Intersections between Religion and Science

This webpage provides links to the lecture notes for the course Intersections between Religion and Science presented in the fall of 2019 to the group Living and Learning in Retirement.  Notes for a previous version of the course given to the Learning is For Ever Institute  at Ryerson University are also available.  

Some of the material in the presentations derives from the book Creature and Creator: Intersections between Science and Religion.  A pdf copy of this book is available for download

The header for this page is a 12th-Century painting called Six Persimmons by Mu Ch’i Fa-Ch’ang. It can be viewed from both a religious and a scientific point of view. 


Brief Description of the Course:

We understand the world we live in by telling stories. Some of these become the foundations of religious belief; some are linked together into scientific theories. This course will look at the way religion and science approach the main questions of life: Where do we live? What is the universe? Whence do we come? Who are we? Why should we be good? Whither do we go? Meaningful answers to these questions will be sought in the lessons of religious scriptures, and in the findings of scientific experiments.

Schedule of Presentations:

  1. What is Truth? (September 13, 2019) (i) How science and religion consider truth. Doctrine and heresy, theory and experiment. Infallibility and fallibilism. (ii) Concepts of knowledge, belief, truth, faith, and reality. “Truthiness.” (iii) Historical relations between science and religion: harmony, explanation, conflict, separation, dialogue, and integration. (iv) Truth in art. Metaphors and Fiction. Suspension of disbelief. When is fiction “true”? (v) Transcendental knowledge. Karl Popper’s three worlds. The Tree of Knowledge in Genesis. Notes
  2. In the Beginning (September 20, 2019) (i) Fire: its worship, e.g. Agni in Hinduism, and its control, e.g. pottery, metal, concrete and glass. (ii) Animism: the attribution of agency to others may have led to polytheism or monotheism. (iii) Prehistoric art: body painting, wall painting and carvings. (iv) Shamanism: predicting the future and curing disease. (v) Superstition, ritual and ceremony. (vi) Personal narratives leading to burial of the dead, afterlives. (vii) The agricultural revolution, scriptures, organized religion and the priestly tradition. Notes
  3. Representing the Cosmos (September 27, 2019) (i) Aristotle’s physics and Ptolemy’s geocentric universe. (ii) Heliocentrism: Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Bruno. (iii) Galileo and the telescope: the moon’s surface, sunspots, Jupiter’s moons, and the phases of Venus. Newton as the ultimate vindication of Galileo. (iv) Confrontation between Galileo and the Catholic Church. Humanity as God’s special creation: the Great Chain of Being. (v) Was the Church justified at the time in repudiating heliocentrism? Should Galileo have refused to recant? Notes
  4. The Real World. (October 4, 2019). (i) The origin of the universe. RigVeda. Anthropic Principle. Genesis. Bishop Ussher. Young Earth Creationism. (ii) Recession of the Galaxies and the Big Bang (14 billion years ago). Origin of Earth (4.5 billion years ago). (iii) Classical mechanics and determinism. (iv) The strangeness of quantum physics. Bohr. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Schrödinger and his cat. Quantum mysticism. The play Copenhagen (Frayn). (v) Taking physics on faith. Notes
  5. Origins of Humanity. (October 11, 2019). (i) Creation in Judeo-Christian scripture. Other creation stories. William Paley’s The Blind Watchmaker. (ii) Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle. Alfred North Wallace. Spontaneous variation and natural selection. Sexual Selection. Human evolution. Abiogenesis. (iii) Christian fundamentalism. The Scopes Trial. Inherit the Wind. (iv) Intelligent Design arguments. Rulings in the US Courts. Roman Catholic understanding of evolution and the special creation of the human soul. Notes
  6. Who am I? (October 18, 2019). (i) History of the soul – Judeo-Christian, India, Egypt, Greece. Pantheism and panentheism. (ii) Fact and illusion. Chuang Tzu and the butterfly. Descartes Cogito ergo sum. Dualism, idealism, materialism. (iii) Memory and attention. Personal or “episodic” memory. Cognitive interaction between the world and the self. (iv) Consciousness. Sleep and wakefulness. Disorders of consciousness. (v) Artificial intelligence. Star Trek’s The Measure of a Man. Notes
  7. Why Be Good? (October 25, 2019). (i) Determinism. Fatalism. Limits to scientific determinism: chaos, predictability and computability. Quantum probabilities. (ii) Free will. Neurodeterminism. Rationalization. The imagined future. Luther’s “Here I stand.” (iii) Morality by obeying rules, by figuring out the consequences, or by practising virtue. Compassion: gold silver and platinum rules. Natural Law. (iv) The Common Good. Various Trolley Problems. Moral Reasoning. (v) Secular ethics. Care ethics. Ecological ethics. Notes
  8. Dust to Dust. (November 1, 2019). (i) Concepts of death. The Seventh Seal. Epicurean views of death. Loss of the person. Blade Runner. Near-death experiences. (ii) The end of the world in physics. (iii) Justice and Judgment. Samsara. Egyptian judgments. Yudisthira in the Mahabharata. Dives and Lazarus. (iv) The return of the king: Messiah, Maitreya, Christ, Quetzlcoatl, King Arthur. The Apocalypse and the Rapture. (v) Donald Justice’s poem There is a Gold Light in Certain Old Paintings. Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. Notes
  9. Taking Responsibility. (November 8, 2019). (i) Differences in religious belief. World religions. Schisms and heresies. Cults. (ii) Heresy in science. Pseudoscience. Skepticism and its problems. (iii) Religious pluralism. (iv) Unity of science. Reductionism and emergence. (v) Costs and benefits of religion. Evangelism/proselytism. Crusades and Jihad. Terrorism. Abuse. Irrational faith. (vi) The responsibilities of science. The Manhattan Project and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Notes
  10. Epilogue. (November 15, 2019). (i) The nature of the numinous. Role of art and creativity in human society. (ii) The story of Job. Theodicy: religious explanations for suffering. (iii) Is comfort better than reality? Dostoevsky’s The Legend of the Grand Inquisitor. (iv) What is Truth? Knowing oneself. The Sufi poem The Song of the Birds. Notes