Instructor: C. Mackenzie Brown      
Office: Chapman Center 250 C
Phone: x-8429  

Trinity University Fall 2011

Class time: 12:30-1:20 MWF

Room CC 242



This course will examine the history of the relation of religion and science in the Western world from ancient Greece to the twenty-first century, with emphasis on developments from the Renaissance to the present. To provide direction to this historical approach, we shall focus on selected themes and problems that highlight various philosophical and theological issues. For a course on religion and science, one obvious connecting theme is revolutions in world views that encompass both scientific thinking and philosophical, religious, or theological outlooks. The three revolutions chosen for the course, regarding space, time, life, reveal a rich and complex interconnectedness of developments both within different scientific fields and between scientific inquiry and diverse strands of philosophical and theological reflection.  In addition, by adopting an historical approach, we can follow significant trends of philosophical, theological, and scientific thought through several chronological periods, noting both the continuity of certain concerns, as well as the changes in attitudes towards older concerns and the emergence of new significant issues.

Special attention will be given, within each of the three major revolutions, to five contemporary theological and/or scientific problems, both methodological and substantive. The five are 1) the relation of religion and science, 2) the strengths and weaknesses of the argument from design (including Intelligent Design, 3) the nature and possibility of divine activity, 4) the problem of the interpretation of scripture, and 5) how we know what we (think) we know: the problem of knowledge.

The course will often adopt a philosophical approach to theological issues in relation to scientific findings and theories. In particular, we shall look in some depth at the manner in which science and religion have interacted in the past, and at possible ways that religion and science may interrelate now and in the future. The course aims not only to provide a basic historical comprehension of the significant religion-science debates of the last few centuries in the West, but also to allow us to explore our own attitudes and approaches to understanding the relationship of religion and science. In the process, we will be challenged to develop and articulate, in informed and sophisticated ways, our own growing understanding of how religion and science most meaningfully interrelate, or if they interrelate at all.  At this point it should be immediately stressed that there are no "right" or "absolute" answers to such issues and questions.  Rather, we will all be encouraged to come to our own considered conclusions, with appreciation of the complexity and ambiguity of the issues involved.

It is the highest hope of the instructor that this course will provide a foundation for years to come of further inquiry, resulting in the ongoing reformulation of whatever tentative views and understandings are developed during the course of this semester.

As an example of the necessary tentativeness of any conclusions we might draw this semester, consider for a moment one of the major issues that we shall be dealing with: what distinguishes a scientific from a religious perspective? Is it the subject matter? The type of questions asked? The methods employed? The presence or absence of philosophical or metaphysical assumptions? Or the type of philosophical and metaphysical assumptions made? A starting point to initiate the discussion will be to examine what people who consider themselves to be "scientists" (or whom we today call scientists, including those historical figures who would not recognize the term) actually do and think, both about their scientific endeavors and their reflections or assumptions about the science-religion interaction.  Similarly, we shall examine what "religious" thinkers do and say about the relevant issues. We shall quickly find that scientists are often religious, and theologians or religious thinkers are often scientists, or at least scientifically informed and highly interested in the implications of science for theological understanding. Such people historically (e.g., Kepler, Newton, Hutton) tended to be less aware of any dichotomy between their scientific and theological enterprises.  Today there is greater self-consciousness about such matters, but the issues of what precisely constitutes the religious, over against the scientific elements, of a given thinker or world-view are far from resolved. We shall consequently consider a variety of views, presented by people primarily known for their "scientific" perspective (e.g., Carl Sagan, Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins), or for their "religious/theological" perspective (e.g., William Paley, Pope John Paul II, Henry Morris), or for both (e.g., Arthur Peacocke).


There will be three different class formats throughout the semester: LECTURES, DISCUSSIONS, and STUDENT PRESENTATIONS. Regarding lecture and discussion days, it should be noted that there will be a fair amount of overlap in the two.  That is, there may well be considerable discussion on a lecture day, and some lecturing on a discussion day.    

In any given week, there will usually be two LECTURES and one DISCUSSION class.  At the end of the semester, there will be three days for STUDENT PRESENTATIONS. Attendance on these three days of STUDENT PRESENTATIONS is required.

On LECTURE days, the instructor will be responsible for presenting materials, and for setting and leading any discussion topics.    

On DISCISSION days, students, assisted by the instructor as facilitator, will be responsible for leading discussions. There are ten DISCUSSION days during the semester.  The topics for discussion will usually focus directly on the readings assigned for the day.  Accordingly, it is essential that students be prepared for discussion on these days by having completed the reading assigned for the particular day and having answered some preliminary questions about the reading.  To assure that students attending these DISCUSSION classes are indeed prepared to discuss, admission to these DISCUSSION classes is by ticket only (two free admissions are allowed).  These tickets are explained under the "WRITING AND SPEAKING REQUIREMENTS--1) Class Participation" below. One or two students will be chosen for each DISCUSSION day to initiate and moderate the discussion.

Discussions in all classes will be directed to the development of critical thinking and reflection.  Such an enterprise necessitates not only consideration of diverse and opposing viewpoints, but also an empathetic entering into--however temporarily and tentatively--those perspectives different from one's own.  At times, the discussion will focus on two opposing views or opposing theological interpretations of scientific theories and discoveries. Consideration of such opposing views will entail careful probing for the underlying assumptions, religious and metaphysical, of the authors, as well as investigation of the logical and rhetorical steps by which they construct their interpretations.  At other times, discussion may involve an empathetic reconstruction of an aspect of a world view--a world view long outdated or no longer held by most educated people, but compelling in its own day.  Such discussions have as their aim the investigation of how much of our everyday "scientific" perspective on the universe is really immediately empirical, and how much rests on years of conditioning and reeducation of our own "common sense" perceptions about the world.  Such investigation is intended to engender a general intellectual humility with regards to the "certainty" we often feel about our particular viewpoints and world views, and thus to enhance respect for other perspectives.  Not infrequently the instructor may ask students for the evidence for, or grounds for, a given assertion made in class, followed up by questions regarding the strengths/weaknesses of the evidence and/or the reasons for why one has come to accept such grounds.  In these discussions, as throughout the class, there will be no right answers but only an insistence on critical reflection in an atmosphere of respectful, dialogic encounter, both with the authors we read and with the other participants in the class.


The oral and written requirements for the course are listed below, with percentage of the semester grade for each assignment indicated.  Except for the admission tickets for discussion classes, all written work for the course, including the exams, must be submitted to the instructor electronically.1) Class participation. 

Respectful and informed participation in class discussions. Participation will count for 10% of the semester grade.

As indicated in the Format of the Class section above, there are eleven DISCUSSION days throughout the semester.  Admission to these DISCUSSION classes is by ticket only. Three tickets are free--you need submit nothing. IT IS STILL EXPECTED THAT YOU WILL HAVE DONE THE READING (OR IN ONE CASE, VIEWING) FOR THE DAY.  An admission ticket should consist of approximately 150-250 words, analyzing the reading(s) or viewing to be discussed for a given DISCUSSION day.  Specific issues to address in writing the analysis will be provided in the "Questions for Reading" (available on other pages in this site; use navigation bar on left side of home page for access) for each DISCUSSION day.  These analyses are to be submitted on T-Learn at least half an hour before class time. Once you have used up your three free passes, then you must submit a normal admission ticket to attend class on a DISCUSSION day.  It would be wise not to use all your free passes early in the semester, and to save some for late in the semester.  

Very early in the semester, students will be asked to sign up to initiate and moderate the DISCUSSION days (sign-up sheet is on T-Learn, under Topic Outline #1). Details for initiating and moderating discussions are available under "Discussions" in the navigation bar on the home page.

The analysis of readings (normal admission tickets) will not be directly graded.  But since students are responsible for the materials assigned for DISCUSSION classes, as well as for the contents of the discussions themselves, consistent attendance at the DISCUSSION classes will contribute significantly to the grades on the exams, and on the term project. Questions on the exams often are based on the "Questions for Reading" that are discussed in class.

Participation in both LECTURE and DISCUSSION classes will contribute to your participation grade.

2) One Student Presentation.

This will count 5% of the semester grade. During the last three days of the semester, students (generally in teams of two) will present one of the great epic adventures from Sean Carroll's Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species. Details are available under "Student Presentations" in the navigation bar on the home page. As with discussion days, students will be asked to sign up for an adventure, of their own choosing (on a first-come, first-served basis).

2) Three Exams. 

There will be three section exams, one for each revolution. Each exam will count 20% of the semester grade. For these exams you will be responsible for a number of terms that are given in the Vocabulary for Religion and Science. The exams are to be taken on-line. Students will have several days in which they may take the exams, at their own convenience. The windows for taking the exams are given below, and in the course outlines for each section. More detailed information on the exams will be given in class.

Dates of Exams
First section exam (on the Introduction and Space Revolution)
Mon., Sept. 26, after class, until 8:00 a.m. on Fri, Sept. 30
Second section exam (on the Time Revolution) Wed., Oct. 19, after class, until 8:00 a.m. on Mon., Oct. 24
Third section exam (on the Life Revolution) Wed., Nov. 16, after class, until 5:00 p.m. on Tues., Nov. 22

3) Term paper.

There will be one term paper, approximately 2500 words in length, focusing on issues raised in Eugenie C. Scott's book, Evolution Vs. Creationism (2nd edition). Choice of general topic is due on Monday, October 17, 5:00 p.m. A preliminary report (providing focused topic, questions, tentative outline, and annotated bibliography) will be due on Friday, November 11, by 5:00 p.m. The final version of the project will be due on Monday, December 12, at 5:00 p.m. The term paper will count 25% of the semester grade (one-fifth of the 25%, that is, 5% of the semester grade, will be based on the preliminary report). Details for the term paper are available under "Term paper guidelines " in the navigation bar on the home page.

Summary of writing and speaking requirements:

  • Class Participation:  10% of the semester grade
  • One student presentation: 5% of the semester grade
  • The three section exams: 60% (20% each) of the semester grade
  • Term paper: 25% of the semester grade

Note: Admission tickets are required for admission to class on discussion days, but are not graded.  Absence from discussion days will likely impact performance on exams, as well as participation grade.

Schedule of discussion days (also included in the course outlines):

  • Friday, August 26               The Relation of Science and Christian Faith
  • Wednesday, September 7  The Two-Sphere Universe 
  • Monday, September 23      Human Significance in a Decentered World
  • Monday, October 3            The Six Days of Creation--Modern Interpretations
  • Friday, October 7               Earth History and Teleology
  • Monday, October 17          Cosmic History and the Big Bang
  • Wednesday, October 26     Evolution and Religion: Does Evolution Matter?
  • Friday, November 4           The Problem of Suffering in Evolutionary Perspective
  • Monday, November 7        Suffering and Redemption in Process Theology
  • Monday, November 14      Human Evolution and the Problem of Altruism
  • Monday, November 28      The Voyage that Shook the World


Attendance for most classes is highly encouraged but not required. The following classes are required:


All students are expected to be thoroughly familiar with the Honor Code.  With increasing use of Internet sources and "cut and paste" technology, it is all too easy to plagiarize the work of others.  This can happen especially when you are rushed, tired, and generally stressed. Whether intentional, or due simply to forgetting to include proper citations, or especially to failing to exercise due caution in using your own wording when paraphrasing another's words, or neglecting to indicate by quotation marks the actual words of another author, it is still plagiarism!

Needless to say, there are various forms of academic dishonesty aside from plagiarism. In this class, you will be taking exams on-line. These exams are closed book, closed notes, and closed web.   The instructor has a basic faith in the integrity of students and their desire to live in a world where fairness and trust are dominant features of the way we conduct our lives in community with others.  Understanding and observing academic integrity are part of building that world of fairness and trust, right here at Trinity. 

Plagiarizing (cutting and pasting) from the Internet, or downloading prepared answers from your Y-drive, may seem like an easy way to make up for lack of preparedness on an exam. However, should the instructor become aware of violations of academic integrity, he will file the necessary charges. Remember: one of the penalties for any violation of academic integrity is an F for the course.

Please be aware of the behaviors that constitute violations of academic integrity in its various forms.  If you have any questions or doubts regarding a particular assignment for this class, or what help you may or may not receive on an exam, or preparing the term paper, or anything else, PLEASE, ASK THE INSTRUCTOR! 

Regarding use of previous exams, the instructor for this class encourages such use and has posted samples of previous exams on the web site for the course, for you to study in preparing for exams.


Readings include important primary sources (e.g., Galileo's letter to Christina and Newton's correspondence with Bentley). The primary readings are complemented by the best of recent scholarly but accessible, non-technical interpretations that help to provide historical context for, as well as analysis of, the major issues involved in the science-religion discussion. Readings also reflect a variety of interpretive standpoints: theistic, non-theistic, agnostic, and atheistic.

There are three required texts, available at the bookstore:

Ian Barbour (1997), Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues

Sean Carroll (2009), Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species

Eugenie C. Scott (2009), Evolution vs. Creationism: An Intoroduction (2nd edition)

Review of Ian Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (revised edition).  

"In Religion and Science, Barbour actually gives us more than just a little history.  In fact, he presents a thorough historical theological treatment of major themes in science.  This volume is not for the faint of heart or the casual reader, but it may be as close as one can come to a definitive text for basic courses in science and theology.  'For a generation to come, anyone setting out to explore the subtle relationships [among] science, religion, ethics, and technology will begin with Barbour as the guide', writes the reviewer for Religious Studies Review.  Barbour was the recipient of the 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion."   Book notice in Reports of the National Center for Science Education, vol. 22 (2002) (Nos. 1-2, Jan/Apr), p. 33.

3 reviews of Eugenie C. Scott, Evolution vs. Creationism: An Intoroduction.  

"I believe that she has conscientiously tried to be objective in discussing this inflammatory subject in her book. ... The book is well written and creationists can read it with interest and appreciation, even though its arguments for evolution are--to us, at least--speculative and even defensive." Henry M. Morris in the Institute for Creation Research's Back to Genesis

"At last -- a book that both Henry Morris, of the Institute for Creation Research, and Niles Eldredge, a prominent scientist, can agree upon! Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, is an articulate and engaging author. She has written a book suitable for a wide audience: high school and college students, teachers, and nonspecialized general readers. The book is comprehensive, treating scientific evidences for evolution, religious views, and a history of the so-called 'evolution-creation' controversy." John W. Burgeson in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith

"Let me say at the outset that this is quite an extraordinary book, and one I predict is destined to become a classic. Eugenie Scott brings to bear her encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the conflict, passion for the subject, and deep understanding of the legal framework tempered by her long involvement as Executive Director of the National Center for Science Education. This work provides a well-balanced synthesis of the complexities of science, religion, jurisprudence, and education as they pertain to understanding the continuing dichotomy between evolution and creationism. Perhaps its greatest strength, however, is that all this information is so expertly brought together under one cover. ... This book provides a great service to the science community. There is much here for readers at all levels, from high school students and their teachers to university students and their professors, and yes, even for creationists. I recommended the book highly as a text or supplemental book for nature of science, science and society, or high school science methods courses." Kefyn M. Catley in Science Education (2006, vol. 90, no. 4, pp. 764-766)


Review of Sean Carroll, Remarkable Creatures: Epic Adventures in the Search for the Origins of Species.

"It's unclear whether the title refers to the daring naturalist/explorers Carroll depicts or the creatures whose remains they found. In this thoroughly enjoyable book, Carroll (Endless Forms Most Beautiful), a molecular biologist at the University of Wisconsin, provides vignettes of some of the fascinating people who have made the most significant discoveries in evolutionary biology. He starts with some of the experiences and insights of great explorers like Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace and Henry Walter Bates, then turns his attention to paleontologists who searched for the fossil evidence to support the new theory of evolution. Among them are Eugène Dubois's discovery of Java Man; Charles Walcott's discovery of the Burgess Shale and the evidence it provided for the Cambrian explosion; and Neil Shubin's recent discovery in arctic Canada of Tiktaalik, the intermediary “between water- and land-dwelling vertebrates.” Carroll closes with studies of human evolution, from Louis and Mary Leakey to the advances of Linus Pauling and Allan Wilson, which indicated that Neanderthals were cousins of Homo sapiens rather than direct ancestors. While there's little that's new here, Carroll does weave an arresting tapestry of evolutionary advancement."  Editorial Review - Publishers Weekly vol. 255 iss. 49 p. 56 (c) 12/08/2008  

All other readings, daily assignments, and outline of course topics will be found on the course web site, available to registered students.  If you have any questions about htis course, you may email the instructor at:

NOTE:  The instructor reserves the right to make minor changes to the syllabus, with due notice to students.  Such changes are made only when problems in the current syllabus are discovered, and whenever possible, only in consultation with students in class.