Home > 2014 Courses > SCIENCE, CONSERVATION AND MEDICINE > Science and Religion: Friends or Foes?


Professor Anwar Mall, Division of General Surgery, University of Cape Town

This three-lecture course will trace the historical relationship between science and religion, explore the ‘conflict hypotheses’ related to them and reflect on the successes of science. In recent decades science and religion seem in conflict, particularly with increasing evidence supporting Darwin’s theory of evolution. Evolutionary biologists have provoked people into considering what evidence for evolution means in relation to religious practice. In response, religious proponents have sprouted intelligent design theories, angrily taking legal action against the teaching of evolution in schools.

But there are significant conciliatory positions on both sides of the divide, such as Stephen J. Gould’s theory of non-overlapping magisteria, in which science deals with the ‘how’ of life, and religion its meaning. It is generally agreed that science has contributed enormously to the progress of humanity especially since the 1600s. Despite our comforts derived from technological innovation, there is still little knowledge of and much suspicion about scientific activity, with scientific concepts difficult to grasp, their presentation ‘unfriendly’ and scientists ridiculing religion as an outdated dogma, made obsolete by evolutionary theory.

From the perspective of a scientist, this course will explore some of the great ideas of science, some of its failings and its heady relationship with religion. The first lecture will include focus on the biological sciences, the second will deal more specifically with science and its relationship with Christianity and Judaism and the third with the historical status of science in the Muslim world and personal experience of views of science amongst local Muslims.

1.    The value of science: its current relationship with religion
2.    Science in Christian and Jewish societies
3.    Muslims and science: a personal view

Recommended reading
Coyne, J. 2009. Why Evolution is True. New York: Viking Press.
Dawkins, R. 2006. The God Delusion. London: Bantam Press.
Feierman, J.R. Ed. 2009. The Biology of Religious Behaviour: The Evolutionary Origins of Faith and Religion. Santa Barbara: Praeger.
Haag, J., Peterson, G. & Spezio, M. Eds. 2012. The Routledge Companion to Religion and Science. Oxon: Routledge.


Course code: 1028

Date & time: Monday 20–Wednesday 22 January 7.30 pm


Full: R225,00

Staff: R112,00

Reduced: R57,00