Science and Religion. Views from History

Academic year2017-2018                                                                       
Period1 + 2
  • 18.00-20.00 (meetings 1-12)
  • 18.00-21.00 (meeting 13 and 14)
Number of meetings        13 + excursion
Dates of all meetings6, 13, 20, 27 September, 4, 11, 18 October 1, 8, 15, 22, 29 November, 6 and 13 December 2017
Excursion1 November 15.00-17.00 to Teyler's Museum in Haarlem
LocationVU University Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam
RoomBelleVU building BV-0H38 (number 1091 at this map)
  • Dr. Ida Stamhuis (Faculty of Exact Sciences VU) (Coordinator)
  • Dr. Mohamed Ajouajou (Faculty of Theology VU)
  • Prof. Dr. Gijsbert van der Brink (Faculty of Theology VU)
  • Dr. Ab Flipse (Faculty of Humanities VU)
  • Jan Hallebeek (Faculty of Law VU)
  • Prof.dr. Frans van Lunteren (Faculty of Exact Sciences VU)
  • Jeroen de Ridder (Faculty of Humanities VU)
  • Dr. Ad Tervoort  (Faculty of Humanities VU)
  • Prof.dr. Eric Jorink (ING Huygens Institute/University of Leiden)

Course Description

Science and religion are nowadays often seen as conflicting forces. Many scientists adamantly insist that religious belief has no place in a scientific worldview and attitude, while some religious believers vigorously dispute the truth claims of science. Is there an inevitable opposition between the two? History can shed revealing light on this important issue.

The ‘conflict thesis’ about the relationship between science and religion actually did not emerge until the nineteenth century. During much of European history, educated people were rather convinced that the opposite of the conflict thesis was true. Science and religion were seen to go together harmoniously instead of essentially subverting and thwarting each other.

  • How could this vision of harmony and concord prevail for such a long time?
  • When and where did tensions between science and religion arise and how were they resolved?
  • Why did the idea of a fundamental conflict between science and religion arise?
  • How was this development related to the changing social roles of science, scientists, and religion in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries?

These questions form the leitmotif of this Honours course.
The main focus will be on the Christian religion, but attention will also be given to Islam.

The course consists of

  1. a series of meetings on key topics in the relationship between science and religion from the Late Middle Ages to the present, preceded by
  2. a general introduction, and concluded by
  3. oral presentations by students on a subject of their own choosing related to the question of the science-religion interface, which will form the basis for a written essay.
  4. an excursion to Teylers Museum in Haarlem including a lecture about Teylers museum and the theme of the course.

Schedule of meetings

1Wed 06 SeptIntroduction
2Wed 13 SeptScience and Religion in the "Dark Ages"
3Wed 20 SeptPerspectives on Science and Islam in History
4Wed 27 SeptLaw and Moral Theology until 1700
5Wed 04 OctThe Galilei Trial
6Wed 11 OctNewton and Religion
7Wed 18 OctGeology and Genesis in the 18th and 19th Century
8Wed 01 NovExcursion to Teylers Museum in Haarlem
9Wed 08 Nov
Evolution Theory and Creationism in the 19th and 20th Centuries
Wed 15 NovEvolution and Christianity: The Contemporary Debate
11Wed 22 NovModern Physics and Christian Faith
12Wed 29 NovContemporary Views on Science and Islam
13Wed 06 DecPresentation of Essays by Students
14Wed 13 DecPresentation of Essays by Students

Each meeting includes an introductory lecture (first hour) and a discussion based on selected readings and/or source material related to the question: what can we learn about the relationship between science and religion (second hour)? The excursion is scheduled for November 4 in the afternoon. In preparation for each class, students are requested to submit a thesis for discussion, related to the week’s readings/source materials.

Working formats and activities:
  • Lectures and discussions (meetings 1-11); all students will study the readings and/or source materials in advance of the meetings and formulate points for discussion.
  • Individual oral presentations by students, based on preliminary version of final essay (meetings 12 and 13)
  • Individual final essay (3000-4000 words)
  • Excursion

Study materials:
Readings and source materials will be made available through Blackboard

Assessment methods:

  • Participation in discussions, including contributions on Blackboard (30%)
  • Individual oral presentation (10%)
  • Written essay (60 %)

Guidelines for the oral presentation and the written essay, and suggestions for topics will be made available on blackboard.