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Between Darwin and Design: Science & Religion in Conversation

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 30, 2014 - July 11, 20142M-F 3:50-6:40POpenNiki Clements10552

Course Description

Are religion and science fundamentally in conflict with one another? The U.S. has been called the "most religious of the advanced industrial democracies," yet it also stands at the forefront of scientific discovery. Think about the conflict, for example, between evolutionary theory’s and creationism’s understanding of the human being. At the same time, researchers in neuroscience and Buddhist monks have joined forces to understand human consciousness.

In this course, we will get a handle on this complex relationship between religious belief and scientific research in the U.S. public sphere. We will read expert sources and engage each others’ views in conversations at the seminar table on topics including:
• Evolutionary Theory
• Creationism and Biblical literalism
• Neuroscience of Consciousness
• Buddhist Practice and Theory

During the first week, we will focus on the divergence between religious belief and empirical science on the topic of evolution. Here we will be guided by Jon Stewart as we interactively engage US court cases, including the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925), the “Creationism Act” of Louisiana (1987), and the Dover Panda Trial (2005). Still a hotly-debated topic, the most recent Pew Research Center survey (2006) cites 42% of respondents as directly rejecting evolution.

In the second week of the course, we will work through recent collaborative research on human consciousness by neuroscientists and Buddhist monks. Here, we will critically engage both early Buddhist texts and contemporary articles by the neuroscientist Francisco Varela and the 14th Dalai Lama. We will learn how to read introductory level scientific articles, working out how scientific and religious views are not necessarily irreconcilable.

Through this course, I will guide you as you refine your critical thinking and writing skills. You will cultivate the skills of listening to others and articulating yourself clearly through interactive class activities. This course will teach you how to communicate more effectively and how to read newspapers, scientific articles, and academic texts alike with a more critical eye; it will also provide a foundation for further study in U.S. politics, religious studies, philosophy, and the history of science.