The Three Most Significant Aspects of the Course
1. This course has a very high web-based component; the intention is to create a course which looks closely at historical arguments and the "life forms" surrounding them, but also interacts with the rich variety of resources available on the World Wide Web in the late twentieth century. Thus a biography of Darwin is read, and other print sources are used, but the aim is also to have students out there discovering the contemporary conversation in all its multiple forms--from Science Journals and pages, to religious and philosophical approaches to the question of origins--not just in the official links but in those they find on the journey.
2. Overall this course is a "narrative" of the design argument, and the "story" of the interaction between science and religion. Students often approach the science/religion issue from a very unhistorical perspective, but firmly ensconced in their various beliefs. A careful reading of the issues and ideas which brought about the religion/science crisis in the middle of the nineteenth century helps students to place their own convictions in context. Those coming from fundamentalist background and with a conflict model of interaction understand for the first time the struggles Darwin himself went through, and in retracing his journey they are able to see with Darwin the ways in which Natural Selection can explain some order and "design." Students coming from a more liberal background and operating out of a contrast model, begin to understand why there is a conflict, and enter into the dialogue for the first time. Then the stage is set to talk about why we have progressed in the twentieth century to a point where science and religion can again be brought into dialogue. Thus we look at the ongoing part of the narrative and the changes in physics, biology and theology which have occasioned this new dialogue. These include changes in physics which have repercussions also for concepts of Godís action and human freedom; changes in theories of biology and evolution; challenges to the neo-Darwinian model which are nevertheless not advocating creationism; and profound changes in our understanding of Godís action in and through natural processes and laws, together also with a more nuanced approach to Biblical interpretation. These arguments are discussed in their own terms, and in conversation with the critics of such critiques, especially Richard Dawkins.
3. Out of the narrative this course hopes also to explore what it means to be a human animal, and the biological and religious repercussions of this identity. Apart from one research paper, this is a theme which arises out of our readings in other and related areas. We encounter this first in observing the nineteenth centuryís discovery of our close alliance, via origins, with the animal world, and their reactions to that. In the twentieth century we observe that all our most cherished marks of identity and uniqueness are found somewhere in the animal kingdom. Thus we are going through a crisis of identity even as we are brought closer to an understanding of our own animal nature. We will examine the consequences of this understanding in the context of our search for life on other planets, for our understanding of imago dei and original sin, and for our growing sense of solidarity with animals in our ecological interconnectedness. Thus we end with a discussion of our human nature and ecological concerns.