PHST 5050, Biology and Philosophy of Religion

Andrew Porter,, (925) 443-4041

Time and Place:
Monday, 2-5, Mudd 104

Biology and Philosophy of Religion

How to separate the empirical science from the accompanying philosophical and theological anthropologies in the literature of evolutionary biology.

Plan and Goals of the Course

The purpose of the course is to understand the structure of the language in which evolutionary biology is present in the popular and semi-popular literature.

We will trace the history of the rhetoric that has accompanied evolution, and its intimate involvements with issues in evolutionary theory. Particulars of evolutionary and developmental biology will be supplied in background as necessary. The structure of historical religion (of which biblical religion is an example) will be supplied as necessary context for the issues in philosophy of science.


There will be a term paper, but no final examination. Students will be expected to present one page each week of questions for discussion, with some rationale for the questions proposed. I think it would be a good exercise for students to present their term papers to the whole class in the last two weeks, as a way to tie together the work of the semester.

Reading Schedule (emphatically tentative!)

  • 09/11 First class, orientation, discussion
  • 09/18 Langdon Gilkey, Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock
  • 09/25 Gilkey, ctd.; Depew and Weber, Darwinism Evolvingch.s 1-2
  • 10/02 Depew and Weber, chs. 3-5
  • 10/09 Depew and Weber, chs. 6-9
  • 10/16 Depew and Weber, chs. 10-12
  • 10/23 no class; reading week
  • 10/30 Depew and Weber, chs. 13-15
  • 11/06 Depew and Weber, chs. 16-18
  • 11/13 Richard Dawkins, The Extended Phenotype; The Long Reach of the Gene
  • 11/20 no class; AAR meeting
  • 11/27 Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life / The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History
  • 12/04 Discussion, student presentations
  • 12/12 Discussion, student presentations

    Langdon Gilkey was the lead theological witness on behalf of the Arkansas trial (at which, by the way, I, though not physically present, played a minor but entertaining role myself), and his memoir can set the stage theologically. Depew and Weber are respectively in rhetoric at the University of Iowa and biochemistry at Cal State Fullerton, and have produced a fine history of the engagement of rhetoric with empirical science in evolutionary biology. Dawkins' Extended Phenotype is an example of taking evolution in its classic Darwinian ``survival of the fittest'' sense as the center of a basic life orientation (sometimes known as a religion); Gould's Burgess Shale book sees a quite different relation between evolutionary science and human affairs.

    The default term paper assignment is to apply the logic and methodology of the course to a sample of the evolutionary literature chosen by the student and not on the reading list for the course. Other paper topics may be proposed by the student.

    This will be a good exercise in summarizing and presenting other scholars' work to colleagues, in an effort to make it accessible economically for criticism and discussion.

    Latest material for the course will be at

    (You're there already!)