Philosophy 313: Science and Religion

Are evolution and creation equally plausible hypotheses for explaining the origin of apparent design in the world? Should both be given equal time in the public schools? Are both equally dogmatic? How does one determine whether something was designed by an intelligent agent? Just how much can natural selection explain? Do the claims of science and religion overlap? Are they necessarily in conflict?

These are some of the questions this course will address. Designed for students who have taken at least one course in philosophy and one in a natural science, the course focuses on the recent collection of essays entitled Intelligent Design Creationism and Its Critics: Philosophical, Theological, and Scientific Perspectives. Almost all the readings for this course will be drawn from this book.

The intelligent design research program provides the perfect focus for an introductory course in science and religion. That research program is at the same time one of the most active and one of the most controversial areas in science and religion today. Its central claims will be for some students instantly and intuitively appealing; for others, so fraught with implausibility as to be almost ludicrous. Like professional researchers, most students tend to stake out their personal territory on the spectrum of views that extends to these extremes. Besides being as controversial as it is popular, the subject matter of the course encourages students to apply their critical faculties to longstanding philosophical puzzles regarding religious skepticism, design arguments for God’s existence, the justification of belief, the nature of scientific explanation, and hierarchical relationships among the sciences.

Ideally, classroom discussion and student research projects will mirror the well-reasoned defense of alternative viewpoints presented by the book’s numerous contributors. In the spirit of open discussion that these materials deserve, the course will be run as a seminar vitally dependent on active student participation. The semester will culminate in a research paper that summarizes alternative views as charitably as possible, while presenting a tightly argued defense of the student’s own position.

Students will be encouraged to speak candidly and often in class discussions, and will be expected to prepare each reading assignment thoroughly and in advance. In order to ensure candor, minimize bias, and prevent students from knowing who’s playing devil’s advocate, the instructor will keep his own views in the background. This course deals with some of the most fundamental questions of human existence. Its overarching goal is nothing less than to broaden, if not revolutionize, the student’s view of the world and his place in it.