Science and Religion

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

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
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 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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Your professor

Lawrence M. Principe

About Your Professor

Lawrence M. Principe, Ph.D.
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...
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Reviews

Science and Religion is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 151.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very Informative I found the course to be excellent. In 12 sessions the course provided an overview/highlights of the history of the relationship between science and religion. I ended up buying both the audio and video.
Date published: 2019-09-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Healthy Corrective to an Unhealthy Narrative I have hesitated buying this course for many years. I had listened to Professor Principe’s History of Science: Antiquity to 1700, had been impressed by its scope, thoroughness and honesty about the religious and cultural context of pre-modern science, and just didn’t think there would be much to add. While there is a bit of overlap—e.g., the Galileo Affair—there is plenty of new material. Some viewers/listeners may be put off a bit by the polemical tone that sometime occurs in Professor Principe’s presentation; don’t be: it’s not an apologetic for religion so much as a demand for historical truth. Unfortunately, a "Manichaean" narrative of conflict between science and religion was popular in the late 19th Century, and Principe makes short work of its historical pretensions. Thereafter, Principe provides one of the best, quick reviews of Natural Theology and its objectives that I have ever heard. He is also quite honest in pointing out the intellectual faults in arguments from design and authority. To maintain focus this series of lectures is necessarily limited to the interaction of Western Science and Christianity; nevertheless, the issues discussed concerning secondary and primary causation, and their inevitable incommensurability, can be usefully pondered regardless of your faith or lack thereof.
Date published: 2019-07-14
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Point missed This 12 lecture series was disappointing to me, particularly following my completion of the Skepticism 101 lectures from Michael Shermer. Dr Principe presented well, but began with faulty logic that carried throughout the lectures. It seemed to be more of an apology for the Catholic Church and it's misdeeds, particularly in dealing with Galileo. I was hoping the lectures would deal with religions in general (from early pagan cults to the Branch Davidians), inclusive of all religions, not just Christianity, and specifically the Catholic Church. None of this was examined. Sorry, I cannot recommend this series.
Date published: 2019-06-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from They Have Done It Again! Once again, this course is concise, clear and presented by a knowledgeable instructor who is also a good teacher and pleasant to listen to. The technology is user friendly and the quality is excellent.
Date published: 2019-02-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Overview of Western Science & Christianity Outstanding introduction to the relationship between Western science and the development of Christianity. Sufficient material, both anecdotal and in referenced works, to gain useful insights into how the current "conflict" between science and religion in America has developed. I would have appreciated several more lectures.
Date published: 2019-01-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Science and Religion Good overview of the issues that have occupied the interaction between Science and Religion, particular Christianity, and more particularly Roman Catholicism (although not exclusively). Professor approaches the topic historically and shows a good grasp and respect of Christian historical theology with deference toward the Catholic faith. He is less gracious toward Evangelicalism although fair. As an evangelical Presbyterian, I found this series very helpful and engaging. I will watch it again soon.
Date published: 2019-01-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I recently received my copy of Science and Religion with Lawrence Principe and have listened to all the lectures. I was impressed with the first few lectures, particularly his discussion of the origins of the so-called war between science and religion. However, when he got to natural theology and used that as a lead-in to discuss Intelligent Design (ID), he blew it badly. His cheap shots at ID used most of the cliches and tired arguments promoted by the pro-Darwin lobby. When he addressed evolution, it was easy to understand his antipathy to ID. He clearly has blindly accepted Neo-Darwinian evolution as a solid theory and is blissfully unaware of its massive failings. It turns out that he is just another Darwin apologist who cannot imagine that perhaps Darwin got it wrong.
Date published: 2019-01-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Makes clear the real issues. I listened to this, then selected parts. Now, I'm listening to it with a group of friends and we're discussing our own experiences in light of the context provided.
Date published: 2018-12-31
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