My new semester is off to a good start, I am happy to say. Once again, I find it amazingly fun to meet my new classes. The cheerful energy of my students is very inspiring.
But I am realizing that I have set myself up for something very difficult. I have decided to try developing a full course on Religion and Science. I set it up as an upper-level course, to signal to students that it won't be easy, but I listed no prerequisites, because I really wanted to bring in anyone who was interested. And sure enough, I have science majors, religion majors, and philosophy majors -- coming into the course from a wide variety of perspectives.
And I find them ready to do battle. One of my students said, "I signed up for this course because I wanted a chance to talk about what everyone is afraid to talk about." Two of the students described themselves as atheists. One student (whom I knew from a previous class) has been wanting me to read Sam Harris, and so I did do so over break.
Today I found out that a colleague is bringing to campus someone (not Sam Harris) who has recently written a book blaming religion for all of the world's problems. My colleague wants to have a faculty reading group, and was sure I would want to join. Given that I am teaching this Religion and Science class, of course I will have to announce this lecture to my class -- maybe even bring this speaker in to visit my class. And I can tell already that the students will be very impressed with him. And they might not pick up that he does not really know what he is talking about. When I look at his book, and several others that recently have come out proclaiming the evils of religion, what I think is that they may make pretty good arguments against idolatry, but they don't get religion at all!
The other impression I get is that these men (all of the books in this vein that I have read are written by men) are absolutely outraged that there is suffering. In the end, their real objection to belief in God is that they wanted God to have made a world free of suffering. Finding that the world is full of suffering, they scream their outrage to a God they claim that they do not believe in. "You made the world all wrong. Therefore, You do not exist."
I decided not to require the students read any of these books in the course. After looking at a lot of books on religion and science, I came back to Ian Barbour as still my favorite author on this topic, because he works well with the science, and the religion, and the underlying historical and philosophical issues. He has his own point of view, which he is clear and open about, but his books present a balanced survey of many different ways of examining the subject, and then I, in turn, give students the freedom to choose which framework makes the most sense to them. My agenda is only that I want the students to examine all of this in some depth and detail before making up their minds.
This is going to be a very interesting semester...
5 years ago