Gem from GK Chesterton

"A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it."

From The Everlasting Man

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

What's in a name? The Cambridge University Colleges

When was the divorce decree issued, making official the separation of the faith/reason or faith/science marriage?  If you look strictly at the naming of Cambridge University colleges the end of the 19th century corresponds well with Schaeffer's "Line of Despair".  Pre-20th century colleges at Cambridge include: 

  • Trinity Hall, founded 1350
  • Corpus Christi, f. 1352
  • Magdalene, f. 1428
  • St. Catharine's, f. 1473
  • Jesus, f. 1496
  • Christ's, f. 1505
  • St. John's, f. 1511
  • Trinity, f. 1546
  • Emmanuel, f. 1584
  • St. Edmund's, f. 1896
After St. Edmund's, the colleges are exclusively secular in name, including among others:

  • New Hall
  • Churchill
  • Darwin
  • Robinson

Granted that among those early religiously named are also colleges named for secular dignitaries, mostly royalty (King's College, Queens, Clare, etc...)  Granted that the earlier colleges were first training grounds for the clergy, then took on the secular academic role.  Also granted that there continue to be seminary subjects within the modern colleges.    But the see-saw which once tilted heavily toward faith-centered thought, turned on it's fulcrum (seemingly in the late 1800's) and now faith-based-thought dangles with it's little legs kicking the air across from a bloated non-faith-based-thought see-saw partner.  (To stretch a metaphor and over-use hyphens!)

The "what" of this transition seems beyond doubt, the "when" and "where" are clear but less certain.   To me, the "why" and "how" are the least clear, up for the most debate, and  the most interesting.  

My preference is that the tyke at the top of the see-saw starts growing up and that the chubby guy at the other end should call Jenny Craig.  But that both stay on and play.  Because you know what happens when one jumps off.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Happy Birthday to Newton, 365 Years Old!

Born on Christmas Day, 1643.

And what gift would I give Newton for his birthday?  
  • An Apple iPhone with the Quick Graph 3D graphing application (because... you know... Apple...)
  • A Night Vision Pinch Bunk Bot (because he probably didn't have a plush robot to sleep with when he was a kid)
  • And a block of frozen smoke (because aerogels are just too cool)

An Unholy Marriage in Newton's Principia

Newton's masterpiece  Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (or, "The Principia") stands as one of the most important scientific texts in history.   But modern people who read it have major problems with it (and not just because it is exceedingly thick and technical).  There are problems at one's gut level when it is examined.  Why? An odd marriage of faith and science within the same volume.  It was not odd for Newton's time, but is for ours.  He pairs theology along with the codification of the laws of motion, gravity, and geometric proofs.  An example of the theology from The Principia:

The Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect; but a being, however perfect, without dominion, cannot be said to be Lord God; for we say, my God, your God, the God of Israel, the God of Gods, and Lord of Lords; but we do not say, my Eternal, your Eternal, the Eternal of Israel, the Eternal of Gods; we do not say, my Infinite, or my Perfect: these are titles which have no respect to servants. The word God' usually signifies Lord; but every lord is not a God. It is the dominion of a spiritual being which constitutes a God: a true, supreme, or imaginary dominion makes a true, supreme, or imaginary God. And from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being; and, from his other perfections, that he is supreme, or most perfect. He is eternal and infinite, omnipotent and omniscient; that is, his duration reaches from eternity to eternity; his presence from infinity to infinity; he governs all things, and knows all things that are or can be done. He is not eternity and infinity, but eternal and infinite; he is not duration or space, but he endures and is present.

Our squirming has no end.  Many modern scientists squirm because their cart typically isn't attached to that horse.  What was the last issue of Nature or Scientific American to have theological contributions?  But many Christians squirm because their cart is attached to that horse, but a different breed.  Newton's public faith often deviated from traditional doctrine.    

The source (but unnecessary, I believe) of the unease is the separation of faith and science as disciplines.  Francis Schaeffer argues that humanity crossed "The Line of Despair" in the early 1900's where faith and reason were ultimately separated and people were forced to live either in the lower story of a house (reason) or the upper story (faith), but not both upstairs and downstairs within the post-modern framework.  Perhaps a lion's share of moderns' unease with The Principia, is that Newton lived on both stories of the house at once.  Or rather, he had no separate stories, just one unified abode where faith and reason lived together, shared meals, and (probably) argued about whether the toilet paper roll should pull up or down. 

In his book Orthodoxy, GK Chesterton describes the terrible result of the effort to separation faith from reason:

With a long and sustained tug we have attempted to pull the mitre off pontifical man; and his head has come off with it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Welcome to "The Secret of Newton" Blog from Brian Steele

By education and trade I'm a geologist which makes me a scientist. But I'm not an authority on science though I know a thing or two about rocks. I'm fascinated by history, but not a historian. I am a Christian, but not  a theologian. I am Newton enthusiast but am far from a Newton scholar. I wrote  the novel "A Body at Rest" to pursue my passions in the areas of science, history, faith and the interaction of the three. The only mantle of authority I claim is the history and inner workings of Elyon College, the fictional school I created for the sake of the novel. For matters relating to Elyon I'll accept criticism and correction only from the novel characters themselves, and, since by my keyboard I hold them by the lips, that's not likely to happen.

In all other matters on this blog (religious, scientific, historical) I welcome your input, discussion, dialogue and correction where I stand to be corrected. As I said, my command and understanding of the realm of Elyon is unimpeachable, in all else fire away. From this blog and the novel, I welcome input from Cambridge alumni, Newton devotees, scientists, people of faith and people without faith. All are expected and I hope will be shared with my same passions and intentions to highlight some brilliant subjects, times, places and characters in history. Cheers!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Open Comments for Early Readers of "A Body at Rest"

If you've been given an early copy of my novel "A Body at Rest", here's a place to leave comments, interact with the other readers, shoot spit balls, or hurl rotten vegetables.  No spoilers please.