"Science and the Early Church" Discussion Guide

Exploratory Questions

  1. How much can we know about the natural world with assurance?
  2. What can natural science tell us and not tell us about the universe?
  3. Should the findings of natural science be considered in formulating one's biblical interpretation or one's theology?
  4. Why do you think the Draper-White hypothesis is still believed by so many people? (cf. Q#1 below)

Primary Source Questions

  • What attitudes toward the natural world and the findings of natural philosophers did your author manifest?
  • Did your author rely in any way on the claims of the science of the day to make a point or buttress a view?


Discussion Questions

  1. What was the Draper-White hypothesis, and why is it increasingly called into question?
  2. What are some shifts in thinking that the modern reader needs to have to understand "science" in the Ancient Greco-Roman world?
  3. What range of attitudes did Patristic Christians have toward Greco-Roman culture in general?
  4. Characterize Augustine's view of reason, and therefore, science?
  5. Why do Augustine's, Leo I's, and the church fathers' views in general represent a middle position in regards to the natural world?
  6. What degree of involvement with "natural science" (for lack of a better term) does Basil of Caesarea evince?
  7. What degree of involvement does Augustine evince?
  8. What degree of involvement does John Philoponus evince?
  9. What do the authors conclude in regard to a "Christian position" on the science of the day? Do you agree? Why or why not?

The philosophers of Greece have made much ado to explain nature, and not one of their systems has remained firm and unshaken, each being overturned by its successor. It is vain to refute them; they are sufficient in themselves to destroy one another. Those who were too ignorant to rise to a knowledge of a God, could not allow that an intelligent cause presided at the birth of the Universe; a primary error that involved them in sad consequences. Some had recourse to material principles and attributed the origin of the Universe to the elements of the world. Others imagined that atoms, and indivisible bodies, molecules and ducts, form, by their union, the nature of the visible world. Atoms reuniting or separating, produce births and deaths and the most durable bodies only owe their consistency to the strength of their mutual adhesion: a true spider's web woven by these writers who give to heaven, to earth, and to sea so weak an origin and so little consistency! It is because they knew not how to say "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Deceived by their inherent atheism it appeared to them that nothing governed or ruled the universe, and that was all was given up to chance. To guard us against this error the writer on the creation, from the very first words, enlightens our understanding with the name of God; "In the beginning God created." What a glorious order!
--Basil of Caesarea , Homily 1, The Hexaemeron


"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding