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Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Joanne D Woiak
HIST 310
Seattle Campus

Science and Religion in Historical Perspective

Scientific and religious ideas have been two of the major forces shaping our modern view of the world. Often regarded as being in conflict, they can equally well be seen as complementary and interdependent. Study of the relationship between scientific and religious ideas with focus on particular episodes of history from ancient to modern times.

Class description

The relationship between science and religion in Western culture is typically depicted with reference to a series of dramatic scenes from the past: Galileo being forced by the Catholic Church to recant his belief in a sun-centered cosmos; the evolutionist T. H. Huxley's legendary vanquishing of the creationist Bishop Samuel Wilberforce; the sensational Tennessee "monkey trial" of John Scopes. Confrontational episodes such as these have come to symbolize the popular perception that since the seventeenth century there has been an incessant warfare between scientists and Christians. But does the "conflict thesis" capture the historical reality? In this course we will use a variety of sources (including some fiction and films) to examine the actual diversity and complexity of historical encounters between religious thought and scientific developments from the Scientific Revolution to the present day. We will explore the reasons for Galileo's battle with the Church, Kepler's combining of astronomy with mysticism, and Newton's beliefs about the integration of reason and Christian faith. We will read some Darwinian texts and consider the range of cultural responses to the controversial idea of human evolution, from Darwin's day to present-day debates over creationism and sociobiology. Scientific advances and religious beliefs are also in contact today in the realm of bioethical concerns about new genetic and reproductive technologies, especially in public discussions of human cloning. Even modern physics has taken a turn towards addressing questions often labelled metaphysical or spiritual, such as was the universe designed? Such examples will demonstrate that the interactions between science and religion have always been more complex and subtle than the popular myths of conflict would have us believe.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Lectures and class discussion.

Recommended preparation

Class assignments and grading

Essays, quizzes, and participation.


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Moran Tompkins
Date: 12/18/2003