Posted by: gcarkner | December 29, 2016

The Road to Freedom, Democracy and the Common Good

Join the GCU Dialogue

See Professor Ron Dart’s new book The North American High Tory Tradition (American Anglican Press, 2016)


A significant struggle began in the year 1776 over the fate of a continent, and there are those who believe that this struggle ended in the year 1783, with the ancient ways of the Old World being given over entirely to those of a New. Is it true, however, that the end of what has been called ‘The First American Civil War’ saw the complete victory of the republican way, and the banishment of the older Tory tradition from these shores? The North American High Tory Tradition tells another story, one in which a different vision for life in North America emerges from the cold of the True North where its flame has been kept burning until the present day. George Grant (1918-1988), the most influential High Tory intellectual of the 20th century, warned us in his Lament for a Nation of the collision course which lies ahead for these two different ‘North Americas’–that embodied in the Dominion of the North, and that in the Republic to its South. Is the disappearance of the Tory alternative an inevitable fate to our future as ‘North Americans’? In The North American High Tory Tradition Ron Dart shines light upon the classical lineage, deep wisdom and enduring nature of the High Tory tradition as it has been planted and grown in the soil of North America, and in doing so reveals how Canada may serve as a north star to lead North Americans to a different destiny than that planned for them by a certain few in 1776.

I am enjoying the insights (historical, moral, philosophical and political) of this well-written book. The reflections are rooted in some of the key shapers of the Canadian identity. We need sane, substantial voices and balance amidst today’s sometimes bizarre political theatrics, growth of populism and the ideology of image. I would also recommend highly the book by Chief UK Rabbi Jonathan Sacks called The Dignity of Difference; it is a fair treatment/critique of religion and globalization. One might also view on the same theme Yale professor Miraslov Volf’s insightful 2016 book, Flourishing: why we need religion in age of globalization. ~Gord Carkner

screen-shot-2017-01-06-at-4-54-40-pm Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Modern thought raises no barriers to a future nihilistic war against liberal democracy on the part of those who have been brought up in its bosom. Relativism–the doctrine that all values are merely relative and which attacks all ‘privileged perspectives’–must ultimately end up undermining democratic and tolerant values as well. Relativism is not a weapon that can be aimed selectively at the enemies one chooses. It fires indiscriminately, shooting out the legs of not only the ‘absolutisms’, dogmas, and certainties of the Western tradition, but the tradition’s emphasis on tolerance, diversity, and freedom of thought as well. If nothing can be true absolutely, if all values are culturally determined, then cherished principles like human equality have to go by the wayside as well.   Francis Fukuyama, The End of History (1992, 332)

Mankind…is not merely the maximizing animal. We are also, uniquely, the meaning-seeking animal. (J.Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, 194)

Man was not made for the service of economies; economies were made to serve mankind; and men and women were made–so I believe–to serve one another, not just themselves. We may not survive while others drown; we may not feast while others starve; we are not free when others are in servitude; we are not well when billions languish in disease and premature death. (J. Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, 196)

Economic superpowers, seemingly invincible in their time, live a relatively short life-span: Venice in the sixteenth century, the Netherlands in the seventeenth, France in the eighteenth, Britain in the nineteenth, and the United States in the twentieth. The great religions, by contrast, survive…. Why this should be so is open to debate. My own view is that the world faiths embody truths unavailable to economics and politics, and they remain salient even when everything else changes. They remind us that civilizations survive not by strength but by how they respond to the weak; not by wealth but by the care they show for the poor; not by power but by their concern for the powerless. The ironic yet utterly humane lesson of history is that what renders a culture invulnerable is the the compassion it shows to the vulnerable. The ultimate value we should be concerned to maximize is human dignity–the dignity of all human beings, equally, as children of the creative, redeeming God. (J. Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, 195)

Six C’s:

I have proposed a simple set of ideas that might guide us in the choppy waters ahead. Control means taking responsibility and refusing to see economic or political development as inevitable. Contribution means that there is a moral dimension to economics. Advertisers who mislead, producers who turn a blind eye to inhumane working conditions and starvation wages, beneficiaries of the system who do not share their time and blessings with others, are unacceptable whether or not what they do is legal. Compassion means that developing countries must take seriously their obligation to the world’s poor, protecting their independence while opening up ways of escaping from poverty. Creativity suggests that (not the only, but) the best way of doing this is through investment in education. Co-operation tells us that market do not survive on competition alone. They presuppose virtues and what I have called covenantal relationships, without which the Prisoner’s Dilemma tells us that individual self-interest will fail to generate collective good. Conservation reminds us of our duties to nature and to the future, without which the pace of economic growth will merely be a measure of the speed at which  we approach the abyss…. Freedom means restraint. (J. Sacks, The Dignity of Difference, 174)

Posted by: gcarkner | December 26, 2016

The Incarnate One

The Incarnate One

by Edwin Muir

The windless northern surge, the sea-gull’s scream,
And Calvin’s kirk crowning the barren brae.
I think of Giotto the Tuscan shepherd’s dream,
Christ, man and creature in their inner day.
How could our race betray
The Image, and the Incarnate One unmake
Who chose this form and fashion for our sake?

The Word made flesh here is made word again
A word made word in flourish and arrogant crook.
See there King Calvin with his iron pen,
And God three angry letters in a book,
And there the logical hook
On which the Mystery is impaled and bent
Into an ideological argument.

There’s better gospel in man’s natural tongue,
And truer sight was theirs outside the Law
Who saw the far side of the Cross among
The archaic peoples in their ancient awe,
In ignorant wonder saw
The wooden cross-tree on the bare hillside,
Not knowing that there a God suffered and died.

The fleshless word, growing, will bring us down,
Pagan and Christian man alike will fall,
The auguries say, the white and black and brown,
The merry and the sad, theorist, lover, all
Invisibly will fall:
Abstract calamity, save for those who can
Build their cold empire on the abstract man.

A soft breeze stirs and all my thoughts are blown
Far out to sea and lost. Yet I know well
The bloodless word will battle for its own
Invisibly in brain and nerve and cell.
The generations tell
Their personal tale: the One has far to go
Past the mirages and the murdering snow.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation. T.S. Eliot

Posted by: gcarkner | December 20, 2016

Light of the World




Posted by: gcarkner | December 13, 2016

Incarnation: a Comet in the Flesh

The Imago Dei, God’s Icon


The wonder of the incarnation presents humanity with the possibility of full, but finite, personal embodiment of logos, the will and wisdom of the divine. As a fleshly, personal wisdom, it sets out an alternative paradigm from self-mastery, self-invention and self-promotion. Jesus is the image (icon) of God that we long for in our honest moments, the most excellent representative of God on earth. He is fully God and fully human. In this way, he provides an exemplar of life lived in the presence of God, offering us an archetype of human goodness that is inspired by heaven. Stephen Long (2001) appeals to the moral normativity of the life of Jesus, revealing that we are hard wired for such a transcendent relationship.

In Christian theology, Jesus reveals to us not only who God is but also what it means to be truly human. This true humanity is not something we achieve on our own; it comes to us as a gift … The reception of this gift contains an ineliminable element of mystery that will always require faith. Jesus in his life, teaching, death and resurrection and ongoing presence in the church and through the Holy Spirit … orders us towards God. He directs our passions and desires towards that which can finally fulfill them and bring us happiness. (D.S. Long, 2001, 106-7)

Transcendent goodness is made present and accessible in the human sphere through the incarnation. It offers us a transcendent turn to a new kind of humanism centered in agape love. Transcendence of the strong variety (C. Schrag, 1997, 110-48) does not mean aloofness or indifference. It is not a burdensome, or unreachable, abstract standard of perfectionism. Rather, it is a creative, palpable engagement with the world, including individuals, society and public institutions. Jesus shows that this goodness can be lived out in the human theatre. The final litmus test of a good moral philosophy is its applicability, its praxis.

Jesus provides such an interpretive lens for the human imagination. Although this claim is challenging to grasp, Paul in Colossians 1: 15-20 speaks of Jesus as the source and ‘glue’ of creation and the purpose or end (telos) of creation, both its creative alpha and omega, beginning and trajectory. He is above all things in creation and at the same time the creative basis, the very ground of being. He is that without which nothing would exist, without which this very text would be meaningless. All the fullness of God dwells in him. He is God incarnate, in the flesh, fully God and fully man, as the Athanasian tradition states. In him, God’s eternity connects with creation’s temporality. Paul writes it large: “Jesus is the Yes and Amen to it all” (II Corinthians 1: 18-21). He affirms the human condition while transforming it and setting out new vision for moral capacity in both individual and societal identity.

In his thoughtful book on the subject, J. Richard Middleton (The Liberating Image, 2005) claims that Jesus accomplishes all that was anticipated in humans to become a proper regent of God on earth. He faithfully fulfilled this vocation as that strategic representative. Jesus is the complete human, a fullness of humanity, the true icon of God. He is the presence of God in the world, the nexus of the eternal and the temporal. It is an inbreaking of heaven into our time-space continuum. He is a powerful exemplar of divine goodness, to direct our passions and show us the way to live robustly, honestly, humbly and justly. He came to take us higher, out of the murky shadows of our lies, lust for power, addictions and deceptions, and into the light. In the popular television program Scandal, Olivia Pope the fixer, is hired to save people’s reputation in the halls of power in Washington, D.C. She sees so much darkness that at times, she longs to leave it all, quit her job, and step out into the light. Jesus is the reason for this human longing for a noble character and true virtue, for doing the right thing even if it not the easy thing, a longing to remain faithful to one’s highest convictions.  

He is the fulfillment of all the promises made to the ancient Hebrew patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Israel) and the prophetic utterances and longings of the Old Testament, the Jewish Messiah, fulfilling the promise of redemption, renewal, and justice for the poor. Humans have spent much time anticipating someone who could show a better way to do politics, to save us from our own destructive narcissism, violence and vengeance, while teaching us the higher wisdom of God.  His life is a unique story, a powerful human narrative of restoration and renewal. The Christ story is the apex of God’s compassionate, redemptive interest in humanity.

~an excerpt from The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity.

Posted by: gcarkner | December 2, 2016

Charles Talor wins Berggruen Prize



Christmas Reading List

The Language Animal: the full shape of human linguistic capacity by Charles Taylor (2016)

Grit: the Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth (Collins, 2016)

Nujeen: One Girl’s Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair by Nujeen Mustafa and Christina Lamb, Harper Collins

Rising Strong: the Reckoning, the Rumble, the Revolution by Brené Brown (Speigel and Grau, 2015)

Faith and Wisdom in Science by Tom McLeish (OUP, 2014)

The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East by Patrick Cockburn (Verso, 2016)

For the Glory: Olympic Legend Eric Liddell’s Journey of Faith and Survival by Duncan Hamilton

Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet  by Lyndal Roper (2016)

Identity and Idolatry: The Image of God and its Inversion by Richard Lints (IVP)

Last Testament: in his own words by Pope Benedict XVI (Bloomsbury Continuum, 2016)

The Great Escape from Nihilism by Gordon Carkner

Regent Bookstore a great place to find a wide selection of books, cards, etc

Posted by: gcarkner | November 19, 2016

Advent Reflections 2016

Advent Reflections 2016

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 10.48.44 AM

Just at the right time, kairos time, he comes to dwell among us in incarnate flesh: pulsating corpuscles, arms and legs running to greet us, face filled with compassion, hands breaking bread to feed the masses, words that give life and vision. Here lies the grand invitation to counter nihilism, violence, will to power, to search into the deeper things of life, reach higher for a transcendent encounter with divine Otherness. It is time to ponder the big questions of meaning, purpose and identity: the profound light that shines in the darkness of our world. There is more to this than meets the eye. We need our best philosophers, historians and scholars, poets and scientists to work on this investigation. There are clues to a great quest here. What kind of in breaking is this? How does it connect with our history? What’s the meaning of this virgin birth, this epiphany of grace, these angelic visitations, this gift, this cosmic wonder, this explosion of the imagination? Advent is a sign of that and  more…

We have touched him with our hands, rubbed shoulders, felt his robust embrace, dined and broke bread together, listened to wisdom that set our minds on fire, felt his care and inclusion, captured a mission that drove us to reach the world with a compelling love. We saw him die and rise again, ascend through the heavens. Divine presence is with us in his Holy Spirit. It has unleashed an economy of grace and goodness, humility and compassion. The pregnant Mary sings her Magnificat, saying an awe-filled Yes to God’s work in and through her: “Things hidden for centuries have become so crystal clear tonight. Insight and justice have set up a new epistemology, a new way of knowing and being, a new world where love is the main game in town, where peace-making and blessing (shalom) are our politics. It is a new playing field, a new paradigm, a new human narrative. Infinite meets finite like a comet burning through the atmosphere; divine goodness ushers in hope of healing; a new future is born. Our people, our human race, have longed for this for centuries only in our wildest dreams, feeding on divine promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David. Once we could only hope for such wondrous things. Now they are tangible, palpable, life-transforming.” What a reality check Advent brings to us.

Christians claim Jesus as God’s Word (divine logos) made flesh, dwelling among us. Here God’s speech is embodied, full-blooded, not flat and lifeless, not reductionistic or atomistic. It is a sign, a communicative action (Kevin Vanhoozer, 2009), much more than the mere letters. It is poetic, prophetic, pedagogical, full of spiritual vitality revealed in a tangible historic person. The language of incarnation leverages the world and transforms individuals; it is strategically located within the human story, not a fantasy. The incarnation is the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution (loss of connection between word and world). There is much to grapple with as we see in Jens Zimmermann’s scholarship on the subject.

Christ the creative wisdom of God, and God’s active Word in creation, is enfleshed in the temporal-historical dimension of our world as the concrete Jewish Messiah, Jesus the Christ…. This is the Word through whom all things were made, and the Word hid in the eternal bosom of God, the Word who spoke through the prophets, the Word whose mighty acts defined the history of Israel. In Jesus the Christ this Word has become flesh, and the eternal has become temporal, but without ceasing to be eternal…. In Christ temporality and eternity are conjoined…. In the incarnation, creation, the world, time and history have been taken up into the God-man, who isthe center of reality…. Faith and reason are inseparable because their unity is in Christ. (J. Zimmermann, Incarnational Humanism, pp. 264-5)

Language (speech act) starts with creation: God spoke and the heavens, the stars, the seas, the plants and trees and living creatures, man and woman came into existence in abundance. They continue to do so (creatio continua). God’s word was enacted in a particular place and time in history. It makes space for new drama. There is intense presence and place; God has carved out space and time for his presence. When humans are addressed by God (the whole premise of Judeo-Christianity), they are drawn up into a divine dialogue, to reason and commune with their Creator, their ultimate mentor. They are identified, loved and valued. A perlocutionary act is a robust speech act that produces an effect in those addressed through the speaker’s utterance. God speech has impact in all of human culture. Theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (R. Gawronski, 1995, Word and Silence) sees the Word of God revealed in three rich and powerful ways: Creation, Scripture, and Incarnation, three different types of language, each powerful in its own right, each complementary to the integrity and impact of the others, using both traditions of language culture. The incarnation is God’s megaphone to late modernity with all its challenges, conundrums, contradictions and struggles.

~Gord Carkner

See also Chapter 10 “Incarnational Humanism Offers a Recovery of our Passion” in The Great Escape from Nihilism.

screen-shot-2016-10-18-at-10-50-11-amA million dollar message for today’s fragmented world.

Read More…

Posted by: gcarkner | November 3, 2016

Five Days of Genius in Rethinking the Purpose of Science

Tom McLeish’s The Medieval Big Bang Talk at St. John’s College 

Tom McLeish GFCF Talk at UBC



Tom McLeish is an original and creative thinker, a broadly informed intellect and a super nice and approachable guy. A deeply curious person, he is offering a game-changing perspective on contemporary debates of science and religion, science and the humanities. He restores our sense of awe and wonder at our place in the cosmos and also our responsibility for it. Professor McLeish represents science while drawing on insights from a wide variety of disciplines (history, medieval studies, poetics, sociology, art, a variety of sciences) to weave his tapestry and to give us fresh eyes of delight. He has spoken at SFU, downtown Vancouver, Regent College and UBC GFCF, Trinity Western University, plus a lunchtime discussion on Chaos and Creativity. His lectures just keep getting better and richer each time, and the question engagement extends the insights and delicately increases the nuance. His book Faith and Wisdom in Science is a gem stone, as Dr. Olav Slaymaker says in his review. Friday evening, he spoke at St. John’s College, a graduate college and residence at UBC of people from around the globe. He claims that ‘science’ is the current chapter of a longer book of natural philosophy, the love of wisdom about natural things. Imagine love and wisdom as brother and sister to science, as driver of the purpose of science. Imagine science as therapy for the soul. He taps into a long human quest to find a healing relationship to the whole cosmos, to move beyond ignorance, fear and violence to covenant. Tom works hard to dispel and expose myths that distort the truth, keep us down and cause us to be fearful. Walker Percy wrote about how we are currently lost in the cosmos; Tom promotes serious deep theological reflection about our home in the cosmos. It is a brilliant manifesto that has ancient roots. His leverage is especially the last few chapters of Job, chapters 38-41, the “snowy peak of biblical wisdom literature” as he put it. He thereby redeems modern science within a biblical worldview of God’s call to join him in seeing the world afresh and to renew our relationship with nature. Five days of genius indeed. It has been a truly outstanding week. The climax was Friday evening.

We’ll post the video link to the talks soon! Many thanks to everyone who participated on all four campuses and downtown. Let’s have some follow-up discussion.

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“Very interesting Watson.”

Quick Notes on the Talks:

Science is part of a larger culture. Classically, it was the love of wisdom about natural things.

Science is participative, relational, co-creative work within the overall kingdom of God for healing the broken relationship of humans and nature. It involves the critical factor of a broken covenant between humans and rocks.

Science is not about answers but more about the right creative questions.

The biblical narrative, upon deeper reflection, is deeply rooted in nature from beginning to end, as is the book of Job.

Job in his search for wisdom finds himself alongside God looking into creation with all the good, the bad and the ugly (cosmos and chaos). God asks him to step up to his imago dei status to see (behold) more deeply.

The book of Job is God’s answer to suffering in a poem of questions, not answers. As we know, suffering can very well lead us to wisdom. It depends on how we respond to it.

We need to proceed with a deeper kind of seeing in order to get beyond the kind of myths that block our vision, freeze our intellect, and stifle our creativity. It is a call beyond fear, ignorance and violence.

Wisdom is seeing the deep structure of nature. Nature is taken as the way to wisdom in this part of Job. This offers much to reflect upon.

Wisdom comes from a healthy respect for the otherness of God and the otherness of nature.


In healthy biological life, there is a layer of dynamic chaos below the order. Order, in fact,  cannot exist without chaos.

Science and the arts are two sides of the same coin, an attempt to grapple with and re-present reality, re-present cosmos.

Tom, at the end of the day, is pursuing a theology of nature, a theology of science. He wants the big picture to give us a fresh vision of science’s potential to lead us to wisdom. This is a radical paradigm shift in the science-religion relationship.

The Last event was Friday at 6:00 pm Pizza Dinner and Talk by Professor Tom McLeish at St. John’s College: The Medieval Big Bang: an Interdisciplinary Tale


Faith and Wisdom in Science presents science as the current flourishing of a very old and deeply human story. Weaving material from the modern science of the unpredictable together with ancient biblical and historical material it takes a fresh approach to the ‘science and religion’ debate – taking a scientist’s reading of the enigmatic and beautiful Book of Job as a centrepiece, and asking what science might ultimately be for. It makes the case for a story as human as any other – pain, love, desire, reconciliation, risk and healing emerge as surprising ingredients without which science is rootless. Rather than conflicting with faith, science can be seen as a deeply religious activity. There are urgent messages for the way we both celebrate and govern science.


New Book that challenges to hegemony of scientism and promotes a broader interdisciplinary view of science and the humanities: The Great Escape from Nihilism: rediscovering our passion in late modernity.


Posted by: gcarkner | November 2, 2016

Tom McLeish in Vancouver and Harvard

screen-shot-2016-08-16-at-6-34-21-pmThis week I am enjoying my first ever visit to Vancouver to give a series of lectures and discussions on Faith and Wisdom in Science and the ideas and actions that flow from thinking through a Christian Theology of Science.  There are a few science lectures thrown in (in biophysics of protein dynamics – at Simon Fraser University, and the molecular rheology of polymer melts in processing – at UBC), and a final Friday night at St John’s (Graduate) College, UBC, on Medieval Science and the Ordered Universe Project.  Last night saw a fruitful and friendly welcome at Regent College.

The question sessions following the science/theology talks so far have been fascinating


Faith and Wisdom in Science (OUP 2014)

and inspiring (the questions that is – I can’t speak for the answers). The central section of the presentations, focussing on drawing resource from Biblical wisdom literature, draws on the close reading of the Book of Job that forms the central chapter of Faith and Wisdom.  So one of the questioners wanted to know about Jesus’ sayings about nature in the gospels, and their significance.  As in the cycles of speeches between Job and his comforters, way before the probing questions of the Lord’s Answer in chapter 38, the gospels, too, are full of nature metaphor and action.  The calming of the waves, the wind-image of the Spirit, the liking of the ‘signs of the times’ to the signs that the coming of the Kingdom is close – all these speak of a relationship with the natural world that reflects the Godly Wisdom of a deep seeing, an inner understanding, and an investment of significance into the material, natural world.  More thinking required here!

Another question searched the dilemma facing the church in sharing both the positive narrative for science and its consequences for an ethical, hopeful and fruitful managing of nature in future.  Given the explicit Creation-Fall-Election-Incarnation-Resurrection-Ministry of Reconciliation-New Creation story within which science and technology make sense as God’s gifts, how is all this worked through in a world that largely does not recognise that big story?  It reminded me of a wonderful question from an atheist sociologist at one of the first ever university-based discussions of the Faith and Wisdom in Science idea: ‘I wish I could share in your vision and hope, but as an atheist I can’t begin to share your assumptions: what can you give me?’

I think that the answer is not ‘nothing’ by any means.  Back to St. Paul and his brilliant summary of the work of the Church – the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ of 2 Corinthians 5.  To talk about our work being that of ‘healing broken relationships’ is something that everyone knows about and everyone wants.  To point to ways in which we can hope to reverse the mutual harm that we and our planet are inflicting on each other, by framing the challenge in those terms, and then by proceeding as one does in the healing of any broken relationship, is a practical way ahead that anyone can buy into.  Replacing ignorance with knowledge, fear with wisdom, and mutual harm with mutual flourishing – this is a framework for political and social care that has already generated practical outcomes, such as the Responsible Research and Innovation policy in the UK and Europe.

I hope to be able to say more about the work that new theologically-generated narratives can do in our managing of science and technology at a Harvard STS-Programme seminar next week (on the day of the US presidential election!), Narratives of Hope: Science, Theology and Environmental Public Policy rainbow.  But that is for next week. Today there is more at UBC with Investigating the Deep Structure of Modern Science: the Search for Wisdom

I am extremely grateful to the Canadian Scientific and Christian affiliation for supporting the visit, and to my kind hosts and organisers for all their tremendous hard work.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 21, 2016

Tom McLeish @ St. John’s College



Durham University

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (2008-14)

Professor in the  Department of Physics and Department of Chemistry

Member of the  Biophysical Sciences Institute and the  Centre for Materials Physics

Durham Centre for Soft Matter (DCSM) and Institute of Medieval and Early Modern Studies

Awarded Weissenberg Medal and Bingham Medal for Molecular Rheology of Polymers

Currently Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee

Published over 180 scientific Papers and Reviews

PhD in Polymer Physics Cambridge University

Research Interests: (i) Molecular Rheology of Polymeric Fluids);

(ii) Macromolecular Biological Physics; (iii) Issues of Theology, Ethics and History of Science

Author of Faith & Wisdom in Science OUP 2014

A Medieval Big Bang Theory – an Interdisciplinary Tale.

St. John’s College Lounge, UBC

Free Pizza Dinner at 6:00 p.m.

Sign up now at:! 

Faith and Wisdom in Science blog:


Tom McLeish also speaks at GFCF on Wednesday, November 2 at 4 pm

Woodward (IRC) Room 6

Topic: The Deep Structure of Modern Science: the Search for Wisdom



For the English polymath, Robert Grosseteste, light was the fundamental first form that gave dimensionality and stability to the material world. In a dozen scientific treatises written in the early 13th Century, he postulated a physics of light, colour and the rainbow.  In his De luce (on light) he extends it to the origin of the Universe in what has been referred to as the ‘Medieval Big Bang’. His arguments are so taut that they can be translated into mathematics – our resulting numerical simulations show that Grosseteste’s model does actually work. He also described the method for developing a universal principle from repeated observations under controlled conditions and argued that the explanation needing fewer suppositions and premises was the best.  In his theory of colour, we have found through close examination of the manuscript evidence for his De colore (on colour) and his De iride (on the rainbow) and a mathematical analysis of their content, that he presents the first three-dimensional theory of perceptual colour space. In this talk, Tom McLeish introduces Robert Grossteste (ca 1170-1253), the scientist, teacher, theologian and bishop and describes how a unique collaborative research approach has revealed new insights into his thought, particularly on light. An interdisciplinary team of historians, scientists, linguists and philosophers has developed techniques of joint reading of the medieval texts that have shown them to be logically consistent and founded on mathematically based models. We reflect on how a study of this extraordinary medieval science can help throw fresh light on the history of scientific thought, and bridge the current perception gap between the study of science and humanities.


Tom McLeish is a very accomplished prize-winning biophysics professor and Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research (2008-2014) at the highly ranked University of Durham in the UK. In 2011 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.  He served as Vice-President of Science and Innovation in the Institute of Physics 2012-2015, and is currently chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. Tom did a first degree in physics and PhD (1987) in polymer physics at Cambridge University.  A lectureship at Sheffield University in complex fluid physics was followed by a chair at Leeds University from 1993.  He has since won several awards both in Europe (Weissenberg Medal) and the USA (Bingham Medal) for his work on molecular rheology of polymers, and ran a large collaborative and multidisciplinary research program in this field from 1999-2009 co-funded by EPSRC and industry. His research interests include: (i) molecular rheology of polymeric fluids); (ii) macromolecular biological physics; (iii) issues of theology, ethics and history of science.  He has published over 180 scientific papers and reviews. Throughout, he has also maintained an interest in public engagement with science, science policy and public values including the underlying, but often hidden, public narratives of science. He has been especially interested in the potential for theological narratives to inform debates in science and technology, both explicitly and implicitly. In 2014, he published a ground breaking book called Faith and Wisdom in Science (Oxford University Press). He has been a Reader in the Anglican Church since 1993, in the dioceses of Ripon and York. 

Support and Sponsorship: Templeton World Charity Foundation, UBC Murrin Fund, Oikodome Foundation, Canadian Science & Christian Affiliation, Graduate & Faculty Christian Forum, Graduate Christian Union

Tom McLeish’s scientific research over the last 25 years has contributed to the formation of the new field of ‘soft matter physics’. Interdisciplinary work with chemists, chemical engineers and biologists has sought to connect molecular structure and behaviour with emergent material or biological properties. He has also worked intensively with industrial researchers developing molecular design tools for new polymeric (plastic) materials, leading large national and international programs, with personal contributions mostly theoretical. Throughout he has also maintained an interest in public engagement with science, science policy and public values including the underlying, but often hidden, public narratives of science. He has been especially interested in the potential for theological narratives to inform debates in science and technology, both explicitly and implicitly.

About Tom McLeish’s Book: Faith & Wisdom in Science


Faith and Wisdom in Science presents science as the current flourishing of a very old and deeply human story. Weaving material from the modern science of the unpredictable together with ancient biblical and historical material it takes a fresh approach to the ‘science and religion’ debate – taking a scientist’s reading of the enigmatic and beautiful Book of Job as a centrepiece, and asking what science might ultimately be for. It makes the case for a story as human as any other – pain, love, desire, reconciliation, risk and healing emerge as surprising ingredients without which science is rootless. Rather than conflicting with faith, science can be seen as a deeply religious activity. There are urgent messages for the way we both celebrate and govern science.

McLeish delivers a picture of science as a questioning discipline nested within a much older, wider set of questions about the world, as represented by the searches for wisdom and a better understanding of creation in the books of Genesis, in Proverbs, in the letters of St Paul, in Isaiah and Hosea but most of all in that wonderful hymn to earth system science known as the Book of Job.

“This unique book is for those who are tired of the usual debates over science and religion. It is an intriguing read that includes stories from the lab about the quirkiness of scientific discovery, a deep meditation on the book of Job, and reflections on the current role of science in society. McLeish offers a thought-provoking view of the place of chaos and suffering in a universe under God’s control.”  ~Deborah Haarsma, President of BioLogos

“Tom McLeish’s engaging passion for science is matched by his unique ability to help the reader locate science in a complex and enriching relationship with ancient texts and stories, contemporary culture and the big questions of human existence.” ~David Wilkinson, Durham University

Other Key Books on Science & Religion

Polkinghorne, Sir John, One World: The Interaction of Science & Theology. Princeton. (physicist/theologian—leading light)

Polkinghorne, Sir John, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of ScienceReligion, Science and Providence.

Plantinga, Alvin. Where the Conflict Really Lies: science, religion and naturalism. OUP, 2012.

Gingerich, Owen, God’s Universe.  Oxford Mathematician/Philosopher Dr John Lennox

Collins, Francis, The Language of God. Free Press.

Sir Karl R. Popper & John C. Eccles, The Self and its Brain. Routledge.

Pascal, Blaise.  Pensees.  Trans. A. J. Krailsheimer.  Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1966.

Capell & Cook eds., Not Just Science: Questions Where Christian Faith and Natural Science Intersect. Zondervan

Jaki, Stanley, The Road to Science and the Ways to God. Chicago (Gifford

Lectures on history of science)

Russell, Colin, Crosscurrents: Interactions Between Science & Faith. Eerdmans

Danielson, Dennis ed., The Book of the Cosmos. Perceus.

Posted by: gcarkner | October 19, 2016

October Book Release: The Great Escape from Nihilism


Does Nihilism Have the Last Word?

Available at Regent College & Amazon

This book is about a journey: out of nihilism into the heart of meaning. It begins by raising the question whether nihilism should have the last word. The following discussion addresses a crisis of faith, a crisis of identity, and a sense of lostness in late modernity. Our companions on the journey are a fine, seasoned group of writers, poets, social reformers, scientists, scholars and public intellectuals. Among the notables are Alvin Plantinga, Miralslov Volf, Jürgen Habermas, David Bentley Hart, Michel Foucault, Calvin Schrag, Jim Wallis, Tom McLeish and Jens Zimmermann. Special mention goes to eminent Canadian philosopher of modernity Charles Taylor. They have made their mark, shaped the public mind and continue to impact Western culture. They are people who dig deep and bring substantial answers to the dilemma of our time.

The Great Escape from Nihilism is about a courageous and somewhat dangerous journey, but ultimately a path towards hopeful alternatives to the forces that weigh down our spirits, and the tensions that divide us. We must decide in our minds and our hearts whether the quest to escape outweighs the risks. The ten conversations in the book are modeled on real, ongoing discussions and debates over several years on university campuses across Canada, the United States and Europe. Through the span of ten conversations, the book aims to encourage the development of the art of effective dialogue. It also illustrates that, despite their importance, there is so much more to life than science, technology, business and algorithms. Our journey involves the quest for the Holy Grail of human flourishing, the deeper life, the thick self.

“Through the complex cultural lens of Charles Taylor and the writings of some of the most influential philosophers and theologians of our time, Dr. Carkner provides wise and persuasive suggestions of ways forward in navigating the landscape of late modernity. The transcendent turn to agape love is the most challenging concept he exposits. This project is a rare and provocative contribution of high integrity.”

 ~Olav Slaymaker, Professor Emeritus Geography, UBC

“As a graduate student from the Middle East, this book has helped me understand how unlike eastern culture where community is central in their worldview, in Western culture the human seems the centre of the universe. In a Christian worldview God is the centre of the universe. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about the clash between Western and Christian worldview.”     ~Mary Kostandy, UBC Educational Studies PhD student (from Cairo, Egypt)

“The journey through graduate school is one of intellectual curiosity, but to what end? A university education opens up a world of new opportunities, but for what purpose? The Great Escape from Nihilism is essential reading for students seeking to add meaning to their academic pursuits, to become counter-cultural agents in an intimidating world, and to truly flourish along this challenging journey – and beyond. It really is a wonderful resource, a fantastic book, and has proven to be very useful and thought-provoking.” ~Jamie Pow, PhD Student in Political Science, Queens’ University, Belfast

Gordon E. Carkner Ph.D., works at the University of British Columbia as a meta-educator and networker, where he seeks to complement and engage the regular discourse among graduate students and faculty. Supporting and mentoring postgraduate students towards wholeheartedness in the UBC Graduate Christian Union, his work is sponsored through Outreach Canada. His work as a team leader in the notable UBC Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum lecture series brings together great minds and noble souls from around the globe for serious academic interchange, linking persons of common vision.


Keywords:  Nihilism, Secular Age, Search for Meaning, Apologetics, Scientism, Radical Individualism, Aestheticism, Recovery of the Good, Agape Love, Incarnational Humanism, Communal Responsibility, Late Modernity


Paperback   $14.99 USD on; $20 Cdn on      Kindle $9.99 Cdn; $7.61 USD
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