Science and Religion

Course No. 4691
Professor Lawrence M. Principe, Ph.D.
Johns Hopkins University
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Course No. 4691
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  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video version is not heavily illustrated, featuring around 60 portraits. These portraits include those of individuals who've profoundly shaped the relationship between science and religion, including Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin. There are on-screen spellings and definitions to help reinforce material for visual learners.
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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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  • 88-page printed course guidebook
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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 143.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating, Important, Wonderfully Taught; ForAll This is an outstanding course in all respects, which I truly recommend for everyone. The vigorous interaction of science and religion has been of major importance to human self-understanding for centuries, and shows no signs of letting up. In this very brief course, Professor Principe takes on the challenge of reviewing its history, outlining the relevant philosophy, correcting common misconceptions, and providing a clear understanding of the religion-science interaction. Remarkably, he succeeds in all of these - allowing, again, for the necessarily summary nature of the material presented, given the available time. Perhaps the key point is that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. Many (perhaps most) scientists were and are religious, and it is entirely possible to view nature and humanity from both a scientific and a religious perspective without contradiction or irrationality. To be clear, Professor Principe is not saying science and religion are equivalent, or that they provide the same understanding of our world or our lives. He is very clear about their differences, but views them as complementary rather than antagonistic. Further, I strongly disagree with those reviews which see this course as a religious apologia, or defense. I happen to be an agnostic who, if I had to, would bet that atheists are correct, but I found nothing here biased towards religion. What is true is that the insights provided go a long way towards helping those in opposing camps, whether scientific or religious, to better understand each other. Be aware that the course, despite its general title, specifically treats Western scientific history and Christianity. But I feel the lessons learned can be applied much more broadly. The brilliant final lecture should be pondered by all who see science and religion as inherently at odds - and it would be wonderful if many of today's politicians took note of its wider implications as well: "Their arguments tend to harden positions and create division where it need not exist. The perception of the controversy ignores the vast field of cooperation and intelligent conversation by the majority in between." I have only a few tiny quibbles. I don't think our professor provides a correct interpretation of Stephen Jay Gould's idea that science and religion are "non-overlapping magisteria." And we need to give ostriches more credit - they don't put their heads in the sand because they think this will hide them. But, again - "Science and Religion", despite its brevity, is a wonderful course, both for the fascination of its subject matter and the meaning it has for our lives, not to mention the outstanding teaching. Try to approach it without bias. I sincerely recommend it to everyone.
Date published: 2018-11-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A history that changed my thinking. This thoughtful and well informed discussion from an historical perspective is quite interesting and definitely changed by thinking on this subject.
Date published: 2018-09-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course, wrong title Fortunately, the professor corrects this in the first lecture, rightly emphasizing this course is about the interaction between science and Western Christianity. If understood in this context, then this was highly enjoyable. Maybe a future course could explore intersections between Judaism, Islam, and Eastern Christianity with science and technology.
Date published: 2018-06-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Professor, you proved your point! Professor Principe opened by saying (in effect) that science and religion had overlap. While I had already considered that to be the case, I had no idea how much breadth and depth that overlap entailed.
Date published: 2018-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Reconciling Evolution Theories and Religion This course is an interesting historical look at Catholic popes, priests and theologians who were also involved in scientific exploration. This professor teaches chemistry, but his Catholic perspective tends to disregard other writings by theologians during and since the protestant reformation era. He makes it clear that the treatises and edits of the Catholic church most accurately reflect Christian teachings about science and evolution. Although easy to listen to and follow, his elite perspectives on both science and religion seem a bit intolerant of those whose relationship with God is faith-based. He seems to feel that fundamentalists' beliefs about God and the Bible and creation result from a lack of education, and with more theological education, their views would change about the relationship of Religion and Science.
Date published: 2018-04-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thoughtful, balanced I purchased this course several years ago and have listened to it at least 10 times. I'm listening to it again. Every time through I hear more and become more impressed by just how balanced the professor is. He is not taking a position for one field over the other. Rather, he shows how, until relatively recently, both science and religion were seen as quests for knowledge and truth - one by means of faith and one by means of reason and how, again until recently, there was considerable overlap between the fields. One may arrive at one's own conclusions on the merits of one field of study over the other, but the professor does not do this for you. Rather, the listener is given information that can help one pursue one's own quest for knowledge and truth. Can you really ask more of a college level course? Highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2018-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Superb! This is a very absorbing set of lectures on an important topic. I had read the speaker's "The Scientific Revolution: a very short introduction" so I knew his is a very learned and keen analysis. The course covered a much longer period of time and was fascinating from beginning to end. Super helpful, and also very engaging.
Date published: 2018-01-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Christmas gift 2017 Was a gift from a friend, listened to it with great interest within a few days and am starting to listen again. It's a rare books or audio medium that shifts my mind in some big way, and this did it for me.
Date published: 2018-01-02
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