If you would like a short introduction to a few of the key apparent conflicts between science and Christianity, here is a free opportunity to get informed. For busy people, quick and useful information on a topic can be helpful, as opposed to book-length treatments that are difficult to understand. This course serves such a purpose and is appropriate for high school level on up.
Four Myths of Science and Religion is a free online course offered by Philologos, a new educational enterprise started and operated by instructor James Hoskins. This course is part of a future expanded paid online course the instructor is developing called Science and Christian Faith. Hoskins has been an educator in this field for several years, and holds a master of arts from Biola University in science and religion, which this reviewer has also completed. Hoskins also maintains a blog with further biographical details at www.jameshoskins.info/philologos-blog/.
The online course was built using teachable.com tools, so it has a professional look and feel to the structure of the course, and has discussion boards built in to each short module. Many modules are used to create a course. Most are text- or audio-based. The audio lectures average 3 to 6 minutes each, which is great for people with busy lives. Notes are provided as pdf documents along the way as well. The audio lectures also include basic graphics where the instructor can draw diagrams, point out or underline text, or show images to highlight the concepts. Even first-time online course users should find this feature comfortable to get into.
The lectures and modules are done at your own pace, and the audio lectures can be paused, sped up, or slowed down as needed should you need extra time with content or want to speed through familiar material. The speed function does not change the pitch of the voice, so if you speed up lectures, the presenter won’t sound like a chipmunk. One item that could be made clearer is that participants can mark a section as complete by clicking on the button at the upper right of the screen that says “complete and continue.” (Using the large table of contents at the left side of the screen will not mark a section as complete.)
Although the course is called Four Myths of Science and Religion, it took a while before the first myth was defined during the lectures. The four myths are: (1) Is It Possible for Scientists to Hold a View of Reality That Is Free from Religious Assumptions? (2) The Flat Earth Myth, (3) The Galileo Affair, and (4) The Scopes Trial. For being a free course, Four Myths offers a great entry into the topics of science and religion. These topics are well covered in the Biola program, therefore Hoskins has a solid background knowledge to draw upon.
The course is broken down into four parts. The first and last contain the introduction and conclusion. Most of the course content is in the middle two parts, the first of which is Three Views of the Divine, in which myth number one is addressed. Hoskins wisely begins with the philosophical underpinning of the interface between modern science and religion. He points out the three primary views of monism, dualism, and theism, and that modern science, of course, is not and cannot be religiously neutral.
The second myth is the Flat Earth Myth, primarily discussing the false stories about Columbus proving the earth is round instead of flat. It is known that most educated people from about 200 BC on believed the earth was round. Columbus was wrong about the circumference of the earth, thinking it was much smaller than it actually is. Lucky for him there were the American continents between Europe and China, otherwise he and his crews may have perished.
Next is the Galileo Affair. Here Hoskins gets to show that Galileo wasn’t persecuted for his science as much as for his disrespect of the Catholic Church and the Pope on the issue of biblical interpretation and personally slighting the pope.
The last myth covered is about the Scopes trial. Each of these four is a very short lecture of a few minutes, which ends up being a series of conclusions without deeper context. However, the full course offers more depth. Although Four Myths is a brief course, it is worthwhile for those wanting a good introduction to these topics.
Hoskins is well prepared, and participants will gain, in a short time, insight on science versus religion highlights. And the cost is a plus—it’s free! For this I can applaud the work. By way of critique I would say that at this length, the course is only for those unfamiliar with the topic, or for those wanting to brush up on the topic. Also, at this length it could be used as a part of a homeschool curriculum, but it wouldn’t fill out much of a quarter. The lecturer comes across as new to presenting, at least in this format, as he isn’t consistent in his delivery speed, does have some uhs and ums during the lectures, and seems to be speaking off the cuff. Still, his presentation style is better than monotonous script reading, and his future courses will likely improve. Most of the graphics consist of arrows pointing at obvious things in the photos or words, and circling them. The teaching platform could be improved. Given all that, I heartily endorse this free course, even in abbreviated form, as a great resource to bring clarity for those in dialog with others struggling with science and its interface with religion.
Dan Bakken is an amateur astronomer and an instructor for Reasons Institute. Dan has taught astronomy courses at the high school and community college level. Dan holds a BSc in physics, MA Christian Apologetics, and MA Science and Religion.