Religion, Modernity, and the Hermeneutics of Science
July 8 - 21, 2012
Peter Harrison, University of Oxford
Sponsored by various funders
July 9: The Boundaries of Science and Religion
This session will deal with the identity of science and of religion. Key questions are: Does science have some enduring essence that is constant over time? Is there a ‘scientific mentality’ that is common to the ancient Greek philosophers, to key figures in the scientific revolution, and to contemporary scientists? In what sense is Christianity a religion, and what does it mean to speak of the relationship between science and religion?
July 10: Historians and the Conflict Myth
There is a very common view that the history of science and religion is characterized by perennial conflict. In this session we will consider what historians of science routinely refer to as ‘the conflict myth’. A few key historical episodes, such as the Galileo affair, will be examined with a view to arriving at a better understanding of the history of science and religion. We will also consider the origins of the conflict myth and the reasons for its persistence.
July 11: Religion and the Rise of Science 1: The Two Books
The ‘two books’ metaphor, which expressed the view that God was the author of both nature and scripture, was a common notion both in the middle ages and in the period of the scientific revolution (17th century). In this session we consider what this metaphor means for the relationship between science and religion, how this metaphor changed over time with new approaches to the biblical text, and how studying the ‘two books’ metaphor offers key insights into the origins of modern science.
July 12: Religion and the Rise of Science 2: The Fall, Original Sin, and Experimental Method
‘Scientific method’ is often thought to be a kind of systematic skepticism, which puts all factual claims to the test of experiment. In this session we explore ways in which the experimental science that first emerged during the scientific revolution was informed by the idea of the Fall and of original sin. The more general issue to be explored in this session is why science emerges in the West, and why it emerges when it does.
July 13: God and the Laws of Nature
For much of the modern period science has been understood as the quest to discover and quantify the laws of nature. In this session we consider where the idea of ‘laws of nature’ came from. Is this conception unique to the West? Does it necessarily have a theological justification? Does science need to assume the existence of laws of nature?
July 16: Science, Miracles and Religious Belief
Miracles are often thought to be incompatible with the idea of a nature governed by immutable laws. Belief in miracles is thus regarded as ‘unscientific’. Yet in some sense, the idea of miracles requires the idea of laws of nature. In this session we consider how early modern scientists such as Newton dealt with the idea of miracles, and consider varying historical understandings of how miraculous interventions differ from other modes of divine activity.
July 17: Teleology, Design and Natural Theology
Natural theology—which takes in what can be known about God independent of revelation—is usually thought to provide a meeting point for science and religion. In this session we explore the emergence of a particular understanding of natural theology that coincided with the rise of science, and ask whether natural theology helps or hinders science-religion discussions.
July 18: Christianity, Science, and Dominion over Nature
The biblical injunction to ‘have dominion’ over nature was of central importance in giving legitimacy to the new science of the seventeenth century. But it has been argued that this same injunction also inspired an aggressive stance towards the natural world. In this session consider the idea of dominion in relation to both the emergence of modern science and to the present environmental situation.
July 19: Scientific Knowledge and the Cultural Authority of Science
Science is often thought of as providing the ‘gold standard’ for current knowledge claims. In this session we examine how this situation arose, to what extent it is justified. We will also consider how assumptions about the cultural authority of science affect our understanding of past and present relationships between science and religion.
July 20: Science, Religion and the Making of Western Modernity
In this final session we will consider some general questions about the role of science and religion in the modern West. In particular we will examine claims about the inevitability of the decline of religion in the West, and related claims about the role played by the rise of science in the putative demise of religion. We will also consider the future trajectories of both science and religion, and of their likely future relations.
*This schedule is subject to change
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