.” The obituary is a response to the news that 153 difficult words will be dropped from the 2016 edition of the SAT tests. In this piece, which uses all 153 words, the words have gathered for a farewell party. Here’s an excerpt (The soon-to-be-dead words are italicized.):

This was not, he knew, a gathering to cajole, carouse, or cavort, let alone a licentious debauch. Instead, it was a maudlin occasion, at which a dirge might well be sung and a knell tolled. The guests were there to mark their disappearance from the consciousness of most American schoolchildren, who would no longer be exhorted and admonished to remember the lot of them for their SAT exams, and upbraided when they couldn’t. For it was an incontrovertible fact that these onerous, grandiloquent, idiosyncratic words were the bane of many young lives, inimical to summer and fun. Instead of indulging the serendipity of youth, fishing, swimming and hitting balls through windows, pupils were subjugated to the dogmatic and arbitrary yoke of spending days with dictionaries.

Classical education is decidedly non-modern in that it is logocentric. It begins with the three language arts: grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and it involves learning to name and thus understand rightly across the curriculum. As teachers in classical schools we serve as custodians of language attempting to carry out what David Hicks calls “the beloved and arduous task of the schoolmaster— showing how words disclose the transcendent order of meaning and value behind the curtain of the transient world.”

What Hath Dante to do with Biology

The short answer is, within the modern conception of biology, nothing. No piece of literature fits within the modern framework of biology. Even history does not really fit. Of course Darwin is talked about in the chapter on evolution, and Mendel is mentioned in the introduction to genetics. Perhaps Harvey is mentioned in the chapter on the circulatory system, but not much else. But this is hardly meaningful. Why is this? For two reasons: first, it is because the modern biology textbook, along with any other science textbook, is what we understand about that subject at this point in time. The twists and turns of the past are not necessary when compared with the volume of science information to know right now. Secondly, science is seen as an independent subject. Philosophical foundations do not need to be considered, and theology has no influence on it at all. Modern science at best is merely about living well in the here and now or looking to the future. How can this system fit into classical education? In short, it can- not. However, there is a way to restructure biology so that it can fit within a classical model which makes Dante both relevant and necessary to the curriculum. Biology can be taught in a way that is faithful to the integrity of the disci- pline of biology as well as following an historical progres- sion that allows philosophy, history, and literature to be integrated into the curriculum and thus be conducive to our classical model. The older categories of natural history and natural philosophy have a way of being recovered.1 It is all in the sequencing of the material.


Basically the content of modern biology is done backwards and needs to be turned around. The first quarter should start with the human body and not microbiology. The systems of the body are learned along with the pro- cesses, e.g. circulation, necessary for sustaining human life. In my class we focus on the integration of parts and pro- cesses as opposed to going into depth for particular parts.

It is sufficient for my students to know the 11 systems, the parts within those systems, their purpose, and how they interconnect with each other. The final test of the quarter is a one-question essay, “You eat a ham and cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo, and mustard sandwich. How does this affect every system in your body? Discuss every system, its parts, purposes, and their integration. Also discuss the six main nutrients found within the sandwich and their importance for the body.”

In the second quarter the animal kingdom is discussed starting with the vertebrates and then the in- vertebrates. Major taxonomic groups are discussed, e.g. amphibians, along with how each group handles the same life processes students learned regarding their own bodies. All animals need to perform the same type of processes, but they do them in different ways. The way to test this is to give students pictures of representative creatures along with a life process. Students need to give the taxonomy
of the creature along with how it handles that specific life process. The final topic discussed is plants including tax- onomy, parts, and reproduction.

What is the historical significance of this progres- sion of material in biology? Prior to the invention of the microscope these were the only biological topics that were understood. Historically this is knowledge from the ancient civilizations in the Near East, Greece, Rome, and also that from the Middle Ages. It is during the first semester when students discuss that even though people, animals, and plants have been seen during these time periods, they have not all been seen in the same way. The Greeks valued philo- sophical wisdom and the soul more than the understand- ing of natural processes. The Romans preferred practical gadgets like aqueducts and plumbing to the philosophical ideas of the Greeks. People in the Middle Ages saw nature as emblematic of spiritual realities, much like Scripture talk- ing about creation praising God or trees and rivers clapping their hands.2 All throughout was the idea of essentialism or forms, those unchangeable essences found throughout Creation. Another idea from ancient Greece was the great chain of being that sequenced Creation into a straight line and served as a kind of taxonomic structure. These ideas are like threads throughout the curriculum. The class is a biology class and not a history of science class, but these ideas can be interwoven throughout when the material is sequenced in this way.

This leads to the third quarter, which starts with cells and the microscopic life of protists, bacteria, viruses, and fungus (yes, fungus is mostly multicellular, but this is the best way to sequence it). Following the completion of the diversity of life we discuss how the theory of evolution arose in order to account for such diversity. Evolution is discussed in terms of what Darwin understood in order to see why the theory of evolution quickly became the under- lying theory for all of biology. The history of the worldview of the Middle Ages and its change through the scientific revolution up until the late 19th century is also discussed- -and this is where Dante comes in–the details of which will be enumerated below. The last part of the third quarter is when students study ecology in the Everglades. It is impor- tant to take advantage of the natural resources in your area. The Everglades is a unique ecosystem, and the bugs are not that bad at the end of the third quarter, so that is the best time to go.

The fourth quarter is when biology will focus on all of those things nobody in the 19th century understood, the processes within cells and genetics. These processes in- clude photosynthesis, cell respiration, mitosis and meiosis. For the historical timeline it is back to the 19th century to start with Gregor Mendel and go through genetics to DNA and the process of making proteins. This completes the material of biology and now allows the class to re-evaluate the theory of evolution while examining the evolutionary history of life. It is now possible to see how the various positions on evolution and the Bible that are currently taken have roots that go back hundreds of years.

As seen with the first semester, there is an histori- cal progression to this sequencing of the material of biology that allows for not only maintaining the integrity of biology as a subject but also providing space for the integration of other disciplines such as history, literature, and philosophy. There are several other benefits as well. There is a progres- sion of material from concrete to abstract. The ninth grad- ers in biology class are really just older middle-schoolers. Their world does not extend much beyond their noses, so the easiest way to hook them into the material of biology is to get them to understand how their own body works. Their minds at the beginning of the year are less able to handle the abstract nature of cell processes. These are learned in the fourth quarter when it can be tied to concrete material they have already learned. This resequencing also allows us to recapture not only the older categories of the natural science tradition but also the natural history tradi- tion. The topics of biology are treated within their com- monly understood boundaries, similar to how they have always been done within the natural history tradition. The natural science tradition, or the exploration of causes, e.g. evolution, is considered after the exploration of the categories it is attempting to explain and is not assumed from the outset.

Another benefit of this progression includes re- ducing the heat and the pressure of the origins discussion. This happens because this modern discussion is seen in the larger context of a conversation that extends back to ancient Greece when natural philosophers were asking: “What came first, mind or matter?” If the conversation has been going on for so long and a complete resolution has not yet been reached, and if you do not have all of the answers by the end of ninth grade (or ever), it is okay. Each position of science and faith can be discussed in its strongest form allowing for an understanding of how history, philosophy, and science have been influencing each other over the centuries and thus making these issues increasingly com- plicated. Pressure is also reduced through this progression because evolution, which is often the underlying assump- tion of the text, is not made the automatic assumption of the class. Think about the progression of the modern science textbook: chemistry, cells, cell processes, microbiology, and then macrobiology; there is an underlying evolution assumption built in. If you reverse this sequence, then
that underlying assumption goes away, and the theory of evolution can be discussed as a proposed explanation for the phenomena observed instead of assuming the cause of evolution as true, complete, and unproblematic and then fitting the phenomena to it.

So how does Dante fit in? Dante provides a glimpse into the medieval worldview. Recall that Inferno begins with Dante being alone in a dark wood, separated from the love of God (represented by the sun) and sur- rounded by three beasts, which represent sin. There are multiple clues within the text about why this is a comedy or that Dante will come to a good end: it is the year 1300; it is dawn; Aries is in the sky indicating the moment of creation; and it is Good Friday. In summary, the cosmos is speaking to Dante and telling him that even given his lost condi- tion, he will come to a good end. There is a harmonious structure to the cosmos where everything is in a beautiful balance and order. The spheres of the planets move around the earth because of their love for God, and they sing the music of the spheres.3 There is a cosmos that exists and not an endless, lonely universe. The cosmos (from the same root whence we get cosmetics) is the beautifier of God, showing forth the beauty of the Creator. There is a balance between the planets and the metals they form on the earth along with the four humors that flow within people. Lastly, from Dante we realize that it is love that drives people and not just the influence of the cosmos. The disordered loves of people drive them to the inferno, and the disordered loves of believers are purged in the trials of purgatory so that they can be filled with the love of God that they desire.4

This starts to change during the Renaissance and the scientific revolution. The language the cosmos speaks becomes the language of mathematics. Copernicus realizes that the math behind planetary motion becomes easier if the sun is in the center. Few people care, especially if he is only trying to save the appearances and make predictions easier. Kepler comes along and realizes that the math gets even more accurate if the sun is in the center (or at a focus) and the paths of the planets are ellipses instead of perfect circles. No big deal, as long as the attention is on making the math easier. Galileo, however, had the audacity to say that the universe moves the way Kepler describes it in reality. Newton comes along and figures out that the same math that can describe motion on the earth describes the motion of the heavens. What is called the mechanical philosophy becomes the dominant idea for understanding the universe. God is now seen as a great engineer that built a wonderful machine we are to study and now we glorify Him by figur- ing out its laws.

Life, however, could not be explained by the mecha- nists. Living things had to be accounted for by God’s direct action into creation. Living things were too complicated and thus God must have had to stick His hand into creation to make living things instead of creating a law that account- ed for them. So the 18th and early 19th centuries gave rise to the Romantic reaction against mechanism. Then Darwin developed his theory of how new species originate by the mechanism of natural selection, thus linking all organisms together through descent from a common ancestor. Now the mechanistic philosophy was complete (focus on material and efficient causes), and the total reversal of the worldview from Dante and the Middle Ages to our current one was finished. The cosmos that moved by love is now a vast emptiness of objects operating by law-like mechanism. Peo- ple who were image bearers of God with disordered loves are now just sophisticated animals struggling for survival, or ‘nature red in tooth and claw.’5 Pride as the deepest of sins becomes the self-esteem of success.6 Material things that were pointers to spiritual realities become meaningless cogs in a pointless machine. Beauty, and finally goodness and truth, become relative.7 Ironically, while Darwin built his theory of evolution on the idea that all nature is at war, current evolutionary theorists understand that nature also works by cooperation and interdependence. So the cosmos of Dante that was moved by love is perhaps lost unneces- sarily. It may be a perspective that needs to be recovered. Perhaps there is a place for natural philosophy and the exploration of formal and final causes within creation and not just the material and efficient.

So what hath Dante to do with biology? When biology is taught in an historical progression, Dante helps students understand the medieval worldview so that Dar- win can be understood as the completion of the worldview of our modern culture. As classical educators we want to innoculate our students against the modern worldview of meaningless materialism, the pride of self-esteem, the sepa- ration of God from His creation, and the lack of integration of disciplines found in modern education. Teaching biology using the above sequence of topics allows for the integra- tion of knowledge and helps students understand the worldview shift that has taken place from the Middle Ages to now. This provides a platform for seeing things differ- ently. Discussion of origins that is ripe for creating division is situated within an historical context, thus reducing ten- sion and allowing for understanding the complexities of the issue. Scripture is filled with verses of creation speaking. Perhaps exploring Dante in biology class can open students’ minds to seeing the creation outside the confines of modern science and thus hearing what the book of nature has to say.

Recovering the Nature of Science: Some Guiding Principles and Practices for Middle School

Confessions and Repentance
“Mr. F, can we blow something up today?” When I began teaching middle school science nine years ago, a certain sixth grade boy asked me this question at the beginning of almost every class. It was earth science, by the way.

Day after day I laughed off the eager boy’s request and told him that he would have to wait for eighth grade physical science before we could “blow stuff up.” Somehow in my mind it seemed more appropriate to indulge a teenage boy’s craving for explosions once he had been introduced to the more “advanced” sciences—once he could tell me what an atom is. Truth be told, I think I enjoyed fueling his curiosity by dangling bits of “secret knowledge” in front of him, promises about the true nature of things, revelations that would give him more control, more power—the power to blow stuff up.

A few years into teaching, however, my default disposition toward the field of science and science education—and, by extension, the natural world—began to sit uncomfortably with me. There seemed to me a conflict between how I had been taught to view the purpose of science and what Scripture teaches about man’s epistemological relationship to God and His creation.

It wasn’t until I began hearing the voices of C. S. Lewis, Parker Palmer, David Hicks, among others1, that my presuppositions about the purpose and limits of scientific study, fossilized under years of conventional education, gradually began to be unearthed.

As I continued this excavation, it became increasingly clear that I had been committing two major sins in my teaching. First, I was training my students to view “science” as discretized, disembodied knowledge coupled with precise methodology. The rich stories of scientific enterprise that lay beneath the veneer of the modern science textbook—the messy tales of men like Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton, striving to synthesize empirical observations with a Christian ontology—these stories had no place in my classroom.

My second sin was more subtle, though perhaps more injurious. Mirroring my own posture toward knowledge, I motivated student learning not by reverence and love for God and creation, but rather by the appetite of curiosity.2 To borrow Lewis’ phrasing, rather than presenting the study of the natural world as a means by which to “conform [my students’] souls to reality,” I offered science as objectified knowledge with which my students could join the progress of modernity and “subdue reality to the wishes of men.”3

Last fall, the SCL Alcuin retreat provided a fresh alignment for my journey as a middle school science teacher in a classical Christian school. I had uncovered those long-buried presuppositions about science and science education, but the readings and discussions at Alcuin acted like the archeologist’s brush, bringing further clarity to how I might begin this process of recovering the true nature of science in my classroom.

Guiding Principles and Applications

I have recapitulated my takeaways from various readings and the Alcuin discussions into what I will call “guiding principles for a recovery of science education,” four of which I will discuss presently, including examples of implementation in two middle school science classes. These principles are governed by a fundamentally Christian ontology—an affirmation and sanctification of the material world, bound up in the goodness of creation, the incarnation of the Son, and the resurrection of the Son.5 Moreover, this governing ontology is participatory— that is, “being is a gift from the transcendent Creator such that things exist only insofar as they participate in the being of the Creator—whose being is goodness. Within this framework, the vocation of things is both imitation and reference.”6 This “restoration of the sense of natural interiority, of the metaphysical ‘depth’ to all things,” gives back to the world its “sacramental quality, its dimension of mystery.”7 Such a distinctively Christian ontology must reframe our epistemological approach to the natural world, an approach which I hope to articulate in these guiding principles and examples of practices.

The first guiding principle for a recovery of science education is that we must model for and inculcate in our students a humble, reverent, and charitable disposition toward creation and the study of creation. Our students’ growth in their knowledge of the natural world should lead them toward a life marked by responsible dominion of God’s creation, which looks more like cultivation than coercion.

One way to inculcate this charitable disposition is through nature study, according to the tradition of Charlotte Mason, in which our younger students take part at my current school. I used to think that nature study was just a “cute” way to do science with young children, not understanding its value beyond that. Then I had kids of my own, and I began to see the beauty of God’s world anew through their eyes. Once I watched my two girls examine a cicada carcass for nearly half an hour, turning it over, poking it with a stick, holding it delicately in their tiny hands. I have come to realize that young children do not have to be taught to wonder at creation—it is their nature
to be wooed by the reality of God’s world. In the words of Anna Comstock, an early 20th century educator and leader in the nature study movement, “Nature study aids both in discernment and in expression of things as they are.”8

If you pick up the nature study sketchbook of one of our young elementary students, you will see in their attention to detail, color, and form a truly humble, reverent, and charitable disposition toward creation. Young children seem to have the power to see and express natural beauty in ways that adults have long forgotten.

But when nature study is displaced by “science class” in the later elementary years, reverent observation tends to give way to curious analysis. Some of this change is appropriate—children should begin to ask why and desire to know how. But I wonder if we are rushing them to this analytical stage a bit too eagerly and, perhaps unwittingly, opening the door to atomism while simultaneously stifling the cultivation of a charitable disposition toward God’s world as it is.

“The expression of things as they are,” Comstock says. I should have mentioned, my girls never pulled that cicada apart to see what it was made of.

Taking my lessons from nature study, I have begun to reintroduce some reverent observation in middle school science. For example, before we begin a unit on heat transfer, I place a lit candle in front of each of my students. I then provide white sheets of construction paper and colored pencils, followed by succinct instructions: “draw the flame.”

It never fails: some students immediately begin drawing not the flame in front of them, but the vague representation of “a flame” that lives in their memory. Others make an attempt at capturing the form of their flame, but with sparing detail. I allow this activity to continue for several minutes, then clarify my instructions: “Stop what you’re doing and put your pencils down. Now, spend a few minutes studying the flame in front of you. After that, make a very careful and detailed drawing of what you have observed, using the full time we have remaining.” With these new instructions, the entire mood of the room changes; one could hear a pin drop as students work studiously to capture vivid detail.

The next day I ask the students to describe in writing the flame they had sketched. The students are able to produce effortlessly—with no flames or sketches of flames visible–descriptions that are not only accurate in detail but artistic in expression. This exercise does not teach them what a flame is or how a flame works, but after two days of study they certainly know a flame—poetically, in a way that moves them not toward intellectual pride but rather toward adoration. This is the foundation on which we build our more analytical study of heat.

This mention of adoration leads to the second guiding principle for a classical, Christ-centered approach to science education: the study of creation should be affirmed as a form of worship of the Creator. Science instruction should be situated within doxological bookends.

A few years ago I stumbled upon the awe-inspiring macro-photographs of snowflakes by Russian photographer Alexey Kljatov.9 I created a slideshow of his snowflakes set to the music of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. During a day on which we serendipitously had some residual snow on the ground, I welcomed my students into my classroom by playing the slideshow for them. Afterwards, the students were eager to collect some snow from outside and view the crystals under a microscope. After observing the fleeting beauty firsthand, I asked them to write a reflection. I have included just a few here:

“The detail God has put into these snowflakes makes me want to know more about the wonderful things He can do.” 

“To see the beautiful detail in a snowflake reminds me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

“The snowflakes are not much different from us. We both have the same purpose: to glorify God.”

We are wise to “consider the lilies” and encourage our students to do the same. Such an incarnational epistemology invites our students into a knowledge of God and His creation that not only complements but transcends scientific knowledge.

This reference to a more human way of knowing leads to the third guiding principle toward redeeming science education: Against the positivism of the modern textbook, we must re-humanize science. That is, we must tell the story of science, examining closely the philosophical and theological implications of scientific thought as it has evolved with human consciousness throughout history. A winsome re-narration of this rich and messy history appropriately tarnishes the shine of scientific knowledge while also redeeming the coherence between the pursuits of science and the pursuit of Christ.

Last year my eighth graders researched and presented on the history of atomism instead of taking a semester exam. They studied thirty different people— from Democritus to Heisenberg—and explored their contributions to the ontology of atomism, considering
also theological implications. Together we became better acquainted with man’s struggle throughout history to wrap his mind around the nature of being.

The same students not only learned to apply Boyle’s Law, but also read about Robert Boyle himself. We did the same for Mendeleev during our study of the Periodic Table and Lavoisier during our study of chemical nomenclature. Students learned that Boyle funded Christian missions to the Far East; that Mendeleev was the youngest of seventeen children whose mother cared so much about his education that she took him across Russia from Siberia to Moscow to attend a better school; that Lavoisier, despite being renowned in his own time for his scientific brilliance, died by the guillotine during the height of the French Revolution. In stories, the objectified knowledge of science becomes reconnected to actual people who lived in space and time. My students’ interest in and appreciation for the truths uncovered by the cycle of scientific enterprise found new life when these truths became connected to a narrative, one that now can be seen as just a micro-narrative in the grander story of man’s relation to creation and Creator.

But latching on to these truths—this new knowledge about the natural world—can have a dangerously intoxicating effect. As history has shown, “where knowledge grows without wisdom and without reverence, it threatens both our humanity and our world.”10 Thus the fourth guiding principle is necessary: a normative framework should gird all of scientific study. More important than the question of can we do something with our knowledge is the question of ought we to do something with our knowledge.

We began second semester of earth science last year by reading the second chapter of Lewis’ The Magician’s Nephew, where we find Digory engaged in a frustrating discussion with his Uncle Andrew, moments after Digory’s friend Polly touched a mysterious ring in the uncle’s study and disappeared. While Digory is preoccupied with the whereabouts of his companion, Uncle Andrew insists on lecturing him on the merits and costs of scientific advancement by way of a self-aggrandizing explanation of his own research, which led to the magic rings and Polly’s current predicament as the newest subject in his experiment. Accused by Digory of being “rotten,” Uncle Andrew replies,

“Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.”

Digory advocates for Polly as well as other innocent creatures that have vanished to an uncertain fate, but Uncle Andrew replies,

“Can’t you understand that the thing is a great experiment? The whole point of sending anyone into the Other Place is that I want to find out what it’s like.” (emphasis mine)

At the completion of our reading, I asked my students to answer the question: “In Uncle Andrew’s perspective, what is the purpose of scientific investigation?” This prompt launched us into a rich discussion of Lewis’ main argument from The Abolition of Man, giving us that normative framework for scientific study.

I followed this discussion with a picture study of Joseph Wright’s An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump11,
a beautiful reprint of which hangs on a canvas in my classroom. In this painting Wright depicts a scientist surrounded by a gathering of folks, each of whom displays a varied reaction to his recreation of one of Robert Boyle’s air pump experiments. The pump contains a bird, being deprived of air, and the scientist looks out at the viewer of the painting, hand on the air valve, almost inviting the viewer to decide the fate of the bird. The battle between curiosity and charity is palpable, and that scientist looks out at my students every day, beckoning them to take a position.

He beckons me as well.

A New Natural Philosophy: Implementing the Vision of C. S. Lewis

Though I have not finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, its contours already feel intimately familiar. Many science fiction stories since then seem to have borrowed either slightly or generously from that 1932 cautionary tale. Movies such as Logan’s Run (1976), Gattaca (1997), or The Island (2005) each sprung to mind when I began reading Brave New World. Huxley’s book appears to have provided the central plot for this genre; other stories just fit into its serial installments. The commendation of euthanasia for the good of the collective or because there is no hope is described not only in Logan’s Run but occurs in movies like Soylent Green or Children of Men. The ability to overcome mankind’s weaknesses through eugenics as in Gattaca and/or through proper conditioning has been a theme since Plato’s ‘noble lie.’ But not until the twentieth century did innumerable stories presume the government would one day raise every child as ‘a bastard in a bureau’. And the crude depiction of the human body as mere instrumentality to support disembodied souls (wills?) with wholly interchangeable parts finds creepy expression in The Island although movies like The Matrix and Inception brilliantly explore the more general theme of disembodiment. C.S. Lewis described this genre well, “the author criticizes tendencies in the present by imagining them carried out to their logical limit. Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four leap to our minds.”1

The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis was published in 1943 just eleven years after Brave New World. The book had caught his attention as Lewis referred to it thrice in his short essay “On Science Fiction”. In Chapter Three of The Abolition of Man Lewis’ description of the problem overwhelmingly resembled the world Huxley described, that of the conditioners and the conditioned. Lewis identified that what is meant by power over nature more typically means the power of some men over others through the control of nature. His innocuous point is that in the world of the 1940’s not everyone had access to a radio or could enjoy air travel. His darker observation is that in the 1940’s these technologies were not primarily used for mere leisure but for the devastation of World War II. The question then of how to escape the inevitable outcome of technology becoming the power of the few over the many was only one of the challenging questions Lewis had asked in this final chapter. His real concern was, I think, not to halt technological advances but to clarify that power over nature does not amount to real knowledge of nature, nor does it lead to wisdom. 2 For that, another side of nature calls for our attention and perhaps even submission—not that we might impose our will upon her (and upon others through mastery of her), but that she might impress her categories upon us. Lewis said, For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious such as digging up or mutilating the dead.3

For Lewis it seemed that modern man’s conception of nature (his ontology) and the science it had begotten (his epistemology) were the primary culprits in shaping the Brave New World. Today these show few signs of letting up.

At the end of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis asked his readers to, “imagine a new Natural Philosophy.” He warned that “if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it.” Lewis called science to repent and held out hope that, “from science herself the cure might come.” To honor and heed Lewis’ call for a repentant science, the 2015 “Recovering the Nature of Science” SCL preconference introduced three themes: a holistic curriculum, an incarnational pedagogy, and an interdisciplinary approach. By attention to these themes our schools may orient their natural science programs to the promotion of Lewis’ “New Natural Philosophy” under the Lordship of Christ. Implementing these distinctives can help our science curricula move from fostering scientism and skepticism towards faith in the incarnate Word; from materialism and idealism to hope in the resurrection and new creation; from determinism and domination to love in covenantal charity. These themes can guide natural science again towards the pursuit of wisdom and virtue.

A Holistic Curriculum

The first theme regards the curriculum: how can it be made more holistic and not habituate a scientistic or reductionist mindset in students? In previous generations, besides natural science, natural history and natural philosophy were also taught. What are these other curricular categories and do they need to be recovered? Moreover, in addition to the liberal arts, attention was given to the common arts and the fine arts as well. How might these all play a role in our recovery of nature?

The Liberal Arts Tradition written by Kevin Clark and me detailed the need to teach natural science within the context of natural philosophy. But the book did not speak explicitly of the role of natural history within the Western curriculum. Since the time of Aristotle there have been two impulses within natural philosophy.4 The first was natural history, a focus on the observation of phenomena. The second was natural science, a demonstrable knowledge of the causes of phenomena. Harvard historian of science, Steve Shapin in his book The Scientific Revolution notes that natural history observed three things: the ordinary course of nature, nature’s irregularities or monsters, and nature contrived to act by the artifice of man (experiments).5 While contemporary schools encourage or demand their natural science classes to have a robust laboratory component, where are students being asked to observe nature in her ordinary course? When are they to keep track of nature’s surprises? Natural history has been all but lost as a discipline even though Darwin himself considered his vocation that of a natural historian. The lost emphasis on observing nature in the raw has left our students with a false impression of what nature really is, a false ontology. We only conceive of her through artificial experiments and then ask the students to attend to only the natural phenomena that are highly regular and predictable.

According to James K.A. Smith, the impressive Christian thinker Charles Taylor “suggests that those who convert to unbelief ‘because of science’ are less convinced by the data and more moved by the form of the story science tells and the self-image that comes with it (rationality=maturity).”6 Thus it is critical that natural science teachers attend to the “form of the story” that they tell and not merely to the content; for they are the front line storytellers. One easy way schools can do this and reintroduce a natural historical element into classrooms without disrupting the many goods of natural science is by having students use sketchbooks to observe nature both in her ordinary course and in her surprises as well as in crucial experiments. Recall Mary Shelley’s kindly Elizabeth who attended to “the majestic and wondrous scenes which surrounded [her] Swiss home—the sublime shapes of the mountains; the changes of the seasons; tempest and calm; the silence of winter…[and] contemplated with a serious and satisfied spirit the magnificent appearances of things.” It was Dr. Victor Frankenstein who merely “delighted in investigating their causes.”7 Drawing may then offer another way to see and to contemplate that allows nature to impose her categories upon the student, helping “conform the soul to reality.”

A holistic curriculum ought not to recover only the liberal arts but the common and fine arts as well. The Liberal Arts Tradition described how all seven of the liberal arts provide the tools of learning, both the arts of language and the arts of mathematics. Recapturing the significance of these arts for contemporary education is of crucial importance. But since the 12th century, Hugh of St. Victor had identified the common arts as important for education as well (these are sometimes called the vulgar or servile arts). The common arts, i.e. agriculture, architecture, cooking, blacksmithing, et al, are the skills needed for civilization by all men everywhere throughout the world. Note that these common arts help man to provide food, clothes, shelter, and safety to his family or town. During the scientific revolution these activities, like blacksmithing or navigation, became more appropriate for natural philosophers to investigate. For example, the longitude prize awarded in England in the 18th century for new navigation techniques energized many of the brightest minds of the time.

While the medieval list of common arts need not constrain the examination of later technologies such as lens-grinding, steam engines, or even microchips, it does offer an instructive trajectory. Note that one motivation for better optics and lenses (hence microscopes and telescopes) was to improve navigation, and the steam engine was invented by those within the metallurgical tradition of the blacksmiths. Consider the transformational role attention to a garden and a few farm animals could have on the students’ understanding of nature. Introducing the skills needed for the other common arts such as spinning, weaving, and sewing for tailoring; or threshing, millery, and butchery for cooking; or tracking or trapping for hunting provides extensive exposure to the details of physical situations which then provoke wonder and curiosity about the natural world. One can build a mobile foundry to melt aluminum for about $10, and the contemporary ‘maker’ subculture offers innumerable projects for teachers to explore. Gameboys, cell phones, and drones operate only by magic for students, and without pressing on to the rigors of electrical engineering and computer science, students will likely never uncover the inner workings of these. In contrast, the curiosity aroused by the common arts is the kind more likely to sustain investigations into the causes of the phenomena which students encounter in high school natural science. By attending to these they might also develop an entirely new vision of the role techne (art) and technology play in a civilization. Consider the lament of Professor James Taylor, author of Poetic Knowledge, when he considered the plight of contemporary college students, “an entire preindustrial culture was missing from these students’ experience, and in its place was our familiar modern life, artificial and insulated more and more from direct experience with nature and reality.”8 In order to cultivate a proper vision of nature and the role of human art and technology within it, our natural science curricula should build from a basis in the common arts as well as the liberal arts.

An Incarnational Pedagogy

In addition to a holistic curriculum, an incarnational pedagogy calls teachers to appreciate the nature of the child and avoid a kind of mere technique in education. Christ became like us and laid aside his prerogative that he might live among us. The Word became flesh. This is the same disposition that teachers ought to have towards students. Attending to the nature of the children, body and soul, involves shaping loves, midwifing ideas, and cultivating practices. Shaping loves is most important to keep kids from the exasperation warned against in Ephesians 6:4.
All learning occurs within a network of relationships. Relationships with peers, with parents, with God, and with teachers all matter, and love must be cultivated in these. How could homework assignments such as, “go on a family picnic and identify five wildflowers,” change the family dynamic around homework? Moreover, the teacher can hold out beauty inherent in the subject. Causing students to wonder at the order in nature is truly having them marvel at the incarnate Logos, the second person of the Trinity. This beauty begets a love that can sincerely be directed towards Christ in whom all things hold together.

Midwifing ideas is the Socratic ideal for teaching. Natural science teachers tend to use lecture and laboratory as the only two pedagogical modes. These are appropriate at times, but do the kids understand themselves more broadly as pursuing great and significant questions
during these moments? Moreover, do they feel like they are arriving at the ideas themselves? Are the ideas being born from them or are they just repeating what they have been told? A pedagogy that focuses on following the question through the interrelationships among observation, reasoning, and assumptions within communities of faith and practice provides a richer pedagogical experience—a kind of global guided inquiry. Finally, what practices do we cultivate among the students? The observation of nature with a sketchbook and the recovery of the common arts are soul-shaping practices. Are there others? Reading the great discoverers unearths many more practices for the students. Perhaps some students will conclude they should pray more fervently upon encountering Pascal’s prayer life. Tracing Galileo’s interactions with the Duke
of Tuscany may embolden some to consider how natural science and leadership or politics intermingle. Certainly the 20th century interplay between technology and war offers an interesting case study. By reading the histories of the great scientists, practices are suggested to students that can disciple them unto wisdom as well as genius.

An Interdisciplinary Approach

The last theme of the Recovering Nature project is an interdisciplinary approach. I have written previously in the SCL Journal about “Science and Poetry,” detailing how Tennyson’s phrase “Nature red in tooth and claw” preceded Darwin’s theory by nearly ten years.9 I did not mention though how a theory of the multiverse and one of evolution date back to the ideas of the ancient Greeks, not to mention heliocentrism as well. The Presocratic thinker Anaximander suggested that men evolved from fish (or a fish-like common ancestor?) and also claimed an infinite number of universes as continually coming into existence and passing away. I do not mind natural scientists talking about the multiverse, so long as they recognize that they are participating in the very ancient discourse of natural philosophy. The question then arises whether they are doing such philosophy well or poorly. Too often it seems that natural scientists gloss over the foundational questions of their discipline, adopt simplistic dogmatic stances prematurely, and then surmise that their conclusions are certain and indubitable no matter how unconventional or bizarre. Scientists blithely extend the idea of deterministic mathematical law ever outward to prove notions that then undermine the very possibility of such a law. It strikes me as more prudent to consider the consequences of such extensions before spending decades working out the mathematical complexities. This is especially true in an era in which so much research has been regarded as of dubious quality.10 Moreover, if many of these theories have been discussed for generations, though in slightly different garb, then history is an essential discipline for the natural scientist. Thus, at the bare minimum, natural science must explore its interdisciplinary boundaries with literature, mathematics, philosophy, and history if not for the sake of helping the students integrate their knowledge, then for the sake of true understanding in natural science itself.

Moreover, as Christians confess that in Christ all things hold together, theology becomes an indispensable discussion partner. By continuing to hold up the deep questions of natural science before the light of Christ, much is illuminated. The wave-particle duality of quantum physics is famously suggestive of the Trinity. The Heisenberg uncertainty principle and chaos theory raise questions about causality and determinism—these mirror questions regarding God’s sovereignty and human responsibility. And the mind-body problem has, since at least the Nicene Creed, resembled the mystery of the Incarnation. Truth does not exclude mystery but embraces it. Faith in the incarnate Word, hope in the resurrection and new creation, and love in covenantal charity are important virtues by which we may tether our investigations of the natural world to the mystery of Christ. Thus theology as the queen of the sciences still has a crucial role to play in the study of natural science and natural philosophy.

A New Natural Philosophy

Why then must science repent? At one level, “If the scientists themselves cannot arrest the process… then someone else must arrest it,” before it abolishes man and leads to one ‘brave new world’ or another. At a second level, the implementation of a holistic curriculum and an incarnational pedagogy allows the students to develop habits that are more life-giving and humanizing. And finally if we wish our students to grow wise, then we simply must appreciate that natural science is not a merely ‘positivistic’ discipline isolated from all others. On the contrary, it grows by attention to poetic knowledge as gained by communities of faith and practice; by engagement with literature, philosophy, and history; and by submission to theology, the queen of the sciences. Thus we do well to give the students structures which embrace a holistic curriculum, an incarnational pedagogy, and an interdisciplinary approach. For all these reasons it is time to heed Lewis’ call. This is not an easy project. But let us pray that by God’s grace Christian Classical Schools may become a source of renewal for the “New Natural Philosophy” that Lewis imagined.

Science, Non-Science, and Nonsense: Toward the Legitimate Science Classroom

Recent years have witnessed no shortage of controversy regarding the nature and proper content of primary and secondary school curricula. The science classroom has offered no exception. Indeed, ever since the famed Scopes “Monkey” Trial of 1925, parents and teachers, politicians and lawyers, scientists and clergy, journalists and pundits, have weighed in with sundry suggestions, proposals and mandates regarding the teaching of science.1 The results, contend some observers, suggest less progress in legitimate learning, than in production of lame legislation and loony litigation. In many cases, once the shouting subsides, terms of dispute can be stated rather simply: Such-and-such a topic, whatever interest it may hold for some, does not belong in the science classroom because the topic in question is not science; and only science belongs in the science classroom. A recent example of this kind of public kerfuffle was the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover trial in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania Federal District Court, in which the public school teaching of “Intelligent Design” theory was found to be an unconstitutional violation of the first amendment’s establishment clause. My concern is not to consider the merits or flaws with Intelligent Design or any other contested theory or ideology, be it from the left or the right. Instead, this essay considers a premise upon which much curricular debate rests and it suggests something about the educational implications that follow from a recognition that this premise is, in fact, false.

In 1976 the English philosopher Alan Chalmers came out with a very nice little book under the title What is this Thing Called Science? He concluded the volume ironically by criticizing his own title: “[T]he question that constitutes the title of this book is a misleading and presumptuous one,” he wrote. “It presumes that there is a single category science, and implies that various areas of knowledge, physics, biology, history, sociology and so on, either come under that category or do not. I do not know how such a general characterization of science can be established or defended.”2 About the same time, other philosophers of science reached similar conclusions. The distinguished philosopher of science, Larry Laudan, for example, observed that ever since Plato, “philosophers have sought to identify those epistemic features which mark off science from other sorts of belief and activity. Nonetheless, it seems pretty clear that philosophy has largely failed to deliver the relevant goods. . . . [I]t is probably fair to say that there is no demarcation line between science and non- science, or between science and pseudo-science, which would win assent from a majority of philosophers. Nor is there one which should win acceptance from philosophers or anyone else . . .”3 Philosophers of science have persisted in this thesis to the present day. How did they reach such a conclusion? And what are the implications for the science classroom? First, the story of the failed attempts to distinguish science from everything else is long and complicated.4 Further, scholarly “awareness of the contingency and fluidity of the boundaries between the sciences and the humanities,” continues to generate conversation.5 Although the scope of this essay does not permit a complete retelling of the narrative, it opens with a review of the tale’s general themes before consideration of the educational implications.

The tale begins with ancient attempts to distinguish knowledge (episteme), on the one hand, from mere opinion (doxa), on the other. Here Aristotle led the way in his Posterior Analytics by distinguishing knowledge (or science) from opinion according to the principle that knowledge furnishes apodictic certainty. 6 Another ancient demarcation criterion was sometimes advanced upon the distinction between techne (the skill of one able at an art or craft or “know-how”) and scientia (demonstrative understanding
or “know-why”). One may be a capable auto repairman, for example, without possessing genuine understanding
of the chemical and thermodynamic principles of the internal combustion engine. Hence we distinguish between the craftsman and the scientist by virtue of the scientist’s comprehension of first principles. Thus there emerged in the ancient world two candidates for demarcation: one grounded upon the separation between apodictic certainty of science and fallible opinion of extra-scientific issues; the other distinguished between understanding and mere know-how.7

By the end of the seventeenth century, however, scientists had come to disregard the distinction between understanding and know-how as a viable demarcation line. Newton, for example, is famous for rejecting attempts to understand the cause of gravity or to answer why-questions about it. Instead, he remained content to describe mathematically how gravitation functioned (whatever it was).8 The result was that scientists came to regard the distinction between science and non-science as the distinction between infallible knowledge and fallible opinion.

Such a view of the scientific enterprise could not withstand the overwhelming theme of the history of science, namely that scientific theories are not infallible. They are fallible, subject to correction and open to revision. If they were not, then the history of science would be in the odd position of declaring every revised or replaced scientific theory unscientific. This would render the history of science the history of non-science. The clear implication was that scientific belief, because it is not infallible, ultimately is a species of opinion.9

Still philosophers remained convinced that even if scientific belief is only a kind of opinion, it must be a special kind of opinion that is ultimately distinct from superstition. To demonstrate this, philosophers knew that they had to craft that distinction upon some other criterion than the alleged “certainty” of scientific knowledge. Surely, they believed, science could be set off from everything else, if not by virtue of the certainty it offered, then, perhaps, because it followed a distinct methodology, something they called the scientific method. Consider this view as expressed by the great English statistician Karl Pearson in his late- nineteenth-century work The Grammar of Science: “The scientific method is the sole path by which we can attain to knowledge. The very word ‘knowledge’ indeed only applies to the products of the scientific method in the field. Other methods . . . may lead to fantasy as that of the poet or metaphysician, to belief or superstition, but never to knowledge.”10 Strong words these are. It seemed perhaps that this thing called the scientific method would emerge as the decisive tool by which man could definitively set science apart from everything else and acknowledge it as the single source of knowledge. This would require, however, a rigorous and universally held explication of science’s unique method. On this line of thinking any activity that was recognized as scientific would presumably employ the same method as every other ostensibly scientific activity.

This is where the rub came. Philosophers simply could not agree on just what that scientific method was. Was science an activity that restricted its theories to observable entities? Was it an activity that exclusively employed inductive reasoning? Was it an activity unique in its capacity for making predictions? Consensus could not be reached.11 “Absent agreement on what ‘the scientific method’ amounted to, demarcationists were scarcely in a position to argue persuasively that what individuated science was its method.” Moreover, philosophical conceptions of scientific method often suffered from ambiguity or they substantially departed from the methods actually employed by practicing scientists.12 The outcome of this situation, as Larry Laudan eloquently stated was “more than a little ironic”:

At precisely that juncture when science was beginning to have a decisive impact on the lives and institutions of Western man, at precisely that time when ‘scientism’ (i.e., the belief that science and science alone has the answers to all our answerable questions) was gaining ground, in exactly that quarter-century when scientists were doing battle in earnest with all manner of ‘pseudo-scientists’ (e.g. homeopathic physicians, spiritualists, phrenologists, biblical geologists), scientists and philosophers found themselves empty- handed. Except at the rhetorical level, there was no longer any consensus about what separated science from anything else.13

Not surprisingly then, the twentieth century saw the emergence of a new set of demarcationist strategies. The best early case of this new set of strategies emerged during the 1920s and 1930s through the efforts of the so- called Vienna Circle of philosophers to forge a semantic conception of the scientific enterprise, sometimes called “logical positivism.” Science could be distinguished from non-science, logical positivists argued, because only the statements of science were meaningful. Meaningful statements were those that could, at least in principle, be verified. Hence the hope for setting apart science from non-science was placed upon this “verifiability criterion of meaning” which can be briefly stated as follows: a proposition is meaningful, and therefore scientific, if and only if the proposition is empirically verifiable.14 Accordingly, a statement such as “God created the world and saw that it was good” is neither true nor false, but simply meaningless because it is not possible, even
in principle, to say how such a proposition could be empirically verified. On the other hand the statement “Water freezes at 0° C” is empirically verifiable, and therefore meaningful, and thus scientific. Unfortunately for the logical positivist program, however, their own verifiability criterion of meaning could not pass its own test and was rendered meaningless; for to what possible empirical test could this criterion of meaning be subjected? How could anyone, then, presume to demarcate science from non-science by appealing to a meaningless principle? Or as another critic put it, “To say that only factual statements have validity is to be not only dogmatic but self-contradictory, since the statement itself is not factual.”15 The abject failure of logical positivism to demarcate science from non-science ran even deeper than this. While it certainly ruled out some “undesirable” metaphysics from the ranks of science, it failed to exclude other patent nonsense that happened to meet its criterion of meaning. For example, the proposition “The earth is flat,” while clearly absurd, happens to be empirically verifiable in principle (even though the evidence mitigates against it); and therefore it is a meaningful statement that cannot be deemed “unscientific” according to the logical positivist demarcation criterion.16

Following the implosion of logical positivism, philosophers proposed that the search for a qualitative standard by which to isolate the scientific enterprise should be abandoned in favor of a quantitative benchmark. Maybe “scientific status is a matter of degree rather than kind.”17 What sort of things might we consider here? Candidates include the degree to which a science is “well- tested.” For example, one might contend that the theories of terrestrial mechanics are more testable (and thus more scientific) than those of astrology. Perhaps instead, one might appeal to a pragmatic scale. The more scientific an activity, it might be argued, the more useful and reliable will be its products. Some have advanced the notion that science is comparatively progressive and cumulative in its knowledge. Unlike religion, for example, science can claim a rate of “cognitive progress” by which it is set apart from non-scientific activities that accrue knowledge only very slowly, if at all. Still others suggest that a scientific activity will result in more predictions of unanticipated outcomes than a non-scientific activity. It turns out, however,
that every such quantitative benchmark – testability, pragmatic benefits, cognitive progress, predictive capacity and others – demonstrably fails as a viable demarcation criterion.18 Although the scope of this essay does not permit exploration of how each one does fail, philosophical attempts to justify the quantitative approaches all reach the same conclusion: regardless of the criterion applied, each ends up including within the domain of “science” much that is intuitively and generally regarded as “extra- scientific,” and conversely each ends up excluding as “extra-scientific” much that is widely regarded as “scientific.”

What, then, are we to do? Are we to conclude that there is no such thing as science? Or at least, if there is, that we have no way of telling it apart from anything else? I do not think such despair is in order. Do we have to retreat
to some sociological definition and say, “Science is just whatever scientists do”? This would be of little help, of course, because it would merely recast the question to ask who the scientists are.19 Or perhaps we fall back on a tacit intuitive answer: “Science is like obscenity. Although we cannot define it, we know it when we see it.” None of these ultimately satisfy. Consequently, at least in the context of education, we are driven to the only sane conclusion. We must stop asking whether or not an issue, belief, subject,
or activity is “scientific.” Instead we must ask whether or not it is legitimate to discuss an issue, belief, subject or activity (regardless of its alleged “scientific” status) within a classroom that is ostensibly devoted to such topics as physics, chemistry, biology or geology.

Legitimacy and the Contemporary Situation

The issue of scientific legitimacy is distinct from the demarcation problem. As we have seen, the demarcation problem is a theoretical problem without solution. The question of legitimacy is a practical problem with a tangible solution that must be worked out through a collective effort linking the arena of public discourse to the philosopher’s tower, and the scientist’s bench. Although the legitimacy question is not without solution, its solution may change over time. As the philosopher of science Del Ratzsch has put it, “The nature and boundaries of scientific legitimacy were neither found carved in stone somewhere, developed purely a priori, nor just always known innately by humans. Rather, conceptions of . . . scientific legitimacy that we currently take to be correct have histories and have developed along with science.”20 Unlike the demarcation problem, the issue of legitimacy cannot not be solved. The question is whether it will be solved actively (and responsibly) or passively (and irresponsibly). It simply is the case that all manner of subjects are treated by scientists while they are speaking as scientists. Quibbling about whether or not we can classify the subjects about which they speak as “science” has proved an exercise in futility. Rather, our need is to determine whether or not any topic, even if it seems “extra-scientific” by whatever demarcation criterion adopted, may be a legitimate focus for study and discussion by science students.

This is so important because scientific and so- called “non-scientific” issues are interminably intermingled in both theory and practice. Scientists past and present repeatedly have incorporated into their ostensibly “scientific” discourse pronouncements about purpose, ethics, the deity, worldviews, meaning, duty, morality, chance, design, mind, metaphysics, ontology, teleology, good, evil, and so on. The question is not whether such practice is scientific. The question is whether it is legitimate to do so. Before exploring that question, permit me to recite a few examples to acquaint us with the kind of utterances I have in mind.

Ernst Mayr, perhaps the twentieth-century’s greatest biologist, argued in his book, This is Biology: The Science of the Living World, that contemporary moral and political issues are properly matters for biological discourse. He asserted that “an understanding of evolution can give us a worldview that serves as the basis for a sound ethical system that can maintain a healthy human society . . .”21 Worldview? Ethical system? Healthy society? This is hardly the stuff of old-fashioned pure and simple biology. Such topics
have traditionally been the purview of priests, ethicists, and policy experts. But Mayr contends they are matters
for the student of biology. Perhaps they are. At least they cannot be ruled out according to any received criterion of demarcation.

Now consider for a moment conclusions of several biologists who offer pronouncements that they believe to follow directly as conclusions from their biological science:

Ernst Haeckel (1877): “The cell consists of matter called protoplasm, composed chiefly of carbon, with an admixture of hydrogen, nitrogen and sulphur. These component parts, properly united, produce the soul and body of the animated world, and suitably nursed become man. With this single argument the mystery of the universe is explained, the Deity annulled and a new era of infinite knowledge ushered in.”22

Douglas Futumya (1983): “Some shrink from the conclusion that the human species was not designed, has no purpose, and is the product of mere material mechanisms – but this seems to be the message of evolution.”23 Michael Behe (1996): “The result of these cumulative efforts to investigate the cell . . . is a loud, clear, piercing cry of ‘design!’ The result is so unambiguous and so significant that it must be ranked as one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. The discovery rivals those of Newton and Einstein, Lavoisier and Schrödinger, Pasteur, and Darwin. The observation of the intelligent design of life is as momentous as the observation that the earth goes around the sun or that disease is caused by bacteria or that radiation is emitted in quanta.”24

Francis Crick (1988): “Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved.”25

Michael J. Denton (1998): “. . . the unique fitness of the laws of nature for life is entirely consistent with the older teleological religious concept of the cosmos as a specially designed whole, with life and mankind as its primary goal and purpose. . . the emerging picture provide[s] powerful and self-evident support for the traditional anthropocentric teleological view of the cosmos.”26

George Gaylord Simpson (1949): “Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind. He was not planned. He is a state of matter, a form of life, a sort of animal, and a species of the Order Primates, akin nearly or remotely to all of life and indeed to all that is material.”27

Of course there are many more such quotations. Richard Dawkins proclaims that “Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” while another biologist insists that “the universe is a purposeful creation.”28 We could go on and on ping-ponging back and forth quotations attesting to the scientific evidence or lack thereof for meaning, purpose, design, values, et cetera.

Let my intent be clear. I am not concerned here to argue, as some do, that the preceding quotations are dastardly intrusions of scientists into the domain of metaphysical and religious discourse, although they might be just that. Rather since rigid demarcation fails, we should openly acknowledge the fact that the various disciplines, while distinct, are not wholly separable from one another. This means we must learn to navigate those borderlands where scientific discourse overlaps most often with other human concerns. The question becomes one of legitimacy. Is it or is it not legitimate to include in science classrooms discussions of contested issues and ideas that scientists believe, nonetheless, to follow directly from their scientific practice?
There are, of course, those who answer in the negative. Yet, to my knowledge, those who do, rest their opposition to discussions of such things as good and evil, meaning and purpose, design and beauty, etc. upon the nonsensical presumption that science and non-science can be competently demarcated from one another. As already noted, such questions about meaning and purpose whether they ought to or not, do in fact have a place in science because scientists have given them a place, repeatedly talking about purpose, issuing ethical imperatives, and offering normative claims in the name of science.29 Further, scientists do, in fact have scientific methods for addressing the idea of “purpose.” Forensic scientists, detectives, lawyers, insurance fraud investigators, U.S.- government funded SETI researchers, and others all rely on sophisticated scientific methods for detecting purposeful activity. This is not the place to tease out the various conceptions of purpose. That topic could easily command yet another essay. Still it should be easy enough to see that it is one thing to determine whether a given event was the product of intention or purpose. It is another thing to identify the intention or purpose behind the event as benign, beneficent, malevolent, natural, super-natural, etc.

So we return to the question: Is it legitimate to include in science classrooms discussions of issues and ideas that scientists believe to follow directly from their scientific practice, even if some of these issues lurk on the borderlands shared with presumably “extra-scientific” concepts like purpose, meaning, beauty, and design? Permit the proposal of a tentative answer that defends the inclusion of such issues on a carefully limited basis, while avoiding the pitfalls of an “anything goes” free-for-all in the classroom.

Legitimacy and Liberal Education

The great Samuel Johnson rightly noted,

Prudence and justice are virtues, and excellences, of all times and all places; we are perpetually moralists, but we are geometricians only by chance. Our intercourse with intellectual nature is necessary; our speculations upon matter are voluntary, and at leisure. Physiological learning is of such rare emergence, that one man may know another half his life without being able to estimate his skill in hydrostaticks or astronomy; but his moral and prudential character immediately appears.30

I submit that the chief end of education is to furnish and discipline students’ minds and to equip them for human flourishing and constructive participation in civil society. If I am right, and if Samuel Johnson was correct about the perennial need for virtue, if he was correct about the secondary need for technical specialization, and if he was correct when he also asserted that “whether we provide for action or conversation, whether we wish to be useful or pleasing, the first requisite is . . . knowledge of right and wrong,” then I submit that all teachers, of whatever subject matter (even biology, physics, astronomy, or hydrostatics), need to understand these things and be committed to them. Otherwise their primary educational duty cannot be fulfilled.31

I am not suggesting that the science classroom abandon the periodic table for the ten commandments, that learning acid-base titration techniques be replaced by speeches on moral philosophy, or that Mosaic cosmogony replace study of natural selection. I am suggesting that limiting the science classroom to such activities as studying the periodic table, learning titration techniques,
or understanding a natural process like descent with modification, while necessary, cannot be sufficient, even for science education. I am suggesting that to realize the primary pedagogical aim of preparing students for virtuous and constructive participation in civil society, we must not retreat exclusively into the comfortable disciplinary hinterlands of specialization and technique, as if science can be hermetically sealed from other issues. It rarely can. Instead teachers must lead students into the sometimes risky no-man’s land where science overlaps with religion, with ethical and metaphysical theory, with public policy, and with epistemology. For it is there that some of the most important educational work can and must happen. To retreat from it through fear of transgressing a dubitable demarcation line between science and non-science is not just a technical philosophical mistake, but a potentially dangerous omission.

In short, I propose a vision of education that begins with a particular view of mankind and ends with a corresponding understanding of liberal education. Both biologists and theologians acknowledge our identity as homo sapiens. The Latin homo means “mankind or man.” The word sapiens, from the Latin sapientia, means “wisdom” and “discernment.” To be truly human thus requires the cultivation of wisdom and discernment, that is the cultivation of what the ancients called the cardinal virtues – Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance. Cardinal here is from the Latin cardo, meaning “hinge.” In short, the realization of all other human goods and of our full flourishing hinges or turns upon the acquisition of these virtues, especially wisdom.32

There is another view of mankind. We might call it homo sciens, from the Latin scientia from which we get the word science. Homo sciens knows lots of stuff. The stuff he knows begins with the assumption that man is, like everything else he sees, a material thing. To be fully human, on this view, is to stockpile material things, to amass knowledge of material things, and to acquire expertise in the techniques of manipulating material things. In the end, this view of mankind underwrites the cynical conclusion of the twentieth-century American journalist H. L. Mencken who declared that human beings are no more than “an endless series of miserable and ridiculous bags of rapidly disintegrating amino acids.”33

What is man? Any view of education must begin with a working answer to this question. Homo sciens can do things. He knows stuff. He is the master of means. Homo sapiens knows what to do and why to do it. He understands ends. The story of the modern era has been the story of the waning of homo sapiens and the waxing of homo sciens.34 As we have acquired the tools to do more and more, we have lost the wisdom needed to tell us what ought to and ought not to be done. The way to restore a salutary balance between these two visions of man is to foster an integrated view of education, a view that sees education as more than merely imparting information and techniques. We need a view that explores the disciplinary borderlands and is suspicious of the alleged sufficiency of narrow specialization. Richard Weaver put it so well when he noted, “Specialization of any kind is illiberal in a freeman. A man willing to bury himself in the details of some small endeavor has been considered lost . . . specialization develops only part of a man; a man partially developed is deformed.”35

In her insightful discussion of Evolution as a Religion, the philosopher Mary Midgley remarked upon the popular ideal of scientists as objective inquirers: Scientists ought to be so impartial that they either do not have anything so unprofessional as a world-picture at all, or,

if they have one, do not let it affect their work. But this is a mistaken ideal. An enquirer with no such general map would only be an obsessive . . . Merely to pile up information indiscriminately is an idiot’s task. Good scientists do not approximate to that ideal at all. They tend to have a very strong guiding imaginative system. Their world-picture is usually a positive and distinctive one, with its own special drama.36

My present concern is to recommend that scientists and science teachers embrace a sufficiently large world-picture to help foster what John Henry Newman called, in his classic treatment of liberal education The Idea of a University, a “philosophical habit of mind.” Newman described this educational ideal:

An assemblage of learned men, zealous for their own sciences, and rivals of each other, are brought, by familiar intercourse and for the sake of intellectual peace, to adjust together the claims and relations of their respective subjects of investigation. They learn to respect, to consult, to aid each other. Thus is created a pure and clear atmosphere of thought, which the student also breathes . . . He apprehends the great outlines of knowledge, the principles on which it rests, the scale of its parts, its lights and its shades, its great points and its little, as he otherwise cannot apprehend them. Hence it is that his education is called “Liberal.” A habit of mind is formed which lasts through life, of which the attributes are, freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom; or what . . . I ventured to call a philosophical habit.37

This ideal can only be achieved when science does not presume to be the only kind of knowledge, when moral categories and virtues are not just things we teach students about in comparative religion classes, but things we teach students to embrace in every class. Students cannot embrace things they do not know. Both science students and humanities students must study issues at the borders between the sciences and the humanities; for to comprehend a subject requires knowledge of its relations to other subjects. Fostering this relational perspective is the duty of all teachers.38

One practical avenue toward achieving this perspective comes from admitting that scientific knowledge is not the only valid form of knowledge, that one can have genuine knowledge of such things as duty and virtue. “We have to allow there is another kind of knowledge besides the explicit, exact and testable kind . . . Traditional skills, intuitions, scientific systems, poetic and religious insights and the understanding of moral values are all fed from the same root.” This is what the philosopher and physical chemist Michael Polanyi called “tacit knowing.”39 We could profit from considering his perspective.

Finally, and even more practically, our science classrooms would do well to include discussion of select issues that surface in public discourse with which our students must eventually wrestle and reckon. Perhaps the best and diciest contemporary example, which I mentioned at the opening of my remarks, has emerged in the case of “intelligent design” theory (ID). One of ID’s most vigorous critics is the political philosopher Larry Arnhart. Despite his conviction that intelligent design is wrong, he puts forth a recommendation for teaching ID in the science classroom:

Allowing our public school students to study and debate creationist criticisms of Darwinism in their biology classes would promote a better understanding of scientific argumentation and of the moral and political implications of science. If students were allowed to study some readings from the intelligent design theorists along with Darwin’s writings and some contemporary defenses of Darwin, they could better judge the evidence and arguments . . .

Science education in the public schools often consists of mindless memorization of scientific formulas so that students have no understanding of how one goes about weighing evidence and arguments for and against scientific ideas. Moreover, students rarely see the emotional excitement associated with scientific controversies that have moral, political, and religious implications. A lively classroom debate over Darwinism would be a great improvement, and it might actually prepare students to become citizens capable of judging scientific disputes that have deep consequences for human life.40

Both politicians and philosophers appear to concede the merit in Arnhart’s proposal. The explanatory statement accompanying the 2002 Elementary and Secondary Education Authorization Act included the following language: “A quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.”41 Philosopher of science Del Ratzsch takes head on the tendency of most scientists to exclude the notion of supernatural design from the discussion table:

[A]ttempts to support blanket, normative prohibitions on even considering supernatural design in science seem without exception to fail for various reasons. Attempts to justify such prohibitions on pragmatic grounds seem to do little better. The intuition that science cannot deal with the supernatural, so must systematically ignore it, seems a bit like advising swimmers in the Amazon that since they cannot see pirhanas from the bank nor survive a pirhana attack once in the water, they should plunge right in, pretending that there are none. Perhaps better advice might be to work on learning some pirhana recognition techniques.42

We live in one world, not separate scientific and religious worlds, but one world. Consequently, the differing perspectives from which the sciences and humanities view our one world must be accommodated by the minds of individual human students in which these different perspectives are fostered.

Consider these remarks from a Canadian newspaper by Michael Ruse, an internationally respected and widely-published philosopher of biology who has written extensively on evolutionary biology: “Evolution is promoted by its practitioners as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion – a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. . . . Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”43 Now, Dr. Ruse may have gone over the top. He may be as far off the mark as one can get. He may, on the other hand, be right on target. This is not the issue. The issue is that students who may read his words in the newspaper at breakfast before school should be able to ask their science teachers to help them sort these things out. Science teachers should be eager to devote class time to doing so. But they cannot do it correctly unless they are permitted to do so and properly equipped for the task. Our schools will better serve their primary educational mission of furnishing and disciplining minds if they welcome, indeed encourage, opportunities to consider contested issues in the science classroom. Sometimes valuable pedagogical lessons lurk in the disciplinary borderlands. And there is no questioning the fact that divisive public policy issues are often thorny to the degree they are interdisciplinary. Acknowledging this in the science classroom is one way to prepare students for wise participation in contemporary civil society.

Classical Christian Education and the Future of Science

Classical Christian educators are often asked how their curriculum prepares students for jobs in science and technology. History shows that while classical education prepares its graduates for any profession, it was central in the creation of modern science. Advocates of STEM education say it prepares graduates for a world where good jobs will be in areas indicated by the acronym STEM: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Classical education, however, teaches the arts of mathematics, the quadrivium, with four different subjects: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music. The superiority of the quadrivium is acknowledged by those who see the need to supplement STEM subjects with an arts component (STEAM).

The quadrivium, however, is only half of classical education. The other half is the trivium, the arts of language: grammar, dialectic and rhetoric. The trivium aims at mastery of the fundamentals of language, then of logical thinking and finally of winsome and persuasive discourse. The arts of language are essential for anyone who wants to participate actively as a citizen in governments with consensual institutions. Citizens need to be able to think clearly and express themselves grammatically and persuasively. The narrowly pre-professional STEM curriculum ignores this important vocation. Furthermore, even if it were to be true—which is not proven and not likely—that all good jobs in the future will be in STEM areas, many of these will involve using language. This includes teachers, researchers who must write grant proposals for committees of scientists with other specializations, and writers who explain the significance of the results of scientific research to non-scientists. A STEM or even STEAM curriculum without mastery of the arts of language is a recipe for personal frustration and national disaster.

Classical Christian education is not only useful for those looking for STEM jobs. History indicates that it provided the intellectual environment in which science prospered. From the invention of science by the ancient Greeks and its development under the Roman empire, during late Antiquity and the Middle Ages and on into the early modern and modern age until the middle of the twentieth century, science has been associated with classical culture and classical education, in fact, for most of this period, with classical Christian education.

Let us limit ourselves to the modern period. Marie Boas Hall called the first period of the Scientific Revolution The Scientific Renaissance (1960). She showed that modern science began with Renaissance humanism, the cultural initiative to re-establish contact with classical antiquity. Renaissance humanists discovered, interpreted and translated ancient texts, including Greek scientific manuscripts. They studied ancient science, corrected its errors and misconceptions, and then made new discoveries.

Renaissance humanists had classical Christian educations. Peter Dear in Revolutionizing Science: European Knowledge and its Ambitions, 1500-1700 (2009), after discussing medieval science, goes on to explain the classical curriculum, trivium and quadrivium. The classical curriculum taught the arts of language (trivium) and mathematics (quadrivium) so students could speak, think and compute. They revered the past as the source of beauty and truth. Michelangelo promised in his contract that his Pietà would emulate the beauty of ancient art. Machiavelli’s Discourses on Livy’s First Decade ransacked the Roman republic for ways to restore freedom to Italy. Protestants like Luther and Calvin tried to reform the church by reading the Bible.

Sixteenth century scientists had the same classical education as other Renaissance humanists. Science then was self-consciously a return to the ideas and texts of ancient science. Copernicus (1473-1543) knew that he was reviving the heliocentric hypothesis of Aristarchus of Samos (third century BC). His book did not start from scratch, but was
a careful revision of Ptolemy’s Almagest (second century AD). The great doctor Andreas Vesalius (1514-64) devoted years to editing the works of the ancient Greek doctor Galen (second century AD) before publishing his seminal work on physiology, On the Structure of the Human Body, in 1543, the same year Copernicus’s De Revolutionibus was published.

As Peter Dear wrote, “Like Copernicus, Vesalius presented his work as a restoration of an ancient practice; also like Copernicus, he pointed out flaws in the work of his great model from antiquity; and like Copernicus the rationale for his project emerged directly from humanist values and ambitions.”

Classical Christian education continued to foster scientific research. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was a Copernican who read the texts of the Pythagoreans and Plato. Like them, he believed that mathematics was essential for understanding the physical world, even when this method led him to postulate that the planets moved in ellipses instead of circles. His fellow Copernican Galileo (1564-1642) denounced him for breaking with the ancient tradition of positing circular motion for the heavenly bodies. He too quoted Plato and the Pythagoreans. Scientists like Kepler and Galileo studied geometry in Euclid’s ancient text to understand the natural world, as Plato had urged in Timaeus and Republic VII. Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan (1651) called geometry “the only science God hath seen fit to bestow upon mankind.” Newton composed Principia (1687) in Latin with geometrical proofs as part of the same tradition.

There is a wide gap between popular opinion and the scholarly consensus on the role of Christianity and the classics in the explosive creativity of the seventeenth- century Scientific Revolution. Voltaire in the eighteenth century and twenty-first century polemicists and federal judges have presented the Scientific Revolution as rejecting tradition and explaining the world as mechanical and godless. In fact, the leaders of the Scientific Revolution were classically educated Christians.

In 1938 sociologist Robert K. Merton studied the founders of the Royal Society in 1660. So many were Puritans that he hypothesized they all were. They were certainly Christians. Merton’s careful study of the Royal Society, a key institution in the Scientific Revolution, showed the “warfare” of science and religion did not exist then. In 1988 historian Steven Shapin wrote, “No historian of science now seriously contends that religious forces were wholly, or even mainly, antagonistic to natural science. When Merton wrote his thesis, that was not the case.”

The memo had not reached Judge Jones when he composed his decision in Kitzmiller et al. v. Dover Area School District (2005): “Expert testimony reveals that since the scientific revolution of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, science has been limited to the search for natural causes to explain natural phenomena.”

Scholars have continued to confirm Merton’s results. Stephen Gaukroger in The Emergence of a Scientific Culture (2006) argued that in the seventeenth century “Christianity set the agenda for natural philosophy” or science. In 2009 Margaret J. Osler agreed: “For many of the natural philosophers of the seventeenth century, science and religion—or, better, natural philosophy and theology—were inseparable, part and parcel of the endeavor to understand our world.”

Scientists then were also influenced by their study of the ancient classics. Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo and Newton were products of classical Christian education. They studied ancient authors and could read and write Greek and Latin. Kepler and Galileo quoted Plato’s Meno and Timaeus. The atomic theory Newton used in his optics was based on Gassendi’s recovery of ancient Epicureanism. Classical Christian education shaped science then and continued to educate scientists for centuries.

Today scientists hide their faith in the closet unless they become so famous, like Francis S. Collins, that it cannot damage their careers. Seventeenth-century scientists openly proclaimed that their discoveries confirmed their faith. Robert Boyle (1627-1691), for example, discovered Boyle’s Law in chemistry. Gaukroger wrote, “For Boyle the whole point of pursuing natural philosophy in the first place is that it reveals to us the handiwork and purposes of God in a way that goes deeper than anything we can achieve by
use of natural reason.” Boyle established a lecture series to defend the coherence of science and Christianity.

The first Boyle lectures were not delivered by a professional scientist, but by England’s greatest classicist, Richard Bentley. Bentley did not see his Christian faith or knowledge of ancient authors as obstacles to science. On the contrary, he argued that Isaac Newton’s Principia (1687) confirmed God’s existence. Newton responded to a letter from Bentley, “Sir, When I wrote my Treatise about our System, I had an Eye upon such Principles as might work with considering Men, for the Belief of a Deity; nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that Purpose.”

In the appendix he added to Principia in 1713, Newton wrote, “This most elegant system of the sun, planets and comets could not have arisen without the design and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being…. He rules all things, not as world soul but as lord of all. And because of this dominion he is called Lord God Pantokrator.” The classically educated Newton composed Principia in Latin with geometrical proofs to show that an omnipotent God had designed the universe. Newton shared with other contemporary scientists a confidence in the compatibility of classics, science and Christianity. (Today, of course, Newton could not teach science in public schools.) The classical Christian education that shaped scientists like Kepler, Galileo, Boyle and Newton was then and still is the best education for scientists.

Sceptics object, “Of course the greatest scientists then had classical Christian educations. All this proves is that they were educated. There was no serious alternative back then. It was only in the eighteenth century that the case for vocational training was made by men like Tom Paine and Benjamin Rush, who argued for a modern education that rejected the trivium in favor of STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) for a world that wanted the fruits of science and technology.”

History does not usually allow us to study events with a control group. One exception is nineteenth-century Germany with its two distinct educational paths. One path preserved the classical Christian curriculum (supplemented with more Greek) taught in the classical or humanist Gymnasium, from which students went on to the university. The other path was devoted to STEM subjects and a modern language (usually French) taught in technical high schools, from which students went on to a professional school or a job in industry. This critical mass of technically trained graduates working in factories protected by the tariff spurred German industrial growth in the generation before World War I.

The decades on either side of WWI also witnessed brilliant discoveries in Physics: the concept of quanta, the theories of special and general relativity and the development of Quantum mechanics. One might expect most important work in Physics to be done by graduates of the technical school system. Nearly the opposite is true. Max Planck, Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger and Niels Bohr were classically educated. Einstein attended a Swiss technical high school, but he spent his first six years at a classical school, where his sister remembered his best subjects as Mathematics and Latin: “Latin’s clear, strictly logical structure fit his mindset.” Latin and arithmetic are the fundamental arts of language and mathematics found in the classical curriculum.

When Einstein published his four great articles of 1905, his editor was Max Planck, the discoverer of quanta. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “When Planck was nine years old…Planck entered the city’s renowned Maximilian Gymnasium, where a teacher, Hermann Müller, stimulated his interest in physics and mathematics. But Planck excelled in all subjects, and after graduation at age 17 he faced a difficult career decision. He ultimately chose physics over classical philology or music because he had dispassionately reached the conclusion that it was in physics that his greatest originality lay.” Classical Christian educators will notice that his favorite subjects belong to the Seven Liberal Arts: Latin (and Greek) grammar from the trivium, mathematics, science and music from the quadrivium. In a speech delivered shortly after Planck’s death, physicist Werner Heisenberg, also a graduate of the Max Gymnasium, said, “I believe that in the work of Max Planck, for instance, we can clearly see that his thought was influenced and made fruitful by his classical schooling.”

Heisenberg then explained how his own science was shaped by his classical education. After World War I Heisenberg was drafted into the militia. In his spare time he read Plato’s Timaeus in the original Greek. He had been bothered by the notion that the fundamental particles of nature were little hard things with irregular shapes, the atoms of the ancient scientists, Democritus and Lucretius. Recently scientists had observed light behaving sometimes like particles, but at other times like waves. In Timaeus Plato argued that nature made most sense when viewed mathematically, not physically. Plato’s advice to follow the math even when it contradicted common sense helped Heisenberg toward his discovery of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in quantum mechanics. As a young scientist, Heisenberg reports, “I was gaining the growing conviction that one could hardly make progress in modern atomic physics without a knowledge of Greek natural philosophy.”

Classical Christian education formed the minds of important scientists from the sixteenth to the twentieth century (and long before as well). They learned from ancient wisdom to make important discoveries. Americans should not desert a curriculum that has been successful for so long. If they do, they may learn that the relationship of classical Christian education and science is integral and that science will not and cannot flourish apart from the educational ideal and curriculum that fostered it.

Evolution and Reductionism

In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is, but only what it is made of.”

-C.S. Lewis in The Voyage of the

Dawn Treader

The dilemma of modern humans, according to the late Walker Percy, is that we live in an era in which we understand more about the universe in which we live than ever before and less about what it means to be human than ever before. We are in his words like a child “who sees everything in his world, names everything, knows everything except himself.”

This dilemma shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. After all we are complicated beings. On one hand we are marvels of mechanical cause and effect. The hand, the eye, and the ear are so complex that in the minds of many they bear witness to a creator. The complexity of the human brain alone rivals that seen in all the rest of the visible universe. On the other hand we are spiritual/mental/emotional beings. Consider Bach’s choral works, Shakespeare’s plays, Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. Are they merely the by-products of matter? More than one philosophical naturalist has remarked on the irony that if humans are indeed merely accidents of an impersonal universe, then in us oddly the universe has begun to contemplate itself.

In an effort to simplify our self-explanations, we’ve tended to reduce one facet of our being to the other. To the Platonic Greeks we were ghosts somehow trapped in a machine, and the machine was less important than the ghost if for no other reason than it is disposable. We do die after all. It’s a view of people that produced Gregorian chant and Gothic architecture amongst other beauties, but at the same time tends to strip the actions of physical people in a physical world of their value.

The modern world has moved in the opposite direction. As we understand the material world better, our bodies have become ever more central to us, and as we’ve understood them better, we’ve enjoyed the fruits of that understanding too, notably modern medicine. I’m here today in part because my father’s life was saved when at age ten he contracted pneumonia and was treated with antibiotics, the wonder drugs of his day. But the man-as-machine worldview was also responsible at least in part for making the 20th century the greatest century of war the world has ever known.

At the heart of this ever-shifting self-examination for the last century-and-a-half has been Darwin’s theory of evolution. While it attempts to fill in a large blank in our resume– how did we get here?- it focuses exclusively on our physical side and in so doing fiercely challenges any dualistic understanding of human nature. Charles’ theory not only provides a non-supernatural explanation of our origins, it functionally demands naturalism. What distinguished his theory from that of Erasmus, his grandfather, was that Charles’ theory required no divine monkeying around to make it work. Not only is there no need for God to create each species from scratch, there’s no need for Him to be involved in the evolution of any organism into another species. It works without Him; there is no supernatural involved. That’s what makes it a naturalistic theory.

It’s at this point that Darwin’s theory weighs rather heavily into our modern human dilemma, for if we are the product of natural forces only, then we must be no greater than the sum of our natural parts. Thomas Nagel (philosophy, NYU) put it bluntly in Mind and The Cosmos: ”Materialism requires reductionism…”

Some definitions may be in order here. Reductionism is the belief that the spiritual/mental/emotional aspects of human nature can be fully explained in terms of biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. It is not a belief that Nagel shares. When he says, “materialism” he means something similar to naturalism, but not exactly the same thing. Naturalism starts with rejecting the supernatural, and Nagel is all in favor of that. In his essay “The Last Word” he wrote:

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.

Nagel doesn’t see God in the big picture, but he does see more than mere matter. He rejects materialism, but not naturalism, in hopes of bringing another category into the discussion of the nature of the universe: mind. Not the human mind, mind you, but some other non-supernatural element of the universe that might account for the glories of human nature that stubbornly resist reduction to mere matter. His suggestion hasn’t been well-received, but his logic, I think, is quite clear at least on one point. If we are the results of merely material causes, then we must be material, too. The only other option is that at some point in the process, something new emerged, which is an unsatisfying proposition, one materialists have had a good time making fun of for years.

An old cartoon by Sidney Harris illustrates this quite well. It features two men standing in front of a blackboard. Both sides of the board are filled with equations, but the middle is empty except for the words “Then a miracle occurs.” One man points to the words and says, “I think you should be more explicit here in step two.”

Darwin’s theory is a materialistic theory and demands that all such gaps be filled with materialistic explanations. There is no room in it for a divine spark, no pouvoir de la vie, nothing non-material in substance or process. (Not that it does a very good job of filling them.) Nagel again in Mind & Cosmos; “I would like to defend the untutored reaction of incredulity to the reductionistic neo-Darwinian account of the origin and evolution of life. It is prima facie highly improbable that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are expected to abandon this naive response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/chemical explanation but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for explanation, supported by some examples.”) This insistence poses a substantial obstacle to most theories of theistic evolution.

Historically theories of theistic evolution have been unpopular both amongst secular scientists and many theologians. The former argue with some acuity that if Darwin was right, then there’s no place for God in the process. Theologians with a biblical bent respond that if Darwin was right, then the Bible is wrong. Thus proposed syntheses of Darwin and Christian theism more often than not have fallen upon deaf ears, that is, until recently.

The work of men like Francis Collins and Denis Alexander mark a sea change in attitudes toward theistic evolution. Collins is a distinguished scientist (Director of the National Institutes of Health) and a believer; Alexander is likewise a believer, a scientist (PhD. in Neurochemistry) and director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University. Both share a personal and professional interest in the relationship between science and faith.

In his book The Language of God Collins warmly and winsomely argues that evolution fully explains how we came to be and the Scriptures fully explain how we find meaning in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. After outlining a theistic theory of evolution, Collins concludes “But this synthesis has provided for legions of scientist-believers a satisfying, consistent, enriching perspective that allows both the scientific and spiritual worldviews to co-exist happily within us. This perspective makes it possible for the scientist-believers to be intellectually fulfilled and spiritually alive, both worshipping God and using the tools of science to uncover some of the awesome mysteries of His creation.” In Creation or Evolution Alexander likewise argues that a faithful reading of the Scriptures need not pose any obstacle to affirming a human evolutionary history. In his preface: “I have written this book mainly for people who believe, as I do, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God from cover to cover… I therefore make no attempt in this book to defend the role of the Bible as the authoritative Word of God, but simply assume that this is the starting point for all Christians. If that is not your starting position, I hope at least that the book will help you see how the Bible and science can live together very happily.”

Neither book attempts to answer all of the scientific and theological questions arising from the study of nature and the Scriptures; I certainly shall not attempt to do so here. My purpose in mentioning them in this essay is much simpler. You see, in embracing Darwin both Collins and Alexander embrace his materialism too. Not philosophically, of course– both believe in God–but functionally in that God plays no part in the evolutionary process other than setting Darwin’s system up. Collins states it quite bluntly: “Once evolution got under way, no special supernatural intervention was required.”

Here’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, for if we buy Darwin lock-stock-and-barrel, excluding God from the process of human creation, must we not embrace reductionism, too? Think of it like this. If I plan an assembly line to make gingerbread men, get the materials, organize it and set it in motion, what will its results be? Gingerbread men only. The mere fact that an intelligent being is behind it all doesn’t change the fact that, if I start with matter and shape it by impersonal forces, then what results will be material. Nothing more.

The question of what C.S. Lewis thought about evolution has been argued for years and will doubtless continue to be argued for years to come. I’ll not try to settle it here, but I will quote a passage from The Problem of Pain in which he acknowledges at least implicitly the point I’m trying to make here.

For long centuries God perfected the animal form which was to become the vehicle of humanity and the image of Himself. He gave it hands whose thumb could be applied to each of the fingers, and jaws and teeth and throat capable of articulation, and a brain sufficiently complex to execute all the material motions whereby rational thought is incarnated. The creature may have existed for ages in this state before it became man: it may even have been clever enough to make things which a modern archaeologist would accept as proof of its humanity. But it was only an animal because all its physical and psychical processes were directed to purely material and natural ends. Then, in the fullness of time, God caused to descend upon this organism, both on its psychology and physiology, a new kind of consciousness which could say ‘I’ and ‘me,’ which could look upon itself as an object, which knew God, which could make judgments of truth, beauty, and goodness, and which was so far above time that it could perceive time flowing past. (Emphasis mine)

Here Lewis acknowledges the possibility that God might make a suitably complex human body through Darwinian evolution, but he also recognizes that for that being to be truly human something else has to occur. God has to add something to the mix that will not only define what people can do, but who they are.

Denis Alexander recognizes this problem, too, but tries to solve it without miraculously changing the nature of human beings. He reduces the image of God in humans to two categories, neither of which mitigate the reductionistic results of Darwinian evolution. “First, the delegation of divine authority does seem to be a key element of the term [human]… A further important aspect of being “made in God’s image is that it involves relationship with God.” I fear Alexander confuses cause and effect here. We are not made in the image of God because we have a relationship with Him; we can have a relationship with Him because we are made in His image. I have a relationship with my cat, Wampuss, too, but despite this she is only a cat and will never be more than that. Unlike Wampuss, humans have the capacity for rational thought, self-consciousness, moral convictions, choices, language, love, creativity and a host of other less- describable qualities that stubbornly resist reduction to mere matter and oppose reductionistic theories of evolution as fiercely as materialism opposes miracles.

If I’m right, then Alexander, Collins et al are firmly in the grip of Percy’s dilemma. They are caught between a rock and a hard place, between their allegiance to a materialistic evolutionary process and a reductionist view of human nature that as followers of Jesus, they would rather avoid. It’s a precarious position, but not one without remedy. They may together with believers throughout the ages affirm their commitment to science and to a scientific understanding of nature, while at the same time remembering that there are realities in a created world that are not reducible to mere matter and never fully explainable in scientific terms. The resurrection of Jesus is one such reality. Our own existence is another.

The Stones Cry Out… and the Flowers…And the Birds… and the Clouds: Discovering God (and Ourselves)

Here at Regents School of Austin our campus is blessed to have a science and nature center. It includes a barn with stalls for farm animals, a large chicken coop, an amphitheater-like area for outdoor events, a classroom with tables and benches, and a sizable garden area for students to plant both fall and spring crops. Each class in grades K through 4 has on its weekly schedule a science and nature studies period in which the center is the classroom.

The nature center began about 13 years ago as a labor of love. A number of Regents families sought and received permission to reclaim an under-utilized corner of the school property that had been the site of a homestead and farm for several generations. The original farmhouse was gone and the barns and outbuildings were in disrepair. The families organized volunteer workdays and raised funds in order to give the students at Regents the fabulous facility now known as the Regents Science and Nature Center.

With the facility in place the teachers were invited to bring their students and plant gardens, take nature walks, or visit the animals at the barn. Many came and learned. Some came often, some came occasionally, and some came not at all. I worked here part of the time, when I wasn’t farming, to help the students with their gardens.

When Rod Gilbert became our Head of School, he decided all students should have the opportunity to learn at the Nature Center. He added Science and Nature Studies to the class schedule for kindergarten through sixth grade. I came on full time to work with the classroom teachers and develop curricular connections for the students. This will be our eighth year on the class schedule and we continue to grow and flourish.

The Regents Mission Statement is at the core of all activities and lessons. It states:

“The mission of Regents School is to provide a classical and Christian education, founded upon and informed
by a Christian worldview, that equips students to know, love, and practice that which is true, good, and beautiful, and challenges them to strive for excellence as they live purposefully and intelligently in the service of God and man.” Each lesson or activity should include elements that lead to understanding (to know), attract attention and stimulate the emotions (to love), and reinforce the acquiring of wisdom that informs the will (to practice). Using (and honing) our skill of observation and tapping into our curiosity, we begin to explore our world. With grade level science curricula and a Bible we discover the creatures and materials that are a part of our amazing planet. We are participating in what is probably the original pedagogy! Rom. 1:19-20 states; “…what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes- His eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, because they are understood by what has been made.” As we begin to discover “His invisible attributes…” we can begin to see ourselves in a more biblical way. After all, He has made us in His image! Pursuing a deeper understanding of God by studying the created world leads directly to a better understanding of ourselves as bearers of His image. It leads to a better understanding because it is the habitat designed specifically for us. This is surely at the heart of any true educational endeavor- to know our God and to know ourselves. Science and nature are simply the vehicle for this journey.

In Kindergarten we begin the year in Genesis with the creation account. We study the five senses and see how they can gather information about our environment. We study insects, the solar system, wildflowers, oceans, and we grow lots of carrots in the fall.

First graders learn about the animal kingdom.

We begin with insects, learning key characteristics and observing life cycles. We make our way through some of the more notable classes; arachnids, fish, mammals, reptiles, birds, and amphibians; learning key characteristics and finding out that some characteristics are unique and some are shared. With each subject the students make an entry in their science and nature sketchbooks. A drawing, along with sentences relating the characteristics, becomes a record of our lessons and experiences with the animal kingdom.

Second grade science is focused on the plant kingdom. After an initial lesson on the variety within the plant kingdom, we narrow our focus to the flowering plants. The study is introduced to the students as “Parts of the Plant!” followed by the student’s dramatic “DAH, DAH, DAAHHH!”. We begin with seeds and discover the two types of flowering plant- monocots and dicots. We also see three main jobs (supply, support, storage) of each part. Lessons continue on with roots, stems, leaves, flowers, and fruit which brings us back to seeds. At each part we see the differences between monocot and dicot and look for the three main jobs. Along the way we check the Bible for insight into how the parts help us to understand God, His kingdom, and ourselves. Some examples: Seeds- Gen. 1:11-12; 1 Pet. 1:23; Mark 4:30-32. Roots-Prov.

12:3; Eph. 3:17. Stems- John 15:1-5; Isa. 11:1. Leaves- Gen. 1:30. Flowers-Ps.103:15; 1 Pet. 1:24. Fruit-Gal.5:22-23; Luke 6:44-45.

Second graders also study the fungus kingdom for a month right after Christmas break. (It’s an invisible kingdom that is always around us, even in the air we breathe, and we only notice it when it produces fruiting bodies. What does that sound like a metaphor for?)

Third graders begin with simple machines and ancient Egypt. We do an archeological dig and build life- size working shadoufs. The students bring food scraps from home and make compost in order to study the decomposition cycle. We observe the changes, learn the three states of matter, investigate the creatures involved with magnifiers and microscopes, and are in awe of the Creator who has thought of everything! We then move on to earth science where we find out about our amazing spaceship Earth (where we get to ride on the outside!). Moving through space at an approximate speed of 575,000 miles per hour we learn about the crust, the mantle, and the core. We learn of rocks and minerals, tectonic plates, earthquakes, and volcanoes. AWESOME! There are so many scripture lessons here.

Fourth grade studies pond life at our large pond complex. Complete with waterfalls, a stream, a bog, and 3 large fish ponds there is plenty to keep us busy. We put on waders and get in which leads to many exclamations of “best day at the garden, ever!”. Fourth graders also learn about sound and light. We finish the year with a study of body systems.

Now, a few words about why we teach. Romans 12:2 states “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” The Regents Mission Statement, mentioned above, is basically a restating of this scripture. With the mind we think, we believe, we understand, and we form our individual worldview. We live in a fallen world and a culture that continually hammers us with information. Most of this information is void of any mention of or reference to the Kingdom of God. The implication of this Scripture is that without renewing our minds we will not know God, His will and Kingdom, or ourselves. Eph. 4:11-13- “It was He who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, that is to build up the body of Christ until we attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God- a mature person, attaining to Christ’s full stature.” Teaching is a calling given by Jesus. Some might say that this scripture pertains only to the church but we are the church and all of life is included in our relationship with God. As someone has said, “All is sacred. Nothing is secular.” I agree. This means that no matter what topic you happen to be teaching, it can only be understood properly by recognizing its relationship to God, His kingdom, or ourselves who are made in His image. In the verses from Ephesians above, it states that the reason He gave teachers is to help us move towards “attaining Christ’s
full stature.” No pressure! The first thing to realize is that we are all on this journey together. Some of us are just farther along which positions us to be of service to those coming after. Nature studies allow for us to discover God together. Instead of stories about God we see His creativity on display. I have found that it usually takes less than one minute for the students to find something that excites, amazes, or raises questions. This is much more than a fun activity for students. This is discovering who we are by learning about the environment/habitat in which we were physically designed to live. A turtle is designed to live in a pond spending its time seeking food, sunning itself , and interacting with other turtles. If you take the turtle as a
baby and raise it in a box in the corner of your bedroom, away from the pond, other turtles, or even the sun, it will

never be able to truly function as it was designed. Similarly, we have taken ourselves out of our natural habitat and
now live in carpeted, climate-controlled boxes staring at screens. Is it any wonder that we struggle with confusion on nearly every front? Confusion about where we came from. Confusion about what is objectively true, good, and beautiful. Disconnected from the Garden and the Creator by sin, we strive to find comfort. Comfort for our bodies through climate control, comfort for our souls through décor and diversion, and comfort for our spirits through cloistering ourselves away from the fallen world. Just going outside will not automatically fix everything, but time in nature and nature studies, as an integral part of a person’s upbringing and education, can provide many opportunities to learn who we are and grow into the people God has made us to be.

Before God made man in His image, He made a place for man to live. That place was a garden. Romans 8:19 states,“For the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” The creation not only displays the glory of God but, also, the effects of the fall. Weeds, thorns, drought, creatures which bite or sting, oppressive heat, or freezing cold all testify to the fact that something is not right. Romans goes on to say, in verse 22, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together…” Psalm 19:1 says “The heavens declare the glory of God…” When God wanted to make a point with Abraham, He used the stars or the sand. When He announced the birth of Messiah, he did so in a field. Jesus took His first breath in a barn among the livestock.

God speaks to us in three distinct ways; through the Bible, by the Holy Spirit, and through His creation. We can help our students know God, themselves, and His Kingdom if we just get back to the garden. If you listen carefully, you will hear the stones cry out “Great is the Creator!” and you can hear the Father saying, “ I love you.”