This course tells the story of interactions between religious belief and the study of nature from deepest Antiquity to 1800.
Beginning with an overview of the history and methodology of the study of science and religion, encounters between science and religion are traced from the dawn of civilization to the end of the eighteenth century, with a special focus on the early modern period. From an examination of the biblical view of nature and Creation, ancient Babylonian astrology and divination and Plato’s Timaeus, this course moves through a treatment of the centrality of theology to Medieval science on to natural theology and the “Watchmaker” Design Argument of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Models of conflict, harmony and complementarity offered to characterize relations between science and religion are explored through case studies such as the understanding of the soul, Galileo’s controversy with the Church and instances where religious belief inspired natural philosophers like Boyle and Newton. Claims that certain confessional traditions (notably Protestantism and its dissenting offshoots) facilitated the rise of modern science are also appraised. Science-religion relations are examined both from the standpoint of mainstream religion and with respect to religious heterodoxy, prophecy, alchemy, magic and witchcraft. This course employs examples from Judaism, Christianity and Islam and involves the reading and discussion of primary texts.
Students enrolled in this course are eligible for The Sir John William Dawson Essay Prize in Science and Religion. An award of $500 will go to the student with the best essay written in Science and Religion: Historical Perspectives and Science and Religion: Contemporary Perspectives each year. The runner-up will receive a $50 gift certificate from the King’s College Book Store.