Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

The Faith and Fiction Round Table is a group, started by My Friend Amy, that determined six books relating to faith and mostly fiction to read together in 2011. We have discussions via email and then post our thoughts on the book.

This month’s book is A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

This book is on the Image Journal Top 100 list, so I was excited that it coincided with the Faith ‘n’ Fiction Round Table, since I’ve committed to reading every book on that list but my progress has been so very slow.

So often science and faith have been cast as opponents. Whether we’re talking Galileo or the current origins conflict, science and faith are often seen — even by their members — as mutually exclusive. This is something I grew up blowing off, almost ignoring. I knew the two could work together. But as I’ve experienced more of the world, I’ve seen how strong the dichotomy is, in practice. (Like oil and water? Do you remember those science experiments?)

In Canticle, though, Miller casts at least this small part of the church, a monastery dedicated to the memory of an early 20th century engineer, as the keeper, sustainer, of scientific knowledge.

As the monks copy artifacts and fragments over the multiplied lifetimes, most of the time they gain no understanding from what they read. And the outside world is no better, with low single-digit literacy over the centuries, following that first catastrophic nuclear “Simplification” (in the 1940s).

But time passes, and eventually one of the monks with a particularly scientific mind takes the necessary leaps and reinvents electric light.

At this point, the outside world (this monastery is very isolated) also has a leading scientist or two, but his mind is clouded by his preconceptions — and the monk has reached so much greater success, even without the benefit of a university education.

Hm, that may be a bit more detail than I needed to give.

Anyway, I guess my question today is this: Do you view science and faith as diametrically opposed, or do you see how they can be reconciled? Examples?

NOTE: This is not a forum to debate creation/evolution or the like — not even close.

For more posts on A Canticle for Leibowitz, please visit:
My Friend Amy
Ignorant Historian
Book Addiction
3Rs Blog
Books and Movies
Book Hooked Blog
My Random Thoughts

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8 responses to “Faith and Fiction Round Table Discussion: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

  1. “Do you view science and faith as diametrically opposed, or do you see how they can be reconciled?”

    They are not at all opposed, since science is a method of understanding the observable universe, and religion/faith is internalized, non-transferable propositions about metaphysical reality. It’s a little like asking if plumbing and carpentering are opposed — they are if they’re not in their proper place.

  2. Also, that comment wasn’t a jab at your question…I just thought more clarification would provide a better answer.

  3. Not at all! I know many people who believe that a person of faith must not be able to think rationally or scientifically, but I see science as a way of understanding, studying, and observing Creation and the laws governing Creation – laws given by the Creator.

  4. I know so many people of science and faith who either dabble in the other with a firm base in one or have two solid feet planted in each camp. I’m a big more of a science nut myself but I think that’s in large part not a rail against faith but simply something unrelated. An interesting question though I cant use myself as an example where both coexist.

  5. This was one of the things that struck me about the book too. While science and religion have often been pitted against each other, I don’t think they HAVE to be. I see them as representing different, but not necessarily mutually exclusive, approaches to the many of the same complex fundamental questions.

  6. Well, God made science, so it doesn’t really make sense that science and faith conflict. I think there are things science can’t explain and that’s where faith comes in.

  7. I agree that they don’t have to be against each other, though maybe they do have to be separate in some ways, b/c they require such different approaches. Science seems to require a lot of control over what you’re studying (laboratory conditions, etc) so that there are some things in life you can’t scientifically analyze. (God would be at the top of the list… but it weirds me out when people analyze the human mind/soul too scientifically also.) That’s not to say that science is a bad control-freak thing–one writer pointed out that the scientific method is a discipline that’s about looking for the truth rather than for what you want to find, and that makes sense & is very valuable spiritually as well as practically.

  8. I don’t believe Mr. Miller intended to contrast faith with empirical science and technocrats; it was, after all, the Order that resurrected the technology that had already destroyed civilization once. Without benefit of the novel in front of me, I recall that the Abbot disapproved of efforts to restore lux, but it happened nonetheless. I believe he was telling us about man’s drive for self-destruction and the church’s historic but ambiguous role in the preservation of the knowledge that unwittingly speeds us to Armageddon. Could it simply be that he was warning us that there is something forever poisoned about the apple in any form because we will inevitably transform it into a serpent that bites us in the ass?

What do you think? I'd love to know.

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