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Science and Religion

Science and Religion

Professor Lawrence M. Principe Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University
Course No.  4691
Course No.  4691
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Course Overview

About This Course

12 lectures  |  31 minutes per lecture

Two crucial forces, science and religion, helped shape Western civilization and continue to interact in our daily lives. What is the nature of their relationship? When do they conflict, and how do they influence each other in pursuit of knowledge and truth? Contrary to prevailing notions that they must perpetually clash, science and theology have actually been partners in an age-old adventure. This course covers both the historical sweep and philosophical flashpoints of this epic interaction.

Professor Lawrence M. Principe unfolds a surprisingly cooperative dynamic in which theologians and natural scientists share methods, ideas, aspirations, and a tradition of disputational dialogue.

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Two crucial forces, science and religion, helped shape Western civilization and continue to interact in our daily lives. What is the nature of their relationship? When do they conflict, and how do they influence each other in pursuit of knowledge and truth? Contrary to prevailing notions that they must perpetually clash, science and theology have actually been partners in an age-old adventure. This course covers both the historical sweep and philosophical flashpoints of this epic interaction.

Professor Lawrence M. Principe unfolds a surprisingly cooperative dynamic in which theologians and natural scientists share methods, ideas, aspirations, and a tradition of disputational dialogue.

St. Augustine warned that it is dangerous for religious people to ignore science: "Many non-Christians are well versed in natural knowledge, so they can detect vast ignorance in such a Christian and laugh it to scorn." He added that interpretation of biblical passages must be informed by the current state of demonstrable knowledge.

On the other hand, Sir Isaac Newton freely discusses the attributes and activities of God in Principia Mathematica, which sets forth his theory of gravity and laws of motion.

These examples represent the traditional relationship of science and religion that is too often obscured by the divisive, hot-headed rhetoric and the gross oversimplifications we often see in today's headlines. Long before the shouting and the sloganeering, scientists and theologians pursued a unity of truth, and most theologians have agreed with the advice of Galileo's colleague, Cardinal Baronio, that the Bible "tells us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go."

Once we understand this, we have a new perspective on many present-day controversies. The current antievolution furor, for example, centers on the fixation that Genesis 1 should be taken literally, an issue that had been resolved by theologians long ago. Professor Principe deems it "astonishingly trivial" and guides you through far more interesting arguments of advanced theology about powers and limits of human knowledge—the difficulty of identifying causation, and the means by which God acts in the world. He shows how science gives theologians powerful tools for enriching, not contradicting, their understanding of ultimate truths.

The Search for Answers

You will explore questions that are important to all religions, but the focus is on interactions in the "Latin West" where modern science largely took root. This includes formerly Latin-speaking Western European and Mediterranean regions, and the offspring of European culture, North America. The course spotlights the predominant religion of these lands: Christianity.

Our search is punctuated by Professor Principe's wit and passion. In a review of one of his previous courses, AudioFile magazine acclaimed him as "clearly a master of his subject. Equally clear is his passion for teaching it." With fluency in three ancient languages, Professor Principe is a student's living link to the primary sources he has read and studied in their original languages. Through his reading of such texts as the original minutes of the Inquisition, for example, he is able to grant you the rare opportunity to read between the lines of what was written. In addition, the professor holds faculty appointments in three diverse fields—history of science, philosophy, and chemistry—which allow him to synthesize materials across disciplines and convey the big picture with stunning clarity. His lectures are colored with the passion of someone who has devoted a lifetime to exploring the interaction of science and religion.

Moving from the early centuries of the Christian era and the Middle Ages to our own day, he exposes the truth about the Galileo Affair and provides a revealing picture of the circuslike Scopes Trial.

You will share St. Augustine's profound ideas about reason and faith. Follow St. Thomas Aquinas's exploration of miracles—the need to identify them is one example of how scientific and theological inquiry overlap. Meet a 19th-century writer whose anti-Catholic diatribe spread myths that persist today.

Learn about the courage (and stubbornness) of Galileo, the unexpected rationality of his accusers, the inspiration of Darwin's natural selection, and the religious implications of Lemaître's Big Bang.

As Professor Principe claims, the solution to this modern conflict is easy—it is the study of history. Such study will equip you to join that partnership with a vocabulary of ideas and a clear, historical perspective on the science/religion relationship. These tools will help you participate more effectively in a dialogue that is as immediate and thought-provoking today as it was hundreds of years ago.

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12 Lectures
  • 1
    Science and Religion
    In this introductory lecture, we define the basic terms of the course, its content, methodology, and focus. This course deals with the interactions of Christianity with science in the Western world over a long time span. We look closely at the words science and religion to prepare for consistent discussions in subsequent lectures. We look at models for the interactions of science and religion, critique them, and provide pointers for engaging with the balance of the course. x
  • 2
    The Warfare Thesis
    We examine one form of historical relationship between science and religion—the warfare or conflict thesis. Advanced in the late 19th century by John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White, it has continued strong in popular thought to the present day. We create a catalogue of methodological errors and fallacies for all readers of history to guard against. x
  • 3
    Faith and Reason—Scripture and Nature
    In this lecture, we confront some basic concepts in the science-religion question: What are legitimate means of acquiring sure knowledge, and where can we can obtain such knowledge? We examine approaches to means and sources in the Christian tradition, in St. Augustine's 5th-century writings, and more recently in the important 1998 papal encyclical Fides et ratio. x
  • 4
    God and Nature—Miracles and Demons
    This lecture approaches the nature of causation and our ability to identify it accurately. A crucial point of contact between science and religion is the question of the extent of God's involvement: naturalistic explanations versus divine intervention. Views of the state of the spiritual world influence and form one's views toward the natural world and science. x
  • 5
    Church, Copernicus, and Galileo
    We look at the "Galileo affair." Far from being a simple case of science versus religion, however, it is extremely complex and brings up a host of important philosophical, scientific, and other issues that must be understood in context. x
  • 6
    Galileo’s Trial
    This lecture examines the latter phase of the Galileo affair, presents explanations of the events, and looks at how these events have been used, abused, and re-examined to the present day. Of particular importance are the arguments made on both sides about the relative intellectual roles of science and faith and the levels of certainty we can have about each. x
  • 7
    God the Watchmaker
    The 17th-century idea of a mechanical universe functioning like a great clockwork implied creative actions of a divine mechanist but simultaneously distanced him from creation. Natural philosophers had to deal with deep-seated fears over the new growth of irreligion, and atheism provided a new context. This lecture surveys some of the means used to address this idea by Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton, and others. x
  • 8
    Natural Theology and Arguments from Design
    Some authors have used the natural world to argue for the existence of the deity. This lecture examines the emergence and content of natural theology. Recently, intelligent design has appeared as a further step in the track of natural theology. This lecture looks at historical features of both approaches and their limitations. x
  • 9
    Geology, Cosmology, and Biblical Chronology
    How old is the Earth and the universe? This lecture looks at attempts to date the Earth, the hints that it is vastly older than the Bible implies, and the responses from religious figures to this dating. Historical "battle lines" between rival interpretations of both the Earth's and the universe's ages and origins do not map out on simple religion/science lines but, instead, reveal a more complex picture rooted largely in social and professional differences. x
  • 10
    Darwin and Responses to Evolution
    Like Galileo, Charles Darwin occupies a central position in discussions of science and religion. This lecture looks at Darwin's theory of evolution and its complex reception in context. Darwin's natural selection and common ancestry ideas provoked a range of responses from religious and scientific figures. x
  • 11
    Fundamentalism and Creationism
    Despite acceptance of evolutionary ideas by naturalists and prominent theologians in 1900, those ideas have also marked the 20th century with strongest-ever science-religion conflict. This lecture looks at the 1925 Scopes Trial, a high point in the fundamentalist crusade against evolution, and the invention of creation science and flood geology. There's an analysis of the background and social foundations of American fundamentalism, a force that still plays an adversarial role with modern science. x
  • 12
    Past, Present, and Future
    In this concluding lecture, we survey the course and place our own times in historical context. No single description can aptly describe the complexity of science/religion interactions in Christianity over time. Most current clashes occur between extremists—religious and scientific fundamentalists. A historical perspective is the best way to transcend and defuse such clashes. x

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Lawrence M. Principe
Ph.D. Lawrence M. Principe
Johns Hopkins University

Dr. Lawrence M. Principe is Drew Professor of the Humanities at Johns Hopkins University. Professor Principe earned a B.S. in Chemistry and a B.A. in Liberal Studies from the University of Delaware. He also holds two doctorates: a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Indiana University, Bloomington, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Johns Hopkins University. In 1999, the Carnegie Foundation chose Professor Principe as the Maryland Professor of the Year, and in 1998 he received the Templeton Foundation's award for courses dealing with science and religion. Johns Hopkins has repeatedly recognized Professor Principe's teaching achievements. He has won its Distinguished Faculty Award, the Excellence in Teaching Award, and the George Owen Teaching Award. In 2004, Professor Principe was awarded the first Francis Bacon Prize by the California Institute of Technology, awarded to an outstanding scholar whose work has had substantial impact on the history of science, the history of technology, or historically-engaged philosophy of science. Professor Principe has published numerous papers and is the author or coauthor of three books, including The Aspiring Adept: Robert Boyle and His Alchemical Quest.

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Reviews

Rated 4.1 out of 5 by 100 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Science and Religion The course was helpful for me because my church taught religion and my school taught science but I had never before had the two compared, contrasted, and integrated. October 13, 2014
Rated 3 out of 5 by Reviews convince me not to bother One of the first tools I use to decide whether to purchase a course or not is to read the reviews. I look for opinions about the course itself. When I read too many partisan opinions that divide along ideological lines, I decide the course is simply too controversial. I am not looking for an ideological position; I am looking for a balanced presentation, especially on a subject as the intersection of religion and science. After reading comments ranting against "Saint Sagan" and "Pope Dawkins" I come away with the impression that many of the commenters believe that religion is under attack from science, without acknowledging that science is under attack from religion. Reading that the presentation likewise appears to be biased in favor of Catholicism reinforces the impression that the course is more an apologist's defense of religion in the face of uncomfortable scientific developments. I will not defend the atheists who condemn religion vigorously. I know from experience their attitude is pushback in response to the condemnation fundamentalists heap upon them. Oddly, fundamentalists feel their faith is under attack from science - since fundamentalists insist on literal interpretation of Genesis - while catholic and orthodox feel far less threat from science. Therefore it appears that science is not attacking religion. Science is exposing the weakness in literal translation of ancient texts. October 6, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Historical Enlightment on Science and Religion CONTENT: The lecture series Science and Religion is a survey course highlighting the interactions between science and Christianity largely from a historical perspective. Professor Principe dispels myths and oversimplifications regarding science and religion. For example, some people believe theology uses faith as the means of arriving at knowledge claims; whereas, science uses reason as the means of acquiring knowledge claims. But in reality both theology and science use faith and reason to obtain their respective body of knowledge claims. Furthermore, Professor Principe dispels the commonly held belief that religion and science have opposed one another throughout history by careful and objective analysis of historical records. PRESENTATION: Professor Principe is highly organized in presenting his subject matter. He starts out by giving the scope of this course and defines terms in a clear manner for enhancing the viewers understanding of the subject matter. He has an engaging style of teaching evidenced by (1) passion for the subject matter, (2) ability to teach technical matter in an understandable manner appropriate to a lay audience, and (3) appropriate hand gestures to emphasize points made in the lectures. Also, Professor Principe teaches with a balanced approach in the interactions of science and religion. He does this through sound and objective analysis of the historical interplay between science and religion---referring to primary, historical documents to substantiate his claims. VALUE: The value of this course is that it encourages the viewer to have an open mind to theology and science for these two disciplines search for truth and use faith and reason to arrive at their respective knowledge claims. Therefore, good theology and science complement one another rather than oppose one another. October 3, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by come with an open mind -- and you will be rewarded An excellent presentation Frankly, I was NOT going to write a review as I though it was a slam dunk. then I read some of the harsh reviews and decided to weight in. There clearly is enough conceptual science presented and weighed against good, accurate story telling and historical background to make this interesting and rewarding for the listener As someone who is focused more on the science side, the religious aspect of the stories were presented in a much deeper way than I had heard before, and there were many, many "ah ha" moments -- that lead me to read further independently. this course is well worth ones times -- unless one comes to it with a preconceived idea on the literal writings in the bible August 11, 2014
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