Letters and Science 121
T-Th 2:00-3:30, 2040 VLSB
This course explores the concepts of origins in science and religion and their cultural contexts and entanglements, from antiquity to the present. Popular culture tends to emphasize the conflict between science and religion on such issues, particularly, in recent times, with respect to the origin of life and its evolution (including human evolution). We hold that science must acknowledge history, both the history of the natural world and the history of concepts about it, and that religion must deal with the changing knowledge of science, including issues of origins, causation, and teleology. Our guiding questions include: What are origins, and why do we want to know about them? How does this desire manifest itself in different ways of constructing and analyzing knowledge? What sorts of intellectual processes, standards, and tests can be applied to different concepts of origins? What happens when different notions of origins clash? How do we negotiate these clashes in today’s world?
Professor Kevin PadianProfessor Ronald Hendel
Department of Integrative BiologyDepartment of Near Eastern Studies 5099 VLSB, email@example.com Barrows, firstname.lastname@example.org office hours: W 11-12 and by appt.office hours: Tu 11-12 and by appt.
Dale Loepp, email@example.com office hours: Th 3:30-4:30 and by appt. Nick Matzke, firstname.lastname@example.org office hours: Tu 3:30-4:30 and by appt. Yosefa Raz, email@example.com hours: Th 1-2 and by appt.
Participation (sections), 20%; two short papers (5 pgs), 20% each; Midterm exam, 20%; Final exam, 20%
Ronald Hendel, The Book of Genesis: A Biography (Princeton University Press, 2012)
Charles Darwin, The Annotated Origin: A Facsimile of the First Edition of the First Edition, ed. James T. Costa (Harvard University Press, 2011) (paperback) Other readings posted on class bSpace site
Schedule and readings
Part I. Science, Religion, and Origins
Jan. 22 (T) Introduction: What do origins mean, and how should we study them?
Note: discussion sections will not meet in this first week
Jan. 24 (Th) Science and religion: Contradiction or complement?
Read: Gould, “Non-overlapping Magisteria,” at
Coyne, “Seeing and Believing”; Miller, Finding Darwin’s God (excerpt);
Collins, “Faith and the Human Genome”
Jan. 29 (T) The structure of science
Read: Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, ch. 2-3 (pp. 10-34); and
“How Science Works,” at
and be sure that you read all 21 webpages in this section.
Jan. 31 (Th) The structure of religion
Read: Geertz, “Religion as a Cultural System”
Feb. 5 (T) The structure of secularism (Dale)
Read: Taylor, A Secular Age (excerpt)
Feb. 7 (Th) Atheism, agnosticism, theism: What’s the difference and the difference it makes
Read: Onfray, The Atheist Manifesto (excerpt); Dawkins, The God Delusion (excerpt); Hitchens, God is Not Great (excerpt); Rosenbaum, “An Agnostic Manifesto;” Haught, “Evolution and Faith”
Feb. 12 (T) Origins of the universe (Eliot Quataert)
Read: Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything (excerpt)
Feb. 14 (Th) Origins of life (Nick)
Read: Pross, What is Life? (excerpt)
Part II. History of the Present
Feb. 19 (T) Creation myths: How and what they mean
Read: Enuma Elish; Hesiod’s Theogony, lines 104-233, 535-615, 807-885; Hopi creation myth; and Chinese creation myth (bSpace). Web texts at:
Feb. 22 (Th) Cosmology in the Bible and the ancient Near East
Read: Genesis 1-3; Hendel, Genesis, pp. 15-44
Feb. 26 (T) Theodicy:...