God and the Natural Sciences

Subject 136-260 (2009)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2009. Search for this in the current handbook

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 2 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2009:

Semester 2, - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period not applicable
Assessment Period End not applicable
Last date to Self-Enrol not applicable
Census Date not applicable
Last date to Withdraw without fail not applicable

Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: Between 10-12 weekly tutorials and between 20-24 lectures, normally two lectures per week
Total Time Commitment: Not available

Usually 75 points of first year study across any discipline area.

Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: None
Non Allowed Subjects: None
Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering request for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Student Support and Engagement Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Overview, Learning Outcomes, Assessment and Generic Skills sections of this entry.

It is University policy to take all reasonable steps to minimise the impact of disability upon academic study, and reasonable adjustments will be made to enhance a student's participation in the University's programs. Students who feel their disability may impact on meeting the requirements of this subject are encouraged to discuss this matter with a Faculty Student Adviser and Student Equity and Disability Support: http://services.unimelb.edu.au/disability


Dr Neil Ryland Thomason


Rev. Dr Stephen Ames - sames@unimelb.edu.au

Dr Neil Thomason - neilt@unimelb.edu.au

Subject Overview:

This subject studies the complex relationship between religion, theology, and the natural sciences. Theological concerns guided the science of Kepler, Newton and many other early scientists. They held that studying the Universe demonstrated the attributes of God. After Darwin, this view was replaced by radically different ones: to some science and religion are necessarily antagonistic, to others they belong to different realms. We examine this change, the reasoning (good and bad) behind it and its residues, including some modern debates: 'Anthropic Principle', multiple universes, and such scientific/philosophical issues such as 'Why are the laws of nature what they are?' Finally, we explore the relationship between the 'personal God' of religious experience and the 'philosophers' God' posited to explain facts about the natural world.

Objectives: Students who successfully complete this subject should...
  • have a deeper understanding of and an increased ability to systematically think about the complex historical relationship between religion, theology, and the natural sciences. They will understand how the relationship has evolved, with particular emphasis on the relationship during the "scientific revolution" and post-Darwinian controversies;
  • understand some of the on-going debates possibly including: "The Anthropic Principle", Multiple Universes, and such scientific/philosophical issues such as "Why are the laws of nature what they are?";
  • have a deeper understanding of and an increased ability to systematically think about the different views of the relationship between the "personal God" of religious experience and the more abstract "philosophers' God";
  • have experience of thinking systematically about difficult intellectual problems of an abstract nature;
  • have practice conducting research, speaking and writing clearly and reading carefully;
  • have experience with methods of critical analysis and argument employed in theology and in the history and philosophy of science, leading to improved general reasoning and analytical skills.

Written work totalling 4000 words comprising one 750-word paper 19% (due week 5); one 1250-word paper 31% (due week 8); and one 2000-word final paper 50% (due during the examination period).

Prescribed Texts:

A subject reader will be available from the University Bookstore at the beginning of semester

  • Science and Religion: A Historical Introduction (Ed. by Ferrigan)
Breadth Options:

This subject potentially can be taken as a breadth subject component for the following courses:

You should visit learn more about breadth subjects and read the breadth requirements for your degree, and should discuss your choice with your student adviser, before deciding on your subjects.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:
  • develop skills in written and oral communication;

  • conduct independent research;

  • make appropriate use of primary and secondary sources in mounting an argument;

  • form defensible judgements based on a critical evaluation of conflicting arguments.


This subject is available for science credit for students enrolled in the BSc (pre-2008 degree only), or a combined BSc course (except for the BA/BSc).

Available at second and third year, except in science (second year only).

Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: History & Philosophy of Science
History && Philosophy of Science Major
History and Philosophy of Science
History and Philosophy of Science
Logic and Philosophy of Science
Philosophy Major

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