Science and Religion. Views from History

Academic year2019-2020                                                                 
Period1 + 2
  • 18.00-20.00 (meetings 1-13)
  • 18.00-21.00 (meeting 12 and 13)
Number of meetings        13
Dates of all meetings4, 11, 18, 25 September, 2, 9, 16, 30 October, 6, 13, 20, 27 November, 4 December 2019
Excursionto Teyler's Museum in Haarlem on Wednesday afternoon 30 October 2019
LocationVrije Universiteit, De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV Amsterdam
RoomHG-06A32 (main building, A-wing, 6th floor, room 32)
  • Dr. Ab Flipse (Faculty of Humanities VU) coordinator of this course
  • Dr. Ahab Bdaiwi (University of Leiden)
  • Prof.dr. Fokko-Jan Dijksterhuis (Faculty of Humanities VU)
  • Dr. Hans van Eyghen (Faculty of Religion and Theology VU)
  • Eva van Urk, MA (Faculty of Religion and Theology VU)
  • Prof.dr. Frans van Lunteren (Faculty of Sciences 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 4 SeptIntroduction
2Wed 11 SeptThe contemporary science-religion debate
3Wed 18 SeptScience and Religion in the "Dark Ages"
4Wed 25 SeptScientific Advancements and Innovations in Medieval Islam
5Wed 2 OctThe Galileo Trial
6Wed 9 OctThe Scientific Revolution
7Wed 16 OctGeology and Genesis in the 18th and 19th Century
8Wed 30 OctExcursion to Teylers Museum in Haarlem
9Wed 6 NovEvolution and Christianity
10Wed 13 NovContemporary Muslim Perspectives on Science and Religion
11Wed 20 NovTheology and Ecological Responsibility
Wed 27 Nov
Wed 4 Dec
Presentation 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 5 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
  • 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.