Religion and Biology Reading List, Spring 2015

This spring the reading group at Harvard continues with a more general focus: issues in biology and theology.  Here is the reading list.

Reading Group on Evolutionary Biology and Theology, Spring 2015

Alternate Mondays 3:30-5:00pm, 4th floor Botany Labs common room (above the glass flowers in the Harvard Museum of Natural History).


16 February: Free Will

To what extent are human actions constrained by history and environment? What aspects of behavior can be predicted through neurology, evolutionary psychology, and behavioral economics? What religious concepts rely on some notion of free will?

Baumeister, R.F., Masicampo, E. J., and Vohs K. D. (2011) “Do Conscious Thoughts Cause Behavior?” Annual Review of Psychology 62:331–61.

Burkeman, Oliver (2015) Why can’t the world’s greatest minds solve the mystery of consciousness? The Guardian (online)


23 February: Human Exceptionalism

Humans have traditionally been classed as animals in biology and theology. Disagreement has arisen in the last few centuries over whether we should think of them as just animals. How does this disagreement impact ethics, science, and public reception of science? What work do religious and ethical differentiations do?

Murphy, Nancy (2006) Bodies and Souls, or Spirited Bodies. (Cambridge: Current Issues in Theology). pp.1-37. (Chapter 1)


9 March: Altruism

What is the relationship between biological altruism and religious concepts of altruism? Can biology explain “selfless” behavior? Can ideas in science and religion promote and discourage “selfless” behavior?

Discussion from Forum on Chance, Purpose, and Progress on types of altruism


23 March: Randomness

What role do concepts of probability, stochasticity, and purposelessness play in evolutionary biology? What religious concepts rely on some notion of purpose, and are they incompatible with biological concepts? How does the general public interpret both?

Barbour, Ian (2000) When science meets religion. Harper. Chapter 3: The Implications of Quantum Physics.


6 April: Life and Death

How are concepts of life and death constructed in biology and how do they impact research? How are concepts of life and death constructed theologically and how do they impact religious thought and practice? What civil/secular/legal concepts of life and death exist and how are they related to scientific and religious concepts?

Mix, Lucas (manuscript) What’s at stake in questions of life and death?


20 April: TBD

(Origin of Life or group selected topic)



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