Course taught by Zachary Simpson.


Professor's Course Notes

 Conversations Between Science, Philosophy, and Religion

Course Page

The course syllabus can be found here. Course ID: 3026982 password: systems
Course Description

This course aims to understand recent interactions between the sciences, philosophy, and religion through four separate two-way “conversations”: 1) The philosophy of biology and the various issues it raises; 2) The evolution of the moral instinct – how did we become moral animals?; 3) The evolution of religion from anthropological and sociological perspective – how did we become religious animals?; and 4) Religious appeals to the sciences, through both “Intelligent Design” and other options provided by the sciences. In exploring these themes, we will hopefully achieve a sophisticated understanding of the best insights into areas of overlap between scientific, philosophical, and religious areas of study over the past 20 years. We will also develop critical perspectives vis-à-vis each field and the analytical skills associated with synthesizing and discussing sophisticated developments in multiple domains of thought.

Course Schedule

Part I – From Philosophy to Biology: The Nature of Evolution

Week 1 – Introduction and Evolutionary Basics
Tuesday, January 12: Introductions, Overview, and Goals for the Course
Thursday, January 14: Evolutionary Basics
            Reading: Sterelny and Griffiths, pgs. 22-51
Week 2 – Evolution, Genes, and Units of Selection
Tuesday, January 19: Genes and Evolution
            Reading: Sterelny and Griffiths, Chs. 3 and 5
Thursday, January 21: Units of Selection
            Reading: Sterelny and Griffiths, pgs. 151-178; article by David Sloan Wilson, “Multilevel Selection Theory”
            Also recommended: David Sloan Wilson, “Cooperation and Altruism”; David Sloan Wilson, “Human Groups as Adaptive Units”; Martin Nowak, “Five Rules for Cooperation”; Martin Nowak and Karl Sigmund, “How Populations Cohere”
Week 3 – Two Interesting Issues: The Arrows of Time and “What is Life?”
Tuesday, January 26: The Arrows of Time
            Reading: Sterelny and Griffiths, pgs. 280-310; article by Simon Conway Morris on electronic reserve
Thursday, January 28: Snow Day
Tuesday, February 2: What is Life?
            Reading: Sterelny and Griffiths, pgs. 355-378; last chapter of What is Life? by Sagan and Margulis on electronic reserve
            Also Recommended: Dorion Sagan and Lynn Margulis, Into the Cool; Erwin Schrodinger, What is Life; the work of Stephen Wolfram, Freeman Dyson, Mark Bedau, David Depew and Bruce Weber, and Edouard Machery is also interesting in this regard; and, for a philosophical perspective, Renaud Barbaras, “Life, Movement, Desire”
Part II – From Biology to Philosophy: The Evolution of the Moral Sense
Week 4 – Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds
**Short Paper on Philosophy of Biology Due**
Thursday, February 4: Introduction to Hauser
            Reading: Moral Minds, Prologue and Introduction (approx. 50 pgs.)
Week 5: Moral Minds, cont.’
Thursday, February 4: Issues of Justice
            Reading: Moral Minds, pgs. 59-110
Thursday, February 11: Violence
            Reading: Moral Minds, pgs. 111-159; Marc Hauser, “The Liver and the Moral Organ”
Week 6: Other Reflections on the Evolution of Morality
Tuesday, February 16: Norms of Cooperation and Prosocial Behaviors
             Reading: Moral Minds, pgs. 357-418
             Also recommended: Research done by primatologists, such as Richard Wrangham, helps illuminate the evolution of prosocial behavior
Thursday, February 18: An innate sense?
            Reading: Lieberman, Tooby, and Cosmides, “Sentiments Relating to Incest”; David Sloan Wilson, “Survival of the Selfless”
            Also recommended: Kevin Foster, “Altruism”, Martin Nowak and Karl Sigmund, “Indirect Reciprocity”; Elliott Sober, “What is Evolutionary Altruism?”; also play with Christoph Hauert's VirtualLabs
Part III – From Biology to Religion: The Evolution of Religious Belief
Week 7: Pascal Boyer’s Religion Explained
Tuesday, February 23: The Origins of Religious Belief
            Reading: Religion Explained, pgs. 1-47
            Also recommended: Jeff Schloss, “Evolutionary Theories of Religion”
Thursday, February 25: The Brain and Inference
            Reading: Religion Explained, pgs. 93-135; Shariff et. al., “Religious Belief can be Diminished”
Week 8: Boyer, cont.’
Tuesday, March 2: Gods and Spirits among us
            Reading: Religion Explained, pgs. 137-202
            Also recommended: Dominic Johnson, “Hand of God, Mind of Man”; Norenzayan and Shariff, “Religious Prosociality”; Purzycki and Sosis, “The Religious System as  Adaptive”; Shariff and Norenzayan, “God is Watching You”; Sosis and Alcorta, “The Evolution of Religious Behavior”; Sosis, “The Adaptive Value of Ritual”
Thursday, March 4: Religious Violence and Overview of Boyer
            Reading: Religion Explained, pgs. 265-296
Week 9: Suicide Terrorism and Another Perspective
Tuesday, March 9: Religious Militancy
            Reading: Ginges et. al., “Religion and Support for Suicide Attacks”; Sosis and Alcorta, “Militants and Martyrs”
            Also Recommended: Scott Atran’s work on suicide terrorism, found on his website at:  
Thursday, March 11: Introduction to Science and Religion: Film from Nova on Dover School Debate
           Reading: Introduction to Intelligent Design
Week 10
Spring Break – No class
Part IV – From Religion to Science: Intelligent Design and Other Options
**4-6 Page Paper on Evolution of Morality or Religious Belief Due**
Week 11: Intelligent Design
Tuesday, March 23: The Intelligent Design Debate
            Reading: Intelligent Design, pgs. 12-43
Thursday, March 25: Conservative Responses
            Reading: Intelligent Design, pgs. 58-71 and 154-165
Week 12: Intelligent Design, cont.’
Tuesday, March 30: Liberal Responses
            Reading: Intelligent Design, pgs. 44-56 and 166-177
Thursday, April 1: No Class -- Droverstock 2010
Week 13: Other Options – An Emergent Ethics and Theism
Tuesday, April 6: Introduction to Emergence
            Reading: Reinventing the Sacred, pgs. 31-71 (skim the technical parts – just try to understand the overall themes of emergence)
            Also recommended: Philip Clayton’s Introduction to The Re-emergence of Emergence; Other readings TBA
Thursday, April 8: Stuart Kauffman’s Emergentism
            Reading: Reinventing the Sacred, pgs. 230-254
Week 14: Emergentism Leading to Religious Reflection?
Tuesday, April 13: Non-Personal Religion and Emergence
            Reading: Reinventing the Sacred, pgs. 255-288; Wesley Wildman, “Ground of Being Theologies”
Thursday, April 15: Philip Clayton’s Emergentism
            Reading: Selection from Adventures in the Spirit
Week 15: Finals Week
Tuesday, April 20: Class Overview – We’re done!

Thursday, April 22: No class – Final papers due