CCHU9061 Arts and Humanities
Science and Religion: Questioning Truth, Knowledge and Life

[This course is under the thematic clusters of ‘Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth’ and ‘The Quest for a Meaningful Life’ / ‘The Universe and the Question of Meaning’.]


Course Description

Science and religion are two of the most significant influences shaping human life and culture. Are they in conflict or in harmony? This course will encourage students to question their assumptions about both science and religion and the relationship between the two, and to gain new insights on the meaning of truth, knowledge and life. We will consider the intersection of science and religion in the following questions : “what is true?” “what is real?” “what counts as legitimate knowledge?” “do emotion, passion and faith have a role in science?” “does rationality have a role in religion?” “what are the moral dimensions of science and religion?” “where do we come from and where are we going?”

Course Learning Outcomes

On completing the course, students will be able to:

    1. Navigate the key issues which help or hinder fruitful engagement between science and religion.
    2. Critically engage with Big Questions in discourse around science and religion.
    3. Assess the strengths and limitations of scientific and religious approaches to reality, knowledge and action using multidisciplinary perspectives.
    4. Engage with the different and conflicting perspectives within the contexts of wider worldview and assumptions.

Offer Semester and Day of Teaching

Second semester (Wed)


Study Load

Activities Number of hours
Lectures 24
Tutorials 10
Film viewing 9
Reading / Self-study 33
Assessment: Essay / Report writing 33
Assessment: Presentation 8
Assessment: Film review and analysis 3
Total: 120

Assessment: 100% coursework

Assessment Tasks Weighting
Tutorial participation and assignments/discussions 15
Homework tasks 50
Final essay 35

Required Reading

Lecture 1: Problematizing religion

  • Bellah, R. (2011). Religion in human evolution. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. [Religion and reality (pp. 2-43)]

Lecture 2: Problematizing science

  • Harrison, P. (2015). The territories of science and religion. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. [Chap. 1 The Territories of Science and Religion (pp. 1-19)]
  • Feyerabend, P.  (2012). How to be a good empiricist: A plea for tolerance in matters epistemological. In M. Curd, J. A. Cover & C. Pincock (Eds.), Philosophy of science: The central issues (2nd ed.) (pp. 927-953). New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.
  • Fodor, J. A. (2012). Special Sciences (or: the disunity of science as a working hypothesis). In M. Curd, J. A. Cover & C. Pincock (Eds.), Philosophy of science: The central issues (2nd ed) (pp. 954-969). New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.

Lecture 3: What is real and does it matter?

  • Dawkins, R. (2012). The magic of reality: How we know what’s really true. New York, NY: Free Press. [Chap. 1 What Is reality? What is Magic? (pp. 12-32)]
  • Murphy, N. (1997). Anglo-American postmodernity: Philosophical perspectives on science, religion and ethics. Oxford: Westview Press. [Chap. 2 Scientific Realism and Postmodern Philosophy (pp. 39-48)]

Lecture 4: What’s it like to be a bat?

Lecture 5: What is true and does it matter?

  • Brownnutt, M. (Forthcoming). Science and religion: What kinds of truth do they seek? In W. T. Leung, P. Ng & V. Mak (Eds.), Christian mind in the emerging world: Academic faith integration in Asian contexts from a global perspective.
  • Buber, Martin (2013). “First Part” in I and Thou. London: Bloomsbury Academic. [pp. 53-85]

Lecture 6: What makes something knowledge?

  • Schreiner, S. E. (2011). Are You Alone Wise? The search for certainty in the early modern era. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Chap. 1 Beginnings: questions and debates in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (pp. 3-35)]
  • Harrison, P. (2008). The fall of man and the foundations of science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [Chap. 3 Seeking Certainty in a Fallen World (pp. 89-138)]

Lecture 7: A place for passion?

  • Polanyi, M. (1958). Personal knowledge: Towards a post-critical philosophy. London: University of Chicago Press. [Chap. 4 Skills (pp. 49-65), Chap. 9 The Critique of Doubt (pp. 269-298), Chap. 10 Commitment (pp. 299-324)]

Lecture 8: How then should we live?

  • Postman, N. (1992). Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology. New York: NY, Knopf. [Chap. 2 From Tools to Technocracy, Chap. 3 From Technocracy to Technopoly, Chap. 4 The Improbable World, Chap. 5 Broken Defenses, (pp. 21-91)]

Lecture 9: How should I take care of myself?

  • Wallace, A. (Ed.). (2003). Buddhism and science: Breaking new ground. Columbia University Press. [Introduction: Buddhism and science — breaking down the barriers]

Lecture 10: Is reality an assemblage of parts or an undivided whole?

  • Capra, F. (2010). The Dao of physics: An exploration of the parallels between modern physics and eastern mysticism. [Chaps. 1, 11]

Lecture 11: Where do we come from?

  • Bible. From https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+1&version=NIV [Genesis 1-3]
  • Rau, G. (2013). Mapping the origins debate: Six models of the beginning of everything. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press. [Chap. 6 Origin of Humans (pp. 127-152)]
  • Walton, J. H. (2009). The lost world of Genesis One: Ancient cosmology and the origins debate. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic. [Proposition 1: Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology, Proposition 2: Ancient Cosmology is Function Oriented, (pp. 14-35)]

Course Co-ordinator and Teacher(s)

Course Co-ordinator Contact
Professor D.A. Palmer
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 2051
Email: palmer19@hku.hk
Teacher(s) Contact
Professor D.A. Palmer
Department of Sociology, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 2051
Email: palmer19@hku.hk
Dr M.J. Brownnutt
Department of Social Work and Social Administration, Faculty of Social Sciences
Tel: 3917 4334
Email: mikeb@hku.hk