Bibliotheca, Antiquus

We recently (3 February 2015) had a talk on Religion and Science, by Nathan Lyons, who is doing his PhD in Theology. The introductory text for the talk went something like this:

The debate between science and religion is one of the most fascinating and enduring themes of the modern world. In that debate – sometimes hostile, often harmonious, always complex – Christ’s College has played a significant role.

Whether one looks to the Neoplatonist thinker Henry More (1614-1687), or to William Paley (1743-1805) and his divine ‘watchmaker’, or to Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and his revolutionary theory of evolution, or to the theologian and naturalist Charles Raven (1885-1964), the relationship between scientific understanding and religious belief has exercised some of Christ’s College’s greatest minds.

To celebrate the Library’s new exhibition Christ’s College MCR theology student Nathan Lyons will give a talk before grad hall. We are then pleased to invite the library staff to dine with us afterwards.

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Fairly interesting discussion, which also went into Deism, which is not a specific religion but rather a particular perspective on the nature of God. Deists believe that a creator God does exist, but that after the motions of the universe were set in place he retreated, having no further interaction with the created universe or the beings within it. Since the whole idea of temporal causation was brought into discussion, and Robin (Lamboll) was eerily quiet, my instincts drove me to dive into the discussion, from the perspective of science (Physics, to be precise): of Penrose’s conformal cyclic cosmology, how a big bang leads to a big crunch which in turn leads to a big bang. However, one point of discussion that remains and which I would love to take up again is about how the idea of matter and vacuum leads to God. In Physics, we know that matter and antimatter can be formed out of vacuum and can annihilate and go back to vacuum. So, in essence, presence or absence of matter can be through of as two modes of the same state of being. Nathan is a fairly well-informed individual and he gave a decent response, though, of course, as a theologian. Interestingly, he also mentioned that the Church talks of orderliness in nature as a form of God; eerily like Spinoza and Einstein’s formulation of God in the form of an agent of sustenance.

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But as interesting, if not more, as the talk, was the venue: the Old Library of Christ’s College. As some of you may know, this college had some pretty well known alumni. The most famous among them would, arguably, be Charles Darwin and Milton. The old library houses quite a few treasured works: 25000 rare manuscripts and printed books dating from the 11th century to the present day! This includes an 11th century copy of Evangelia Graece (Greek Gospels), Euclid’s Elements, Copernicus’ De revolutionibus and the 14th century English Book of Hours. It also houses copies of the first editions of Milton’s Paradise Lost, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (a book I have helped Akhilesh Da analyze in the last year of my Stephanian days) and Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species. More about these treasures can also be found on the Christ’s Treasures blog. I and Robin viewed a few of the works encased in glass. One lady in attendance said something along the lines that the work (in front of her) was older than her country. Robin and I discussed about Darwin’s belief in God, especially at the end of his days, and he mentioned that Darwin could probably be regarded as an agnostic then.

An experience worth recording!

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