PHIL 331: Philosophy, Science and Religion (Dr. Vailati)         Fall 2012 
Where to reach me: PB 2212; phone: 3376; homepage:; email: 
Office hours: M. 11-12, T. 5-6, and by appointment when necessary.


Course Description and Goals
This course introduces students to some of the historically and conceptually important interaction between philosophy, science and religion from the beginning of the Scientific Revolution to the reactions to Darwinism.
Although the modern science often presented new problems for religion, their relation was not always confrontational. Still, there was tension, and often philosophers tried to provide either a middle ground on which science and religion could amicably coexist or even interpenetrate, or an insurmountable barrier between them so that each could develop in its autonomous sphere. At other times, philosophers appropriated science, or what they perceived as science, in order to attack specific religious views or even religion in general. In this course, we shall try to disentangle all these different strands by looking primarily at the history of the relations among philosophy, science, and religion from the scientific revolution to the present.

Required Texts

·         Lindberg and Numbers (eds.) God and Nature (UC Press, 1986) (G).  Rental

·         Mattews, The Scientific Background to Modern Philosophy (Hackett, 1989) (M). Rental

·         Ridley (ed.) The Darwin Reader (Norton, 1987) (R).  Rental

·         Drake (ed.) Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo (D).  Rental

·         Brooke, Science and Religion (CUP, 1991) (S). Rental

·         Dixon, Science and Religion (OUP, 2008) (TD) Rental

·         Material to be downloaded from my homepage (; several handouts.


Religion and Science’ is a good entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Look at it and keep it in mind as we move along in the course.


August 20-29. Intro to topic. Reading: TD, ch. 1; NOMA and Dawkins.


Science and early Christianity.  Reading: Lindberg, "Science and the Early Church" (G, 19-48)


Science and religion in the Middle Ages

Preliminary: the solar system according to modern science.  What we see when we look at the heavens;  how Ptolemy predicts, or even explains, what we see.  A mathematical trick Copernicus won’t like: the equant.



Handout on late medieval astronomy and theories of motion.
Grant, "Science and Theology in the Middle Ages" (G, 49-75).

August 29: First quiz.

September 5. The God of traditional theology. 

The Abrahamic stories of creation, science, and philosophy: readings: Genesis I-II (this is Young’s literal translation); the same (but in traditional version) with hostile, but reasonable, marginal comments.
Philosophy and science impinging on religion: St. Thomas on the eternity of the world.  Readings: Selection from the Summa: download; Aquinas on what’s essential and what’s incidental to faith (handout)

How do we read scriptures?


September 10-12. The scientific revolution
The astronomical revolution. Readings:
Copernicus (M 33-44); his system in action.  Osiander’s Instrumentalism.

The Tychonic system in action.
Kepler, selections from Mysterium Cosmographicum and Astronomia Nova (handout).  Kepler’s three laws.
The telescope: Selections from Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius (D 23-37; 50-58)
S, ch. II.


September 17-19Galileo and his condemnation;  
Galileo (M 53-86); Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina (D, 175-216); Galileo's letter to Castelli and Bellarmino's letter to Foscarini (handout).

The trial documents.  Here is a very good website for Galileo.
DT, ch. 2.

S, ch. III

September 19: Second quiz

September 24-26. A first attempt at systematization of a new world view.

Descartes. Readings: Descartes, Selections from Discourse on Method (download). Letter to Mersenne of April 1624 (handout); M 94-108
Boyle: Corpuscularianism and the good Christian. Readings: Selection from Boyle (M 109-23)
Deason, "Reformation Theology and the Mechanistic Conception of Nature" (G, 167-91)

A rejection: Pascal's fideism. Readings: Selection from Pascal's Pensées  (download)


October 1-10. A second attempt at systematization: Newton's Deus Pantokrator and the religious use of physics
Newton, M 133-58. First Letter to Bentley (handout).
Bentley, selections from The First Boyle Lecture (handout).
Jacob, "Christianity and the Newtonian Worldview" (G, 238-56).
S, ch. IV.

Davies, "The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Science" (handout).

October 3: Third quiz.

October 10: Midterm


October 15-17. Is the Bible believable? Deism and Theism. 
Locke: Science and Reason as delimiting Religion: selections from An Essay on human understanding (download-1; download-2).
Tindal’s Deism: selections from Christianity Old As Creation (handout).
S, ch. V.  

Octoiber 22-29. Antireligious interpretations of science: Naturalism and Secularism
D'Holbach, selections from System of Nature (handout).
Hahn, "Laplace and the Mechanistic Universe" (G, 256-76).

Q. Smith ‘Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism’ (handout).

M. Ruse Atheism, Naturalisn and Science: three in one? (handout)


October 31. Miracles and God’s presence.
Hume's First Enquiry, ch. 10 (download)
TD ch. 3.

October 31: Fourth quiz


November 5-7. Geology, scriptures and the discovery of deep time 
Burnett, selections from Sacred Theory of the Earth (handout)
Selections from Lyell's Principles of  Geology  (handout)
Rudwick, "The Shape and Meaning of Earth History" (G, 296-321)
USGS on geologic time.
S, ch VII.

November 12-14 and 26-28 (Note that Thanksgiving week is a holiday). Paley;   Darwin, and Darwinism; creationism

Selection from Paley’s Natural Theology: read chs. 1-3.
Darwin, R 84-135; 175-204. Darwin on God's existence (handout).

DT ch. 4.
Gregory, "The Impact of Darwinian Evolution" (G, 369-90).

Behe, Dembski, and their critics (handout); for fun, check out some Common anti-evolutionist claims and the standard answers to them

Handout from Ruse's book Can a Darwinian be a Christian? Listen to Debate between Plantinga and Dennet on Evolution and Religion

DT ch. 5

November 28: Fifth quiz; Paper due.


December 3-5. Brooke, Science and Secularization (handout).

Final Discussion.


Course requirements and grades

1.      Five multiple-choice quizzes, each worth 5% of the course grade. Some will be in class, some take-home. No make-ups unless in extreme circumstances.

2.      Three unannounced in-class pop quizzes each worth 3% of the course grade.  Only those present in class may take them.

3.      A group class presentation of 20-25 minutes, worth 10% of the course grade.  Make sure you show up and give the presentation when you signed for it.  Failure to show up or lack of preparation will result in loss of points.

4.      A midterm, worth 20% of the course grade

5.      A paper, typed, double-spaced, 5 full pages long, on the topic of your presentation.  The paper is worth 20% of the course grade

6.      A final exam, consisting of a multiple choice quiz and a short essay, worth 16% of the course grade. The topic of the short essay will be chosen by me out of the following Topics for the final exam.


There are 100 possible points in this course. The breakdown in terms of grade is as follows: 100-90: A; 89-79: B; 78-68: C; 67-57: D; 56 or fewer: F.


Academic policies

1.      The issues we deal with in this course are complex and require a considerable amount of background knowledge without which discussion quickly degenerates into nonsense. Unavoidably, there will be some amount of lecturing.

2.      Students are responsible for knowing what has been said in class.  Keep in mind that discussion in and outside class is essential to master the issues covered in this course.  Papers or quizzes may be based on classroom discussions not derived from any written material. If for any reason you miss some classes, make sure to find out, from some other student or from me, what has been done in class.

3.      Plagiarism will be dealt with in accordance with CAS draconian guidelines.

4.      Attendance for the duration of the class is required; missing more than 5 classes without proper excuse will reduce one’s course points by 10%.


Class Behavior

Please avoid texting, reading extraneous material, chatting, or sleeping. All of these show lack of respect for me and your colleagues.  In general, behave civilly.   



You will be placed in a group of 2 or 3 people.  It is your responsibility to coordinate your part of the presentation with them.  The group presentation will contain an expository part (What does the author say?) and a critical part (Is the author right?  What are his/her strong and/or weak points?).  In addition, the group will identify and introduce a discussion point that will get your peers thinking about the topic of your presentation. 

Be aware that you cannot write a satisfactory paper in one evening or one night unless you have thought about it at length before. You are encouraged to give me rough drafts of your papers.  Keep in mind that I can return them with significant comments only if: i) they are given to me at least one full week before the papers are due; ii) they are written reasonably clearly.  Rough drafts consisting only of disjointed paragraphs or, worse, mere paragraph headings cannot be properly evaluated.  You may turn in your rough drafts as many times as you like, compatibly with the above requirements.

Grading criteria
A paper providing mere information adequately and accurately in clear prose substantially free of spelling and grammatical mistakes will be in the C range.  A paper which in addition to meeting this requirement shows some originality supported by reasonably clear and cogent arguments will be in the B range. A paper showing significant originality, clarity and cogency will be in the A range.
My reading a student's rough draft of a paper does not entail, although it makes it somewhat likely, that the paper, even if my comments are considered, will get a B or an A. Often a bad paper must be revised more than once to become good. Papers merely consisting of a composite of material taken from web sites, articles, or books are not acceptable. You need to provide thoughts of your own.
5% of the paper’s grade will be subtracted for every solar day it is late.

Spelling and grammar
Papers must be written in correct English.  Papers containing grammatical or usage errors will have to be resubmitted and will lose 10% of their grade.  Students who feel unsure about their command of grammar should make sure to remedy the problem as quickly as possible by using the writing center, for example.
Many students often confuse the following words:
it's/its; there/their; cite/site; principal/principle; than/then; to/too/two; who's/whose; weather/whether; conscience/conscious; since/sense; coarse/course.
In addition, students are often guilty of the following misspellings:
arguement; diety; devine; concieve; decieve; percieve; sieze; truely; wholely.
If unsure about how to spell these words correctly, check a dictionary.