Instructor: C. Mackenzie Brown      
Office: Chapman Center 250 C
            
Phone: x-8429  
E-mail: mbrown@trinity.edu 

Trinity University

This class is normally offered every other year

 

Note: the following description is based on a previous offering of the course). Future offerings of the course may have significant changes, although general topics covered will likely remain the same.

SCOPE AND GOALS OF THE COURSE

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 religious or theological outlook. The four chosen for the course, the revolutions regarding space, time, life, and mind, reveal a rich and complex interconnectedness of developments both within different scientific fields and between scientific inquiry and diverse strands of theological reflection.  In addition, by adopting an historical approach one 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 evolution of attitudes towards older concerns and the emergence of new significant problems.

Special attention will be given, within each of the four major revolutions, to four contemporary theological and/or scientific issues, both methodological and substantive. The four are 1) the relation of religion and science, 2) the strengths and weaknesses of the argument from/for intelligent design, 3) the nature and possibility of divine activity, and 4) the problem of the interpretation of scripture.

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 students with a basic historical comprehension of the significant religion-science debates of the last few centuries in the West, but also to allow students to explore their own attitudes and approaches to understanding the relationship of religion and science. In the process, students will be asked to develop and articulate, in informed and sophisticated ways, their 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, students will be encouraged to come to their 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).

FORMAT OF THE COURSE

There will be two different class formats throughout the semester: LECTURES and DISCUSSIONS, with 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.  On LECTURE days, the instructor will be responsible for presenting materials, and for setting and leading any discussion topics.    

There are twelve 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.  These tickets are explained under the "WRITING AND SPEAKING REQUIREMENTS--1) Class Participation" below.

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.

WRITING AND SPEAKING REQUIREMENTS

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 twelve DISCUSSION days throughout the semester.  Admission to these DISCUSSION classes is by ticket only. Four tickets are free: simply submit a full-size piece of paper to the instructor at the beginning of any DISCUSSION class, with your name, date of the class, topic of discussion, and FREE PASS written on the ticket.  IT IS STILL EXPECTED THAT YOU WILL HAVE DONE THE READING FOR THE DAY.  A normal admission ticket (not the free passes) will consist of no more than one page (150-250 words, double-spaced) analysis of the reading(s) 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 summaries/analyses must be typed, and must be brought to class.  Once you have used up four 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.  

The summary and 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 DISCUSSION classes as well as in the discussions and questions on LECTURE days will all contribute to your participation grade.

Discussion day topics:

  • The Relation of Science and Christian Faith

  • The Two-Sphere Universe 

  • Structure of Science and Religion:  What Is Truth?

  • Human Significance in a Decentered World

  • The Six Days of Creation--Modern Interpretations

  • Earth History and Teleology

  • Cosmic History and the Omega Point

  • Evolution and Religion: Does Evolution Matter?

  • The Problem of Suffering in Evolutionary Perspective

  • Suffering and Redemption in Process Theology

  • Human Evolution and the Problem of Altruism and Morality

  • Evolution vs Creationism

2) Exams. 

There will be three mid-course exams and a final exam. Students need take only two of the three mid-course exams. If all three are taken, the two best exams will be counted. The two mid-course exams will count 40% (20% each) of the semester grade. The final exam will count 25% of the semester grade.  Exams will be taken on-line, at the convenience of students, over a two-day period for the mid-course exams, and over a period of about ten days for the final exam.

For these exams you will be responsible for a number of terms that are given in Vocabulary for Religion and Science.

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). It will be due on Friday, December 4. The term paper will count 25% of the semester grade.

Summary of writing and speaking requirements:

  • Class Participation:  10% of the semester grade

  • The two mid-course exams counted: 40% (20% each) of the semester grade

  • Final exam: 25% 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.

Discussion day topics:

  • The Relation of Science and Christian Faith

  • The Two-Sphere Universe 

  • Structure of Science and Religion:  What Is Truth?

  • Human Significance in a Decentered World

  • The Six Days of Creation--Modern Interpretations

  • Earth History and Teleology

  • Cosmic History and the Omega Point

  • Evolution and Religion: Does Evolution Matter?

  • The Problem of Suffering in Evolutionary Perspective

  • Suffering and Redemption in Process Theology

  • Human Evolution and the Problem of Altruism and Morality

  • Evolution vs Creationism

ATTENDANCE POLICY 

Attendance is required.  You will be allowed three unexcused absences without penalty for the semester.  Each unexcused absence beyond the three will incur a penalty of 1% of the semester grade.  Note especially that attendance on DISCUSSION days requires an admission ticket, explained above under "WRITING AND SPEAKING REQUIREMENTS--1) Class Participation."   Thus, after using up four "Free Admission" tickets, you will not be allowed to attend discussion days without an admission ticket.   Such misses will count as unexcused absences, even if you show up at the beginning of class and are refused admission for lack of the appropriate ticket.  Since you are responsible for materials discussed on the DISCUSSION days, including the discussions themselves, if you miss class you will need to find out from classmates what was discussed.

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY POLICY

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 FOR THE COURSE

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 two required texts, available at the bookstore:

Ian Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues

Eugenie C. Scott, 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)

Detailed outline of course topics and daily assignments, are yet to be determined. For more information, please contact the professor at: mbrown@trinity.edu .