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Morrissey College of Arts and Science

UN521 Science and Religion/Contempory Issues

capstone program

Donald J. Plocke, S.J.

Associate Professor of Biology

Course also offered as BI214

September 4

Overview and Guidelines for the Course

September 9, 11

Ways of Relating Science and Religion; B* ch. 4, 5; P*, ch. 1; Models and Paradigms handouts

September 16, 18

Historical Overview: 16th and 17th century; Copernicus; R#1 (Hummel); R#2 (Blackwell) Galileo and the Catholic Church and its early contributions to the sciences; the Society of Jesus R#3 (Galileo); handouts

September 23, 25

17th and 18th century developments; Sir Isaac Newton B, ch. 1 and 2; handout and the Newtonians; Newtonian Settlement; Origins of Atheism

September 30, October 2

20th century Revolution in Physics; B, ch. 7: 165-177 Impact of Quantum Theory: Planck, Bohr and Heisenberg; P, ch. 2: 25-34 the Principle of Indeterminacy

October 7, 9

Theories of Origin of the Universe: “Big Bang”; Model; B, ch. 8: 195-204; P, ch. 4: Philosophical and Theological Perspectives R#4 (McMullin)

October 14


October 16

The Anthropic Principle; Teleology; B, 204-216; R#5 (Haught)

October 21, 23

God's Action in the World; Providence and Miracles; P, ch. 5; handout

October 28, 30

The Origin of Life: Chance and/or Providence?; B, ch. 9; R#6 (Haught); Extraterrestrial Life?; handout

November 4, 6

Darwinian Theory of Evolution; Reaction of Churchmen; B, ch. 3; R#7 (Templeton); handout

November 11, 13

Evolution: Theological Issues; B, ch. 3; R#8 (McMullin); “Scientific Creationism” R#9 (Pope John Paul II & Coyne) R#10 (Clifford); R#11 (Haught)

November 18, 20

Teilhard de Chardin's Evolutionary Vision; R#12 (Mooney); R#13 (Teilhard); handout

November 25

Open discussion

November 27

Thanksgiving holiday

December 2, 4, 9

Student reports; overview and concluding reflections

December 13-16

Oral presentations


  • The readings designated as "B" are from Ian Barbour, Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (New York: Harper Collins, 1997).
  • The readings designated as “P” are from John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology: An Introduction (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998). Both are available in the bookstore.
  • The readings designated by an "R" followed by a number are all from the course packet available in the bookstore. The number designations refer to the numbers found on the lower right hand corner of the first page of each reading.

In addition to the above readings, additional readings will be provided in the form of handouts through the course of the semester.

Complete bibliographic references for these readings are given below:

  • R#1: Charles E. Hummel, The Galileo Connection: Resolving Conflicts between Science & the Bible. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1986). ch. 5: "Galileo: Science and Theology," pp. 103-125.
  • R#2: Richard J. Blackwell, Galileo, Bellarmine and the Bible. (U of Notre Dame Press, 1991). ch. 7: "Reflections on Truth in Science and Religion," pp. 165-179.
  • R#3: "Galileo's Letter to Castelli," from R. J. Blackwell (see R#2), pp. 195-201, 265-267.
  • R#4: A. R. Peacocke, ed., The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century (U. of Notre Dame Press, 1981), "How Should Cosmology Relate to Theology?" by Ernan McMullin, pp. 28-40.
  • R#5: John Haught, Science and Religion (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1995). ch. 6, "Do We Belong Here?" pp. 120-141.
  • R#6: John Haught, The Cosmic Adventure (Ramsey, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984), ch. 6: "Chance and God," pp. 75-87.
  • R#7: John Marks Templeton and Robert L. Herrmann, Is God the Only Reality? (New York: Continuum Publishing Co., 1944). ch. 6: “Self Organization and the Diversity of Life,” pp. 99-117.
  • R#8: Ernan McMullin, “Cosmic Purpose and the Contingency of Human Evolution,” Theology Today 55, 389-414.
  • R#9: Ted Peters, ed., Science and Theology: The New Consonance
    (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1998), Pope John Paul II, “Evolution and the Living God,” pp. 149-152; George V. Coyne, S.J., “Evolution and the Human Person: The Pope in Dialogue,” pp. 153-161.
  • R#10: Science and Theology (see R#9), Anne M. Clifford, C.S.J., “Biological Evolution and the Human Soul: A Theological Proposal for Generationism,” pp. 162-173.
  • R#11: John Haught, God After Darwin (Boulder, Westview Press, 2000), ch. 4: “Darwin’s Gift to Theology,” pp. 45-56.
  • R#12: E. McMullin, ed., Evolution and Creation (U. of Notre Dame Press, 1985), C. F. Mooney, "Teilhard: Evolution and Creation," pp. 290-302.
  • R#13: Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J., The Phenomenon of Man (New York: Harper and Row, 1959), “The Modern Earth,” pp. 212-233.


Weekly written assignments

It will be assumed that the assigned readings for a given week will have been read before the Monday class meeting. A brief, two-page, double-spaced, written assignment based on the readings will generally be due at the time of the Monday meeting. Details of the written assignment for the following week will usually be distributed at the class session on Wednesday. Although the written assignments will not be given a grade, their overall quality will be considered in determination of the final grade.

Class participation

The format of the class sessions will involve some presentation by me, but I would like the major part of the class time to be spent in discussion rather than lecture.

Term-paper assignment

As indicated below under "Evaluation," a major part of the final grade will be based on a term paper on a topic relevant to the subject matter of the course. The paper will be due at the time of the final class meeting on December 9. Well in advance of this date, I will ask you to submit a title and an outline for approval. The aim of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore in some detail an area of particular and personal interest to you. Further details regarding this assignment will be provided during the course of the semester.

Class attendance

Since the success of this course is in large measure dependent on participation by all in the class discussions, attendance at all of the class sessions is expected. If for serious reasons you should have to miss a class, I would expect to be notified in advance if at all possible.


The final grade will be based on the quality of participation in the class discussions–30%, the weekly written assignments–30%, a term paper (see above) and a 30-45 minute discussion with the instructor, based primarily on the subject matter of the term paper–40% for the paper and oral presentation combined. The oral examinations will be scheduled during the week of final examinations and will take the place of a final written examination. Each student will also present a brief summary of the paper to the entire class during the final class periods from December 2-9.