Contemporary Religion-Science Issues

This course has been designed to facilitate more comprehensive thinking about contemporary issues at the boundaries of theology and the natural sciences--the origin and nature of the universe, of life, and of consciousness.  Toward this end, we will begin with an historical overview of the diverse and sometimes problematic ways in which theologians and natural scientists have perceived the relationship between the disciplines.  We will proceed subsequently (1) to explore in depth the similarities and differences between the disciplines today with emphasis on their purviews, data, methods, and limitations, (2) to compare four basic models for relating theology and the natural sciences with emphasis on dialogue which respect the distinct contributions each makes to issues and avoids their conflation or confusion, (3) to examine representative works with the aim of discerning the extent to which more cogent theological discourse about contemporary issues can be achieved when theology is informed by the natural sciences, and (4) to pursue individual research on topics in which the disciplines are interfaced. During one of the last three sessions of the seminar, students will present their research findings to one another and respond to inquiries about their project.
     Because this course fulfills a seminar requirement for Honors Program students, it will be conducted in ways that allow maximum opportunities for student to share with one another their inquiries into and insights on assigned readings.  To facilitate preparing for seminar sessions, students will be required to prepare written reflections on the readings for most sessions and to contribute substantively to class discussions.  On some occasions, students will work in smaller groups on specified tasks and report their conclusions to the full seminar for discussion.
     One aspect of this course will depart from seminar style.  Because the readings deal with data and theories of several scientific disciplines in which some students have not had academic training, Marquette faculty from the Physics, Biology, Health Sciences, and Mathematics departments will give presentations on cosmology, evolutionary biology, brain physiology, and mathematical mapping of the universe.  These lectures will be followed by a comment and question period during which the students are required to engage faculty.
     The objectives of the seminar are: (1) To understand and appreciate the purview, data, methods, and limitations of theology and the natural sciences; (2) to identify the distinct dimensions of thinking that the disciplines contribute to issues at their boundaries; (3) to analyze for their plausibility representative contemporary works in which the disciplines are interfaced on matters pertaining to the origin and nature of the universe, of life, and of consciousness; (4) to discern the plausibility, relevance, meaningfulness, and helpfulness of theological logical discourse when informed by scientific findings when addressing mutual issues; (5) to exercise critical thinking skills in seminar discussion; and (6) to demonstrate research and writing capabilities by producing a seminar paper that interfaces theology and one of the natural sciences on a contemporary topic.
     The syllabus and other pertinent course documents are available on D2L by the beginning of the first session.  Contact Dr. Schaefer for further information.

Return to Courses