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.

Towards a More (Super) Natural Science

In The Abolition of Man C.S. Lewis noted that the “triumphs [of science] may have been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.” This can easily leave an eager science teacher confused even if he agrees. How do we do this? What decisions and steps might administrators and teachers make in the Christian Classical renewal in order to heed this call to repentance issued by Lewis? Lewis is concerned with scientism, reductionism and science’s dreams of power. This session will discuss basic principles and a new trajectory for our classrooms that can overcome these perennial pitfalls for science. The session will explore how employing a holistic curriculum, an incarnational pedagogy, and an interdisciplinary approach can begin to address Lewis’ concerns.

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College as a pre-med, political science major having also served as a teaching assistant in physics and ancient Greek. He worked at various churches before receiving an M.A. from Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been teaching AP Calculus and AP Physics at the Geneva School since 2003. During this tenure he has sought to understand and champion the role of math and science in a Christian Classical curriculum. Over the past four years he has had the opportunity to deliver over 35 talks or workshops on these topics at various schools and conferences across the country.

Science and Poetry

As a youth, I enjoyed poetry as much as any other red-blooded boy. Grade school reading of Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss gave way to more complex poems in middle and upper school such as those of Edgar Allen Poe, Robert Frost, and Ovid. Outside of school, I ingested poetry almost exclusively through music. Whether the lyrics of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, or The Cure actually count as poetry, they at least aspired to rhyme, meter, intertextuality and occasionally transcendence. Since poetry was a slippery thing to define, these too became models for me. As a musician I began to write songs which needed lyrics— poems I surmised. I wrote my obligatory love ballads, as both the poetry in textbooks and the rock legends I followed suggested that I should. Growing in Christ led me to appreciate the old hymns of the church as well as newer worship songs. I wove these patterns too into the lyrics that I would write.

These habits and observations confirmed for me that poetry, like fine art, had two great aims: God and
girls. It was about the mushy stuff that one couldn’t quite grasp. Poetry was designed to evoke feeling, a form of amusement—a repose from thinking. What poetry was distinctly not about was science. I was good at mathematics and science and so I thought myself well-rounded to be also interested in ‘poetry’. These were two separate realms, akin to Stephen Jay Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria.

This vision of reality worked well enough through my college studies of natural and moral science and
my early years of vocation. It was not challenged until seminary when one of my professors noted that an early twentieth century Russian Harvard sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, thought differently about art. He held that instead of simply entertaining the masses, artists often led the way in culture. They at times apprehended major cultural shifts before they had begun. For Sorokin, this was true for all levels of art: statuary, painting, music, and architecture, to name a few. Of course this was also true of literature and poetry. I encountered for the first time what I had been habituated to miss. Literature and poetry could be about substantial things, concrete realities as well as the ineffable ones like God and love. Poetry was not mushy, or perhaps reality itself was. Others of my seminary professors reiterated that God could not be circumscribed by logical syllogisms and that love was an essential component to ontology. While I was primed to revision things, I had little sense of what this meant for my reading of Homer or Coleridge.

While I began to enjoy poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Wordsworth more regularly, it was a Ken Myers’ interview with Mary Midgely that caused the scales to fall from my eyes. Midgely, an elder-stateswoman of British philosophy, had written a book entitled Science and Poetry, and the title itself was enough to arrest me, a science teacher. This short interview provided for me the missing link between words, numbers, and reality.1

Consider an example from Alfred Lord Tennyson to illustrate the deep interplay between poetry and science. In the mid 19th century Tennyson wrote In Memoriam. It is a long poem, and for that reason one I would have previously avoided.2 These lines from Canto LVI explore the relationship between God, man, and nature. (Hint: the phrase ‘a thousand types are gone’ in the first paragraph refers to the extinction of species, a topic of fresh concern in the 19th century.)

‘So careful of the type?’ but no.
From scarped cliff and quarried stone She cries, `A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go.

‘Thou makest thine appeal to me:
I bring to life, I bring to death:
The spirit does but mean the breath: I know no more.’ And he, shall he,

Man, her last work, who seem’d so fair, Such splendid purpose in his eyes, Who roll’d the psalm to wintry skies, Who built him fanes of fruitless prayer,

Who trusted God was love indeed
And love Creation’s final law—
Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw
With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

Who loved, who suffer’d countless ills, Who battled for the True, the Just,
Be blown about the desert dust,
Or seal’d within the iron hills?

No more? A monster then, a dream,
A discord. Dragons of the prime,
That tare each other in their slime, Were mellow music match’d with him.

O life as futile, then, as frail!
O for thy voice to soothe and bless! What hope of answer, or redress? Behind the veil, behind the veil.

This poem yields a phrase, “Nature red in tooth and claw,” which perfectly encapsulates Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. The poem’s first lines also grapple with the justice of God in letting species go extinct.3 Will man suffer the same fate? Is man like the animals and his ‘spirit does but mean the breath?’ Only through competition and the survival of the fittest can nature continue, a nature as indifferent to man as to any other of her creations. This antagonistic striving seems horrific and ghastly but Darwin encouraged us to remember that it is only ‘natural’. Love is not ‘Creation’s final law.’ As surprising as it is to read such a profound apprehension of the moral significance of Darwin’s vision, it is also surprising to note that Tennyson wrote this nine years prior to Darwin’s Origin of Species and one year before Herbert Spencer, who coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest,’ published his first book. As Tennyson’s poem had attained great fame, being lauded even by the Queen of England in 1862, Darwin himself had likely encountered it before penning The Origin of Species.

Men were toying with the idea of evolution and an impersonal nature devoid of God years before Darwin had proposed his mechanism. It seems that a number of people were eager to believe this vision of reality before it had any claim to a ‘scientific’ sense. Many had become convinced of man’s descent from a common ancestor with the animals before Darwin had suggested any manner of how it might occur. Even Herbert Spencer, who argued that he not Darwin was the real inventor of the theory of evolution, had first written of evolution’s moral implications in his 1851 book, Social Statics. This was six years before
he had suggested any technical details for it in his 1857 essay, Progress: Its Law and Cause. Interestingly, Spencer was himself adapting ideas from a poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who had written an unfinished essay, Theory of Life.

Many believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection or some new synthesis arising from it shows that competition and ‘the survival of the fittest’ is a law and the only natural way of conceiving reality. But consider this perspective from The Non-Local Universe published by Oxford University Press, a book about the 20th century developments in natural science.

Darwin made his theory public for the first time in a paper delivered to the Linnaean Society in 1858. The paper begins, “All nature is at war, one organism with another, or with external nature.” In The Origin of Species, Darwin is more specific about the character of this war: “There must be in every case a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life.” All of these assumptions are apparent in Darwin’s definition of natural selection…

[But] During the last three decades, a revolution has occurred in the life sciences that has enlarged the framework for understanding the dynamics of evolution. Fossil research on primeval microbial life, the decoding of DNA, new discoveries about the composition and function of cells, and more careful observation of the behavior of organisms in natural settings have provided a very different view of the terms for survival. In this view, the relationship between the parts, or individual organisms, is often characterized by continual cooperation, strong interaction, and mutual dependence.4

As it turns out, competition and survival of the fittest do not have the law-like character that Darwin believed they did. Consider the finale to Tennyson’s poem.

Of those that, eye to eye, shall look
On knowledge, under whose command Is Earth and Earth’s, and in their hand Is Nature like an open book;

No longer half-akin to brute,
For all we thought and loved and did, And hoped, and suffer’d, is but seed Of what in them is flower and fruit;

Whereof the man, that with me trod This planet, was a noble type Appearing ere the times were ripe, That friend of mine who lives in God,

That God, which ever lives and loves, One God, one law, one element,
And one far-off divine event,
To which the whole creation moves.

Tennyson chose to believe in the law of love instead
of reducing all to “Nature red in tooth and claw.” The developments of the last thirty years in biology noted above may not provide a final definitive view of nature, but at least these developments help legitimize Tennyson’s choice to believe in a law of love over one of cold competition. They remind us to distinguish Darwin’s mechanism from his metaphysics.

But even Darwin’s mechanism cannot be left wholly untouched by the notion of poetry. For at its base poesy is about words. In the Mars Hill interview referenced above, Mary Midgely pointed out that ‘natural selection’ is itself a metaphor. Darwin and many of his readers were conscious of a device he used that I had missed in all my years of studying biology. Darwin is likening nature to a human animal breeder using ‘artificial selection’. While animal husbandry has an ancient heritage, the English of Darwin’s time would most likely associate animal breeding with the intelligent artificial selection of English dog breeders. Dogs had been bred all over Europe to exhibit an impressive variety of traits. Darwin thus extrapolated from what was done by human intelligence and artifice with dogs. He imagined that nature could do likewise with enough trial and error with all species—even to the point of originating new species. It made no matter that strong cases of this had not been technically ‘observed.’ Dogs are all one species and yet some of Darwin’s technically distinct species of finches interbreed similarly to dogs. Overlooking the difficulty
this poses to defining the concept of species, the metaphor of comparing nature to a human breeder carries much of the weight.5 Detractors of Midgely claim that metaphors
in theories such as Darwin’s are just window-dressing, but Midgely asserts that these devices and metaphors are much more central to scientific theories than most realize. They often determine both formally and informally the direction a theory will take.

This raises the question of the general role of words within scientific theories. Nobel Prize winning scientist Sir Peter Medawar noted, for example, that hypotheses themselves are acts of the poetic imagination. Interestingly, he claimed to have gleaned this insight from the poets Shelley and Coleridge.6 Thus, as I teach physics students about Electricity and Magnetism, I now note with greater interest scientific terms themselves like ‘current’ and ‘potential’. These words often have fascinating histories of their own. While it is common for physics teachers to speak of current as the movement of electrons in a wire, the word ‘current’ was used to describe electricity many years before the concept of an electron (Greek for amber) was formulated. Initially, the flow of electricity was simply likened to the flow of a river, a current. The term electric potential (voltage) is intimately linked to the notions of Aristotelian act and potency, old metaphysical concepts which the Inkling, Owen Barfield, claimed held nearly “half the weight of the philosophical thought of the Western mind… between Aristotle and Aquinas.”7 Perhaps words and metaphor are at the heart of many scientific concepts, and this need not compromise the truth of theories. Consider this passage from Albert Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus.

And here are trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes-how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced
to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art.8

This is a beautiful passage full of insight. These ideas unfortunately led Camus to postmodern skepticism. But for those that believe that language itself is deeply connected to reality through Christ the incarnate logos, it need not unsettle our belief in truth. Consider Barfield’s statement from Saving the Appearances, “There will be a revival of Christianity when it becomes impossible to write a popular manual of science without referring to the Incarnation of the Word.”9 Perhaps our belief that truth must provide mathematical certainty is itself a poetic construct and not the only way to understand truth.

Countenancing this hypothesis, let us consider the thought of Descartes, the father of modern philosophy, and his desire for apodictic certainty. Descartes (and Galileo as well) was wrestling with atomism. This philosophy
was formulated in the fifth century B.C. by the Greek philosopher Democritus. But it was a poem, De Rerum Natura, which transmitted atomistic thought to European culture. This poem, meaning On the Nature of Things, was written by the ancient Roman Lucretius and had been lost to Europe for nigh one thousand years. When rediscovered in the 1400’s, its atheistic and reductionistic assertions caused quite a stir among intellectuals.10 During this period of great religious fervor which at times careened out of control, the picture of an inert reality composed of uncuttable, disinterested atoms bouncing around in empty space attracted many adherents. There is no god, there are no souls, there is no purpose or meaning. Reality is merely atoms in motion in the void and the “highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain.”11 Montaigne openly flirted with atheistic atomism in the late 16th century. By the 17th century Galileo and Descartes were explicitly searching for a Christian version of atomism. Once Isaac Newton included atomistic philosophy into his “System of the World,” it became a part of the mechanistic paradigm of modern science. Truth and certainty were then to know the exact positions of the atoms and the laws by which they were governed, for there was nothing more which affected worldly matters. Thus when Napoleon asked the renowned astronomer Pierre-Simon Laplace what place God had in his system of planetary motion, Laplace could famously retort “I have no need of that hypothesis.”12

Some of us may feel obliged at this point to say, “OK, well they were right.” But let us conclude with a couple of final thoughts. Modern physicists no longer believe in Democritean atoms or Newtonian corpuscles. Descartes and Galileo followed Lucretius to conceive of reality as composed of tiny hard ‘uncuttable’ pieces of matter, but the ‘atoms’ of Rutherford or Bohr were filled mostly with empty space.13 These ‘atoms’ soon became eminently cuttable into neutrons, electrons and protons. And protons and neutrons are considered in turn to be composed of quarks, which are believed to exist only in groups of two or three. Interestingly, the word quark is a neologism. It comes from a line in a poem by James Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake, “Three quarks for Muster Mark!” The atomism of Descartes which led to the mathematicization of science was a figment of a poem, no more or less ‘absolutely’ true than the bizarrely communal quarks of Murray Gell-Mann. The assumptions that led Descartes, Galileo, Newton, and Locke to disenfranchise words and qualities from their rightful place in science have been
long displaced. What lingers is a stultifying scientism. “She blinded me with science,” objected Thomas Dolby before he yielded that science is “poetry in motion.” While many generations before Descartes, and possibly even Francis Bacon himself, might have concurred with Dolby, the dubious rock-poet, this sentiment is mostly relegated
to the postmodern counterculture today.14 Thus it is rare but refreshing to hear thoughts such as the one which Cornell physicist, Carl Sagan, put into the mouth of his leading scientist in the finale of his novel-made-movie Contact. When his heroine, Eleanor ‘Ellie’ Arouet beheld the wonders of the galaxy from her starship, she exclaimed, “They should have sent a poet.”15 Perhaps those of us who are science educators should be training them.

Book Review: The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education

The writing of book reviews warrants a hesitancy that is often ignored, at least if social media and the blogosphere are accurate indicators. With any book, the reviewer is often unqualified to review the author in question. Who, truth be told, would feel qualified to review the work of a Nobel prize-winning economist, for example? That is exactly the case with the book being reviewed herein. Who among us would be qualified to write a review for a book on classical education by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain? Few have done the amount of research and preparation that these two committed to, along with the experience in teaching and education that they brought to the writing of their most recent publication, The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education.

This book, published in 2013 by Classical Academic Press, has received the praise of Christian classical schoolteachers and headmasters, homeschool curriculum developers, university professors, and research institute presidents. This is high praise for a paperback book weighing in at less than 170 pages. Clark and Jain, moreover, hold nothing back in setting forth this clear, concise thesis for their work: “The seven liberal arts were never meant to stand on their own as the entire curriculum, for they are designed particularly for cultivating intellectual virtue” (Clark and Jain 2).

The Liberal Arts Tradition, with that thesis in view, embarks on a journey for the sake of the Western Tradition. Walking the reader along the various points on the educational path, Clark and Jain remind him of the earliest phases in education: piety, then gymnastics and music. Piety, “the proper love and fear of God and man” (13), is a necessary but often overlooked aspect of a child’s education if for no other reason than it is assumed that it has already been instilled or will be instilled by the education and discipline that will follow. Piety cultivates love for God and love for neighbor; it cultivates a healthy respect and honor for father and mother—best understood in the fullness of those terms to include all of those who have gone before us, those who have participated in the passing on of culture from one generation to the next. The teaching of piety, then, is accomplished, in part, by the passing on and reception of the very tradition we are striving to keep alive, because “without a respect for this Western Christian heritage and a desire to emulate the great leaders and thinkers of the past, Christian classical education surely unravels” (17).

Gymnastics and music, moreover, are just as necessary and just as overlooked as piety has been. Christian classical education creates monsters if it succeeds only at growing the mind to the neglect of the body and soul. “Musical and gymnastic education point to a profound truth about the nature of human beings: the body and soul are united in such a way that failure to cultivate the capacities inherent in either is a failure to cultivate the whole person” (20-21).

Clark and Jain continue to take the reader through the more familiar Trivium, often the only landmark attended to on this journey, then through the Quadrivium, which has only recently gotten any attention. Finally, they introduce the reader to two other landmarks along the path: Philosophy and Theology. Philosophy, not reduced only to the intellectual foray into well-known names such as Freud and Hume, but seen also to include a more robust study of what was once called natural philosophy, now known primarily by its synonym, natural science, as well as the study of moral philosophy and metaphysics. All of these conclude with the study of Theology, the queen of the sciences.

Clark and Jain set out as their thesis that Christian classical education was never meant to be reduced to the seven liberal arts, far less so to just the Trivium. Each step along the educational journey builds upon and needs the preceding steps to be fully grasped and understood and thus to lead us to wisdom. All of this matters, they argue, because “education is more than the transference of knowledge; it is the transmission of values, culture, and the proper ordering of loves” (ix). To properly engage in education, as defined here, students need more than just the arts of the Trivium and Quadrivium; they need instruction in piety, music, and gymnastics. They need instruction in philosophy and theology. They need an education of the whole human person.

Most readers will have already grasped the importance of the Trivium, yet Clark and Jain show how it connects to the previous concepts of piety, music, and gymnastics too often ignored. For example, “dialectic is the art of reasoning through the voluminous material encountered in a thorough musical and grammatical education” (41) and an education in piety, one might add. Dialectic is not the art of reasoning through what
a student has just encountered, but through this and all of the previous information encountered throughout his life. Add to this the case for the Quadrivium: “the study of mathematics leads the mind toward pure reason and cultivates the love of wisdom…. The mind learns to transcend the level of changing opinions to identify objective truth” (50). The latter serves as a great aid applied to previous studies through the Trivium, and the former is a great aid that will lead students through the study of philosophy (for that is what the phrase ‘love of wisdom’ means) as well as theology.

Piety, which inculcates love for God, neighbor, and our cultural inheritance, is precisely what is lacking in modern education: “This rejection of the past, our neighbor, and nature, may in fact be the hallmark of modernity” (11). Gymnastics, moreover, is necessary, Clark and Jain rightly conclude, precisely because “education is not merely an intellectual affair, no matter how intellect-centered it must be, because human beings are not merely minds…. A full curriculum must cultivate the good of the whole person, soul and body” (23). And, musical education, they show, “considers some of the same ‘subjects’ as the liberal arts, [although] it does so from the perspective of forming the heart, the sense of wonder, and the affections. It contains in seed form the liberal arts and the philosophies. What is sown by music and gymnastic training will be cultivated later in the liberal arts portion of the curriculum…” (29). As stated above, these ideas encountered earlier in education prepare the student for later education in the liberal arts and, ultimately, in philosophy and theology.

With regard to philosophy, Clark and Jain remind the reader that it is an inclusive study, inclusive of natural philosophy (science), moral philosophy (ethics), and metaphysics (the True, the Good, and the Beautiful). “Most ancients and medievals believed that man both constituted the community and the community in turn made him into a true man” (114). Natural philosophy gives knowledge of the community’s environment, moral philosophy of man’s and the community’s ethical obligations, and metaphysics of their coherence, of reality itself. Philosophy, then, helps man to rightly constitute a community and to rightly be made into a true man by it, and philosophy is “studied with all the tools of the liberal arts, both linguistic and mathematical” (113). Thus, it both necessitates their previous study and becomes part of the purpose for their study.

It is important to note that Theology is the final end to which we devote all of our studies. Thus, Theology as “God’s revelation is a source of knowledge in addition to that studied by the classical curriculum, [requiring] a science devoted particularly to its study” (129). Theology is the goal of education because, among other things, “it furnishes the concepts of creation, universe, intelligence, telos, and so on, which are essential to our understanding of the natural world” (131). Everything we are teaching, including the seven liberal arts, point us toward this end, but it is this end which will also and finally fill out and unify all that we have studied.

This is the thesis of Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain in The Liberal Arts Tradition. It is a call to Christian classical educators, be they school teachers, administrators, or homeschoolers, to no longer forget the broader tradition incorporating more than just the Trivium and to intentionally seek out, use, and apprehend the whole of the tradition, preserving our Western Christian tradition as we do so. While Clark and Jain do a compelling job at presenting their thesis, there is more to say. If there is a complaint, and there isn’t, it would be that the book is too short. It is filled with footnotes that might have been worked into the text itself, but the book was meant to be the beginning to a larger conversation and that demanded the format it has.

A book review written by the unqualified is limited in what it can say and do. All that has been written here has been written in light of the author’s limited experience and knowledge of Christian classical education and the Western Christian tradition. Any interaction with this book will be greatly expanded by the experience and knowledge the reader himself brings to the text. Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain have begun a conversation and you are being invited to join that conversation. Don’t ignore this invitation; purchase a copy of The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education, grab your favorite highlighters and pen, and join the conversation. It is a conversation worth having, and they and you will be bettered by having participated in it.

What Hath Biology To Do With Physics?

In contemporary schools we often imagine that all the natural sciences fit neatly together. Casual observers sometimes assume that the scientific approach offers a simple methodology which must only be applied in each subject. But woe to the headmaster who asks a young biology teacher to tackle a senior physics class or requests a physics teacher to handle the fetal pigs. It turns out that these disciplines are very different creatures. One subject deals in dissections and the other with derivatives. So what hath biology to do with physics? Come and find out how a return to Aristotle’s principles can simplify and help organize your school’s vision across the natural sciences as well as begin to reintegrate them with the humanities.

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College as a pre-med, political science major having also served as a teaching assistant in physics and ancient Greek. He worked at various churches before receiving an M.A. from Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been teaching AP Calculus and AP Physics at the Geneva School since 2003. During this tenure he has sought to understand and champion the role of math and science in a Christian Classical curriculum. Over the past four years he has had the opportunity to deliver over 35 talks or workshops on these topics at various schools and conferences across the country. Ravi is the co-author (along with Kevin Clark) of a new book on classical education called The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosphy of Christian Classical Education, published by Classical Academic Press.

Introduction to the Quadrivium

The four liberal arts of the Quadrivium: arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music, have been central to the Western vision of education since the time of Plato and Aristotle. They provide crucial tools of learning for many other areas of study later in the curriculum. They historically undergirded the birth of modern science and had preserved a vision of the cosmos as an ordered whole for millennia. Yet they are little understood and perhaps their centrality to classical education is underappreciated. This seminar will explore how to recover a vision for these four liberal arts within our curriculum and how they can provide a rich vantage point for the recovery of wonder, wisdom, and worship in our math and science classes.

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College as a pre-med, political science major having also served as a teaching assistant in physics and ancient Greek. He worked at various churches before receiving an M.A. from Reformed Theological Seminary. He has been teaching AP Calculus and AP Physics at the Geneva School since 2003. During this tenure he has sought to understand and champion the role of math and science in a Christian Classical curriculum. Over the past four years he has had the opportunity to deliver over 35 talks or workshops on these topics at various schools and conferences across the country. Much of his spare time recently has been spent smoothing the rough edges on a book he is co-authoring on Christian classical education which is due for publication during the summer of 2013.

Ad Fontes Scientiae

The phrase ‘Ad Fontes’ or ‘To the sources’ was a common refrain during the 16th and 17th centuries among European scholars. Many prominent Christian reformers such as John Calvin were part of a movement of Christian humanists which returned to the primary sources, namely the Greek and Hebrew texts of Scripture and the writings of the early church fathers, in order to better understand the true meaning of the Bible. The phrase was also a call of the Italian Renaissance thinkers, and today the phrase has recently been echoed by educators in the Christian classical renewal. Thus, in many Christian classical schools, students read works of Homer, Aristotle, and St. Augustine and are challenged by luminaries of the English language such as Chaucer or John Donne. Yet we tend to think of a return to the sources as an exclusive project of the humanities. Could we return to the primary sources in natural science and mathematics as well?

Ancient authorities influenced not just men of the Renaissance and Reformation but also the early modern scientists. Copernicus knew Ptolemy inside and out and named ancients, like Philolaus, as authorities who believed the earth moved. Galileo expected mathematicians everywhere to know, not simply the Elements of Euclid, but also the work of Appolonius on conic sections. Gassendi, Descartes, and Newton all discovered foundations for their natural science in the atomism of Democritus while trying to reinterpret his work through a Christian lens. Since these modern scientists brought a new emphasis on quantitative observations, people today surmise that they eliminated any dependence on their predecessors. But the scientists knew that they were building on the foundations laid out by the great minds that had preceded them. Galileo found his muse in Archimedes, Kepler in Plato, and Descartes in Euclid. But where is our cry “Ad Fontes Scientiae” today? Could we possibly follow the actual process of scientific discovery in the original writings of the scientists? Or are we bound to learning only ‘fully-formed’ systems as if they had sprung complete from the head of Zeus? Is there an alternative to wandering through the shifting mazes of state standards? What would it look like for us to return ‘to the sources of science’, Ad Fontes Scientiae?

Using primary sources in science and mathematics is a better and more human way of learning for at least five reasons. First, reading the great scientists’ accounts of their own discoveries allows the objective disciplines of science and math to have a more personal and rounded dimension. Second, focusing on the seminal thinkers and their advances narrows the canon of important scientific material and establishes a continuous and coherent narrative of discovery out of an endless sea of possible information to teach. Third, patterning our thoughts after the habits of mind of the greatest scientists and mathematicians is the best training for teaching students how to think and not just what to think. Fourth, learning to read the primary sources is the best preparation for students to become real lifelong learners in mathematics and science. And finally, allowing them to engage with the best of the best scientists develops in them a sense of confidence regarding science and math because they have become familiar with its chief exemplars and its highest authorities. Discarding all textbooks would be a rash and unhelpful move, but why not, instead, use the technical narrative of discovery as told by the scientists themselves as our primary focus and use textbooks to augment that, fill in the gaps, and provide contemporary applications? In this manner, mathematics and science are then returned to their appropriate status as true humanities and not just servile arts.

Let us consider these five reasons. Over the years the majority of students in my junior and senior Calculus and Physics classes have come to love reading the primary sources because they encounter the personal and rounded dimensions of the scientists. The students who had already enjoyed math and science marvel at the depth and breadth of its founders, and those students that had initially found these subjects boring and meaningless discover salient points of personal contact to inspire them. When years ago my students first read a short five-paragraph introductory biography of Johannes Kepler and realized that his father was a ‘soldier of fortune’ (or mercenary), they were fascinated. Suddenly Kepler had a context that was intriguing. They sympathized to learn that his wife and children died young of illness. His intense Christian faith impressed them. And Kepler’s discarded hypothesis of cosmic Platonic solids supporting the planets in their orbits offered a wonderful case study in the hard work of scientific hypothesizing and evaluation. We only dipped a toe into the shallows of Kepler’s life. Though we study the great scientists, we will never exhaust them. Our class focuses on Kepler’s three laws which form an essential foundation for Newton’s world-shattering Principia Mathematica. These were some of the greatest discoveries of all time, yet most physics textbooks barely devote one page to Kepler’s laws and are unlikely to mention his intense Christian devotion. However, these stories, personal elements, and plot twists in the history of science cause the students to relate and even want to emulate these great scientists. They are humanized.

This leads us to the second point: canon and narrative. Should Kepler’s work and laws hold such a prominent place in an introductory physics class? Amidst the greatest trove of information ever existing in history, how does one select what material is crucial for the students’ education and what is incidental? How does one decide on the canon of math and science? A postmodern thinker, Jean Baudrillard, has quipped ‘information is entropy’ to describe the problem of information overload in our age. In college, I remember the claim that the world would produce as much information in the 1990’s as was produced since the beginning of civilization, but in 2010 Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, outdid that assertion. He suggested that humanity now produces as much information in two days as we did from the dawn of time until 2003. The more information that is produced by our culture, the more difficult it is to determine which pieces of information are important. How does one distinguish the signal from the noise? The only way to do this is to have some kind of tuner, to focus on one wavelength and look for the patterns on that band. Closely following the technical narrative of discovery in science and recapitulating both the great discoveries and the great proofs of our scientific predecessors is the best way to establish a canon and ‘tune in’ to the proper wavelength. But is this practical? While in an introductory course students can’t cover every detail, by retracing a basic narrative of discovery they can accomplish quite a bit more than might be expected. Our juniors and seniors when electing to enroll in our school’s integrated AP Physics and Calculus sequence trace the primary source narrative from Plato’s Timaeus through Einstein’s 1905 paper, “The Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” in which he proves the theory of special relativity (the stretching and shrinking of relative time and space). Imagine how it feels not only to understand this paper in a general textbook way, but to be able to follow many of the particular moves of Einstein’s argument for E=mc2 (discussed in a short follow- up paper). Once this has been done, the students know why the role of Kepler is crucial to the narrative. They also know what kinds of textbook problems are extraneous busy work. They have internalized the canon.

This leads to the next critical benefit. By following and recapitulating this process, they are effectively imitating the greatest scientific and mathematical minds of all time. As they do this they acquire not just a sense of what to think but how to think. Instead of a slavish repetition of facts and drills (which is at times important), this develops creative and inquisitive habits of mind which can focus and distill the essential issues from the chaff. It nurtures genius. A few years back, a class of seniors was able to outstrip all of my expectations. They were eager to understand Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. So at the end of our two-year sequence we took about six days to read through as much as possible of Einstein’s 1916 “Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity.” I was both excited and astounded. I didn’t honestly expect them, or me, to learn much, since this topic is usually only covered by physics graduate students. I didn’t know what to expect. While grappling with tensors, new mathematical methods, and mind-blowing thought experiments, we culled one nugget that I doubt we would have learned any other way. We found a major parallel between Newton and Einstein that I had never heard before. The basic insight in general relativity is to develop an invariant quantity, a ds, based off a four-dimensional vector where time is treated
as a spatial dimension. This invariant then becomes a foundation upon which Einstein builds his system. This directly parallels a method early in Newton’s work in which he develops the derivative. This step in Einstein’s paper is a beautiful analog to the breakthrough for Newton. And interestingly each scientist is using his new method to solve a problem in his respective theory of gravity. Students can only discover these kinds of deep parallels when reading the primary sources instead of pre-digested versions. Students would never encounter Newton’s geometric reasoning for the derivative in a contemporary calculus text. Math textbooks almost exclusively present the derivative through a Cartesian algebraic notation and a limit method not developed until hundreds of years after Newton and Leibniz. While we should still teach Weierstrass’s limit notation in its proper place, it is foolish to allow it to eclipse the brilliant reasoning of Leibniz and Newton in their founding of Calculus. Focusing on more minor advances does not cultivate genius. It will not produce another Einstein, Faraday, or Newton. It does not develop the deeply powerful habits of mind that teach students how to discern the central kernel from the chaff and to think creatively about transcendent problems.

Another impressive benefit of studying the primary sources in mathematics and science is that it prepares students to become lifelong learners in these challenging and expansive subjects. Studying primary sources prepares students to continue to learn the new technical discoveries that are constantly emerging. Thus, the best way for our students to be able to competently discuss relativity theory, evolution, or artificial intelligence as adults is for them to read the most significant primary sources in mathematics and natural science leading up to these theories. Watching “This Elegant Universe” on PBS may play a very fine role in stimulating our wonder at the cosmos, but it does not alone constitute ‘lifelong learning in science’ any more than reading Tom Clancey’s Hunt for Red October counts for continuing education in literature. American students and even college graduates seldom attempt to engage seriously with ideas outside of their narrow specialties because they are told that there is too much knowledge out there. But to be honest, not much of that knowledge is important for understanding the broad strokes of modern natural science. If students focus on the central narrative of Western scientific thought and its canon, another generation of genius such as that of the 17th century Scientific Revolution may indeed arise. Most of the fathers of modern mathematics and science from that era were broadly educated and wrote as much in philosophy and theology as they did in math and science. In order to achieve that level of erudition again, we have to follow their method of reading the actual authors themselves, not pre- digested systematized summaries. Thus, using primary sources to sift out the central narrative is a key to teaching our students how to be lifelong learners.

All of this leads us to the final observation: this method provides students with a level of confidence in math and science unmatchable by mere technical prowess. This approach is not simply knowing lots of facts; it is knowing and understanding a lot about the right facts. Richard Dawkins can argue interminably about the incompatibility of science and religion, but when students have read Kepler, Newton, and even Galileo defending the power and glory of God, they will have little fear of the ill-conceived critiques of the new atheists. The vast majority of significant contributors to math and natural science before the 20th century were Christians. It takes a lot of explaining to describe how devoted Christians were actively building and defending a system if that system was held to be in direct contradiction to their beliefs. Much to the contrary, they believed their math and science to be a natural outgrowth of their faith in an all-wise God who created an orderly world. In fact, Descartes, Newton, Pascal and Leibniz all thought their work provided an apologetic for the reality of God. Thus, studying the primary sources gives the students a first-hand acquaintance with the harmony between science and Christian faith and protects them from hostile skeptics.

If by now an interested educator thinks that this approach is worthwhile but is flummoxed by how to pull it off, let me encourage him. Take baby steps. This is by no means an easy or quick task because none of us was trained this way and our schools are not set up to make it easy. But may I suggest that an eager educator begin by endeavoring to learn the technical narrative for himself
and from there develop a canon of which texts were truly influential and profound. Once this background is attained, the teacher may introduce a few pages of primary sources on occasion while teaching a related topic. Let the students read Newton’s Laws from the Principia Mathematica itself. Have the class buy a copy of Pascal’s Pensees, and read a few in class from time to time. Consider including appropriate excerpts from Lavoisier’s “Elementary Treatise on Chemistry” or even Darwin’s Origin of Species. Develop a Kepler, Galileo, Newton sequence and use it to teach some kinematics, dynamics, and the law of gravity. In the students’ laboratory sessions they may reproduce Galileo’s kinematics experiments or Pascal’s proof that outer space
is a vacuum. Whatever can be done to get a foothold in the primary sources will broaden their perspective. While the goal is for students to understand the great conversation
in math and science, secondary sources are very helpful as the teacher strives to mediate that conversation to the students. I have used Morris Kline’s Mathematics for Non- mathematicians and The Soul of Science by Pearcey and Thaxton for broad overviews. Specialty histories of the disciplines are also invaluable for subject teachers. I suggest Creations of Fire by Cobb and Goldwhite for Chemistry, This is Biology by Mayr for Biology, and The Birth of a New Physics by Cohen for Physics. These histories help develop the core of the story for the rise of mathematics and the key sciences. The Modeling of Nature by William Wallace offers a rare gem for those interested in a Christian classical philosophy of science. It may be one of a kind as no other book that I have found on the topic could be called both Christian and classical. Once a teacher has established the narrative of his discipline, the Great Books series does have many of the most significant primary source works from the period of the scientific revolution and more primary sources can be found online.

Over the course of a few years, if a teacher follows this path, he or she can introduce new primary source passages and texts one by one. A class does not need to read every work in full. Our classes at the Geneva School certainly don’t; however, the broader the context that is given for a selected passage, the more insight the students will gain. Over time a teacher will be able to develop a coherent technical narrative from the primary sources and will be able to depend less on textbooks. But, there must be balance in this pursuit. While education necessarily involves nurturing passion in students and developing wisdom, it also requires technical details, habits, and discipline. Without the skills of algebraic manipulation and scientific reasoning the students will not be able to continue in college mathematics and natural science. Therefore, teachers should, little by little, discover what primary sources are effective instructional tools and only slowly adjust their curricula to these new richer places. Radical changes to a curriculum without adequate teacher preparation are almost certain to be short-lived. On the other hand, the steady and intentional approach here commended will continue to teach the students the tools of learning and the basics of the subject but will also do more. It will nurture genius. While this path may sound like a lofty pursuit, it is attainable over time especially if we teachers support each other in this endeavor. Let us therefore strive towards this goal together, for the good of our communities and for the glory of God. And may we too, with Newton and Leibniz, unabashedly conceive of our instruction in mathematics and natural science as an apologetic for his Lordship.

Metaphysics Matters

We in Christian classical schooling champion the role that goodness, truth, and beauty play in shaping our curriculum and our culture. But would we ever consider teaching a class on them? The medievals did, and guess what they called it? Metaphysics. Goodness, truth, and beauty along with unity are considered the transcendental properties of being, an aspect of metaphysics. In other words, all of reality somehow exhibits these properties because reality is the creation of a good, true and beautiful God. It turns out that the medieval topic of metaphysics covered not only these transcendentals, but also such poignant questions such as the nature of truth and meaning. When we ask how we can defend absolute truth in a relativistic society, we must lean on metaphysics. Medieval metaphysics explored other deep questions like God’s relationship to creation and ‘the one and the many’ problem. It also provided a framework for the integration of the disciplines that is woefully lacking in fragmented modern education. This seminar will consider how to recapture the now lost category of metaphysics, so important to the ancients and the medievals, and explore how to teach it in our schools.

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor’s degree and interests in physics, ancient Greek and international political economies. He worked at various churches, received a master’s degree from Reformed Theological Seminary and later earned a graduate certificate in mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He began teaching calculus and physics at The Geneva School in 2003, where he has developed an integrated double-period class called The Scienti c Revolution. In this class, students read primary sources like Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery while preserving the mathematical and scientific rigor expected of a college-level treatment. During his tenure there, he co-authored The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education. He has given over 100 talks and workshops worldwide on topics related to education, mathematics and science. He has two young boys, Judah and Xavier. After the duties of the week have been discharged — usually by 8:53 on Saturday nights — he enjoys his few remaining hours with family, friends and his wife, Kelley Anne, whom he met in Japan.

Teaching with the Ancients

Is “Ad Fontes” the exclusive call of the humanities, or could mathematics and science classes profit by using primary sources as well? This session will consider the benefits and challenges of using primary sources in math and science classes and help sort out how to make them effective. We will explore how primary sources can augment textbooks by giving students first hand access to the technical narrative of discovery. We will also discuss replicating these great historic discoveries as lab work as well as using primary sources to consider issues in faith and science. Whether your class has never attempted to use primary sources before, or whether you’ve been reading Newton’s Principia Mathematica for years, this session will offer an accessible path for fully integrating primary source material into any of your lessons from arithmetic to electricity.

Ravi Jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College with a BA and interests in physics, ancient Greek, and international political economy. He worked at various churches, received an MA from Reformed Theological Seminary, and later earned a Graduate Certi cate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He began teaching Calculus and Physics at The Geneva School in 2003, where he has developed an integrated double-period class called “The Scienti c Revolution.” In this class the students read primary sources such as Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery while preserving the mathematical and scienti c rigor expected of a college-level treatment. During his tenure there, he co-authored The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education. He has given more than 100 talks and workshops throughout the country and overseas on topics related to education, mathematics, and science. He has two young boys, Judah and Xavier. A er the duties of the week have been discharged (by 8:53 Saturday night), the few remaining hours he enjoys spending with family, friends, and his wife, Kelley Anne, whom he met in Japan.

A Christian Classical Paradigm for Math and Science

Have you ever found yourself at your desk thinking, how do I teach math and science classically when they seem so modern? In this session, we will discuss how teaching, using an intuitive balance of wonder, work, wisdom and worship allows us to recover the ancient categories for math and science like the quadrivium, natural philosophy, and simple delight in God’s creation. We will explore how employing this paradigm bridges the gap between the need for relevant contemporary application and the goal of staying true to the wisdom of the Western Christian liberal arts tradition.

Ravi jain

Ravi Jain graduated from Davidson College with a BA and interests in physics, ancient Greek, and international political economy. He worked at various churches, received an MA from Reformed Theological Seminary, and later earned a Graduate Certificate in Mathematics from the University of Central Florida. He began teaching Calculus and Physics at The Geneva School in 2003, where he has developed an integrated double-period class called “The Scienti c Revolution.” In this class the students read primary sources such as Galileo and Newton in order to recapitulate the narrative of discovery while preserving the mathematical and scienti c rigor expected of a college-level treatment. During his tenure there, he co-authored The Liberal Arts Tradition: A Philosophy of Christian Classical Education. He has given more than 100 talks and workshops throughout the country and overseas on topics related to education, mathematics, and science. He has two young boys, Judah and Xavier. A er the duties of the week have been discharged (by 8:53 Saturday night), the few remaining hours he enjoys spending with family, friends, and his wife, Kelley Anne, whom he met in Japan.