The Modern Scientist as a Palimpsest of Three Fausts

Oct 29, 2014
Kent Hall, Room 120
1020 E 58th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
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Stephen MeredithUniversity of Chicago

Stephen Meredith (University of Chicago)

cosponsored by the Theology & Religious Ethics Workshop

A palimpsest is a manuscript or painting produced over a previous work. This lecture will treat “the modern scientist” as a palimpsest of three versions of the Faust story: The Faust Chapbook by an unknown author (1586), Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1808/1832), and the late masterpiece by Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus (1947). While none of these Fausts is purely a scientist (someone who primarily knows or seeks knowledge), the same can be said for those we consider to be scientists today, who deal in various mixtures of science and technology. It will focus on three issues raised by these works: 1) the changing relationship between science and technology 2) the changing relationship between the pursuit of knowledge and technique on one hand, and religion on the other and 3) scientists’ changing view of causality – and in particular, of the final cause (telos).

Stephen Meredith is Professor in the Departments of Pathology, Neurology, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Chicago, where he also teaches courses on literature, philosophy, and theology. He works on the biophysics of protein structure, concentrating on amyloid proteins associated with neurodegenerative diseases. He also teaches courses in the College on James Joyce’s Ulysses, St. Thomas Aquinas, Augustine’s City of God, and other authors, particularly Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann. His main theological interest is in the problem of evil, and in this connection, he is currently writing a book on the philosophical and literary perspectives on disease. His current interests also center on the impact of biotechnology and the genetic revolution on the definition of human nature.