This explains more fully the origins of the study that are the main focus of this website and the aims.
Why I am doing it?
Why the focus on the two Franciscans?
Origins of the study
Growing up with an interest in science, and even more so as a Reader (Lay Minister) in the Church of England I have developed a life long interest in trying and interpret faith in God and Jesus Christ in the light of modern science. Too often it seems to me that parts of the church are hostility to science world views. A problematic fact is that you don’t get many scientists in church pulpits preaching about the world with the background of what so many are now taught in class rooms and universities. Many preachers seem to ignore science and hardly mention it and fail to try and make connections between recieved faith tradiitions and modern cosmology and evolution.
This leads to a wider perception that science and traditional faith are in conflict by both those in the church and those outside. For churches with a liturgy there is often no expression of anything related to modern science in what is frequently said or sung.
It also seems to me that many Christians may hold an inerrant view of the bible that seems to me to be anti-science in that does not allow for a more scientifically accurate view of the origins of the life and the cosmos. While this attitude to the sacred scriptures may be well meaning in wanting to uphold biblical authority I firmly believe that such an anti-science and anti-evolution view of Christian faith creates problems for Christian students of science subjects and will not help in evangelisation and presenting a relevant way of faith for non-believers and believers alike in modern society.
In a scientifically educated society this will not do. We cannot have some kind of infallible literalism about the bible and then hear all the science stuff in class rooms and the media and remain credible in preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Origin of Life in whatever way that life originated.
Nor is it helpful to the gospel of Jesus to leave the world of science to the scientists, humanist and atheists. Today we need a new consistent and reliable presentation of what faith in God may mean in the light of modern knowledge of the world. We need both faith in God and science to be brought together in new and thoughtful ways.
For most of the church’s history the biblical narratives Genesis 1-3 provided the background for the theology of the church. The narratives set out a view of a perfect creation that was made in a short period of time into which the disobedience of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit inserted a disruption not only of their own relations with God but also the disruption of all the created order. Much of traditional Christian theology and doctrine have presupposed that the early chapters of Genesis are in some way historical and everything related to our salvation draws on these narratives as the basis of the need of our salvation from those events that still affected all life and relationships. Even my two Franciscans of interest, Bonaventure and Scotus, held such views.
I do not wish to enter into a step by step history of how these things were challenged by the findings of science. It is sufficient to summarise that through critical observation of the world and discoveries of new facts about the world these things undermined the idea that the biblical narratives can be in any way a kind of factual and genuine history. There were the developments in astronomy that made the earth no longer the centre of creation. Today’s astronomy further leaves us in no doubt that the Cosmos is a huge expanse in which the earth cannot be seen as having any central position. Theoretically also there are many other potential places where life can exist in the universe and probably does. Where does that leave Christian faith that seems so often only to be focused on our tiny and insignificant planet and then only about the salvation of human souls to some heavenly bliss?
Some of the biggest critical assaults on the Genesis narratives came from examination of rocks and fossils and then the theses by Charles Darwin and William Wallace about the origins and development of life on earth by natural selection. The advent of genetic analysis is making genetic links between species more sure and makes that theory more credible that life originated through chemical and environmental changes, resulting in the death of millions of former species and the development of others with humans as a develpment of such natural processes.
Because of my own previous “faith and science” and biblical studies over a 23 year period I decided in 2012 to start a personal systematic and thematic investigation about the principle traditional doctrines of the church in the light of modern science. Then also, because of my Franciscan connection I decided to include a study of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus as part of my “traditional faith” investigations.
The aims of this study
To explore a valid and reasonable faith in God in the light of modern cosmology and evolution. To make sure we can confess a faith that reasonably fits with modern knowledge because all truth is truth no matter where we find it.
To primarily look at the writings of the Franciscan teachers Duns Scotus and Bonaventure and how they may still relate to the modern world of thought. (You can find more about them under my section “Scotus et al” or in some of the resources listed below)
To supplement this study with the writings of some other more contemporary theologians and teachers particularly Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Piere Teilhard de Chardin, Jurgen Moltman, Ilia Delio and John Poilkinghorn) and what they to invite us to think about in a science view context.
As this project has continued over the last few years it is becoming something bigger than I previously envisaged because I keep coming across new avenues to explore and one thing leads to another..
Why Franciscan Theological investigations?
My previous theological investigations over many years had taken in writings by Paul Tillich, Piere Teilhard de Chardin and Jurgen Moltmann. A few years before I started on this particular project I had become professed as a Third Order Franciscan in the Society of St Francis (You can find more about that elsewhere on the site)
As a result I came across two great medieval Franciscan teachers; Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. I wanted to know more about them so I therefore decided to incorporate things from their writings and theology into my science-theology explorations. I have found much of what I have discovered exciting and stimulating to think about.
It may seem a strange thing to study two slightly obscure medieval theologians for a project like this. But these two great medieval teachers lived at a formative time in Western theological development. The church was being introduced to the materialist philosophy of Aristotle and still discussing the idealism of Plato, and how these things could be related to the doctrines of the church. If Bonaventure and Duns Scotus were alive today no doubt they would be discussing issues related to God and the vast Cosmos and how we should view God in our modern world, a world so different to the bible and their original lives.
As part of the project I am revisiting some of my previous studies and more recently I have also dipped into works by the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. So there will some reflections from them as well.
I have been assisted in my investigations by some modern Franciscan scholars and others who have been bringing the Bonaventure and Scotus teachings traditions to wider public view in seeking to make Franciscan intellectual tradition live in new and modern ways. It encourages me in my own explorations. The Franciscans were and are an important part of Catholic tradition but I hope that Non-Catholics will also find inspiration and benefit from this shared project.
In my initial studies of Bonavevnture I discovered that it was part of the Franciscan tradition that God may be known through the natural world because it shows signs of God and is a testimony to God. There is the “Book of Creation” to be understood as well as the “Book of the Word” (the scriptures). In this way the study of science and finding out facts about the world is a spiritual as well as an intellectual sphere of activity. If we in scientific observation and inquiry and theory find new things that seem to contradict the past understanding of revealed things then we must still honestly look at that new information and not be afraid to readjust our sight and understanding. Truth in the observed world is God’s Truth no matter where it comes from or who discovers it.
To conclude, this is a journey of discovery of ancient and new insights to be explored, to bring the modern view of the Cosmos, Evolved life and the Word together, for the Cosmos came from the Word and His presence is made known in it. We must see it afresh in new light because it is His and through it may also be led to understand a more Transcendent reality that lies beyond it. I am just a student of the Franscisans and not an expert. This is as it says an exploration. You may not agree with it all but I hope it helps in the task to promoting a credible science and theology dialogue that will be relevant to modern thought in relation to Christian faith and help faith in Jesus Christ in the world today. If you are a Christian thinking about science and how it relates to your faith in Jesus I hope this will spur you on in your own journey of exploration.
I am aware that many others have also been treading a similar yet different intellectual, spiritual and theological pathways to make links between modern science and Christian faith so I should probably say something about my sources for these studies and reflections.
I have not been a very good keeper of references to other works I have read in the past and come across on the internet. Some of what will appear here is from old notes from years back but also more recent stuff I have found freely available in web searches. I have been able to download other people’s freely available information, research texts and parts of free downloads of Franciscan translated texts of Bonaventure and Duns Scotus. I would however point out I have not simply copied things into this study but used the various texts as a basis for my own thinking and reflection.
I am acutely aware that I am novice in this area. Past and present Franciscan scholars and experts on Bonaventure and Duns Scotus may not agree with my interpretations of original translated writings. To which I simply reply that it is the way I see them and how some of the things I have read from them and about them inspires me. I am picking up meaningful things as they appear to me and applying them to my own understanding from science and the interface between science and Christian faith.
So for all the Downloads and all the scholarship that has preceded me and surrounds me in the world, a hearty thanks to all, living and departed.
For the world of knowledge brought to my laptop, thanks
For all the efforts of the Franciscan scholars, living and departed everywhere, thanks
For the Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the Word of God, who is the Origin of all knowledge, our inspiration and revelation, be glory, praise and honour for ever and ever