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Recent popular debates over the relationship between science and religion have too often denegrated into shouted polemics between religious fundamentalists and new atheists. Yet many of the really important historical, philosophical and theological questions call for more careful scholarly attention. This subject examines the complex relationship between religion and the natural sciences. Historically, religious concerns guided the science of Kepler, Newton and many other pioneers of the Scientific Revolution. For them, studying the universe demonstrated the attributes of God. This view was eventually replaced by radically different ones: to some science and religion are necessarily antagonistic, to others they belong to separate realms, while others still see a mutually illuminating consonance between the two. We examine this shift, the reasoning (good and bad) behind it and its residues, and the way these views have shaped contemporary debates over God and the natural sciences. In the second half of the subject, we explore some of the metaphysical, theological and existential questions arising from Darwinian evolutionary and modern cosmology, before offering some final reflections on the relationship between the 'personal God' of religious experience and the 'philosophers God' posited to explain facts about the natural world.
Intended learning outcomes
Students who successfully complete this subject will:
- arrive at a deeper understanding of the complex historical relationship between religion, theology and the natural sciences, particularly in the early modern period and the nineteenth century;
- develop an increased ability to systematically think about philosophical questions raised by modern science and religion;
- acquire a deeper understanding of some of the contemporary philosophical debates in cosmology, evolutionary biology and neuroscience;
- acquire experience of thinking systematically about difficult intellectual problems of an abstract nature;
- develop the ability to conduct independent research, speaking and writing clearly and reading carefully;
- acquire experience with methods of critical analysis and argument, leading to improved general reasoning and analytical skills
Last updated: 15 July 2020