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Evolit: Week 4--Evolution as a non-foundational narrative story

Paul Grobstein's picture

Anne and I are glad you're here, to share thoughts about the story of evolution and the evolution of stories. This isn't a place for polished writing or final words. It's a place for thoughts in progress: questions, ideas you had before, in or after class, things you've heard or read or seen that you think others might find interesting. Think of it as a public conversation, a place to put things from your mind or brain that others might find useful and to find things from others (in our class and elsewhere) that you might find useful. And a place we can always go back to to see what we were thinking before and how our class conversations have affected that. We are looking forward to seeing where we go, and hoping you are too.

As always, you're free to write about whatever you thought about this week. But if you need something to get you started, how are you currently feeling about biological evolution as a narrative, non-foundational story? Does that make it more or less interesting to you? What issues does such a story raise for thinking in new ways about biology? about humans? Can you imagine ways such a story might be relevant for thinking about things in addition to biology?

Sophiaolender's picture

Biological evolution as a story

The most interesting thing about reading Darwin's The Origin of Species is the fact that it is a narrative. The idea of it being a non-fictional narrative turns into a sort of autobiography, a story on Darwin's life.. on his discoveries. This class baffled me at first because I did not understand that we were reading it as a non-fiction. I thought we were being asked to read Darwin as a story - more as a fictional encounter. This proved impossible for me, because as much as I tried to tell myself that Darwin's ideas could be wrong, and that this could just be a hypothetical history of the world, I couldn't make myself believe it. Although Darwin's ideas are complex, and the idea of evolution is extremely difficult and almost impossible to believe that such amazing things could happen through such tiny and slow changes, it still makes sense. I consistently wonder how come the majority of our world believes in evolution. It must just be the fact that we are taught it an early age. I guess that makes sense -- the things we learn when we are young are the things that stick. Like language. Maybe evolution is the language we are taught an early age. What if evolution is proven incorrect? Dennet states that Darwin's ideas, even if proven false, will have been worth it, because they will have annihilated a former set of ideas. In my opinion, if proven false, maybe we would have no idea how to view the world, how to proceed in the way we do currently. Maybe we hold onto this idea because  without it, we would be lost. Like if all of a sudden, we abolished the English language. How would we carry on? This is not me lashing back at the idea of evolution - I am not saying I doubt biological evolution - this was just an idea.

Student Blogger's picture

Non foundationalism

I guess the reason why I am having difficulty in this class (and why it took me a little bit longer to blog this week) is because no matter how many times it is explained to me, I still don't seem to understand the concept of non-foundationalism/foundationalism.  According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term foundational is defined as "Basis (as a tenet, principle, or axiom) upon which something stands or is supported".  In accordance, non-foundational would be the opposite. After discussing this matter extensively I feel as though Darwin did not consider himself to be either of the two. Then why should it be our concern?

In regards to biological evolution, I believe it is based on non-foundational thinking (using the aforementioned definitions).  Since the process of evolution does not have a direct goal or purpose, it is not based on a principle or axiom of any sorts.  The theory of Creationism, however, is a foundationalist theory as it is based on an idea that shapes peoples ideas of human existence. 

Rachel Townsend's picture

Thinking about education and Evolution

As some people have mentioned, in Prof Grobstein's section on Thursday we talked a lot about the place of Evolution and other creation stories in the Educational system.  This reminded me of an article I was reading online last week about how only 50% of Brits and Americans believe in Evolution.  I was really surprised by this when I first saw the headline of the article. This seemed to go along with our discussion of the place of creation stories in education. If only half of the American and British populations believe in Evolution is there a place then for the kind of class we discussed on Thursday, a sort of cosmology (right?) course? The more I reflect on this article and our conversation in class, the more convinced I am that early education should have a course on origins and creation stories.  With a course like this, classes on other disciplines can bring in these different stories as fits the discipline, like science bringing in evolution.
dshanin's picture


The most interesting aspect of last week’s discussion was the link Dr. Grobstein drew between moral behavior on earth and foundationalist beliefs.  He implied that if a person was relieved of the burden of final, extra-corporeal judgment for their actions, then our behavior would take a serious turn for the worse.  A quick look at societies who have lived under various religious doctrines raises some serious issues with this statement however.  In our jails, the most crowded of any 1st world country, if you asked the inmates what will stop them from committing a crime again some would say god but all would say avoiding another term in prison.  Society itself is the greatest influence on personal behavior.  Various studies have shown that we take a great deal of behavioral cues (sometimes unconsciously) from how the people around us are acting.  Humans are a highly social creature with millions of years of evolution making us able to live together in stable and productive groups.  Removing religion does not touch this inbred predilection for community life and certainly does not guarantee anarchy. 

Hilary McGowan's picture

Logic Loop

I responded to this earlier, but my post must not have gone through. (Computers!!!) Anyways, here is my post for last weeks' talk:

In today's discussion, I had a major deja vu. It struck me like the usual bolt of lightening dialogue and filled me with this odd sort of fuzzy feeling. 

The little experience was triggered as we discussed the Universe as a whole. Where it came from, how it developed, and the many many theories existing to explain these phenomenon. While trying to imagine this cone-shaped existense of inconceivable size, the feeling that I had experienced the same thing before then. It didn't help the factor that whenever I think of the universe or pick up my well-loved Stephen Hawking I get a slightly creeped out tingle running down my spine. It amplified this feeling to the point that I was nearly trembling with a mix of a smile and a frown somewhere on my lips. 

Science, the Universe, Philosophy and Life. Where do they all coincide? Or do they even hit each other? Some may qualify that all science is reality, and that reality the only concrete thing in the universe. Another mind triggers Mr. Descartes with the idea that reality is a construct of perception. If we can't even peice together the confines of how we measure the universe and reality, how is it possible for us even to begin understanding the potentially overlapping areas of science and every facet of thought. That puts me in a nice, round circle- a Logic Loop if I may- going around and around and never being able to pick a spot to land. I desperately want to be able to find a niche to sit down and pick a perception and understanding for the universe and all it's intricacies, but I feel like this will never happen. Perhaps I really want to stay in the loop that way I will never be stuck with one single understanding. Will I land when I am supposed to, or will I stay in my Logic Loop forever, doomed to deja vu's and tingling feelings up my spine? 

Paul Grobstein's picture

loops, loops, and more loops

It might be very interesting to explore the relation between your "logic loop," and "loopy science", and a book I'm currently reading by by Douglas Hofstadter called "I Am a Strange Loop."
kcofrinsha's picture

Week 4 Response

I have been doing the reading for this week and I don't really know what to think of it.  The author keeps talking about how Darwin's ideas will bring us to some incredible conclusions and this frustrates me for two reasons. I'm a little skeptical about the existence of these conclusions and I wish he would just tell us already. 

As for the discussion on religion and science, I do think they are different, but I also don't think it is necessary to choose one or the other.  My feelings are basically the same as they were on science and the humanities. I maintain that there are differences, but that doesn't mean there aren't also similarities and that one can't enjoy both science and humanities classes.  I'm not sure why people think that science requires giving up other parts of one's life. Why are people encouraged to choose between science and the humanities, or science and religion?  I believe that science does overlap with other parts of life and I don't see why so many people believe that science can't overlap with other parts of life.

Tara Raju's picture

Religion and Darwin

The relationship between religion and science is a complex one- one that will probably be in a war-like status for as long as both exist. There are plenty of people that believe in God as well as science- doctors, scientists, etc. God, in some twisted way, is a filler for the things that we don't know, the things that we simply cannot explain. I am in no way attacking those who believe in a higher being (as I do) but it is something worth exploring. The relationship between God and many components of society today is a unique one in that we don't really know what exactly either role is in the other. And there is no real way that we'll ever know. All of us, in some way or form as accepted the idea that nothing really is for certain but we try to make sense of it all. If we allowed everything to be called into question, everything to be criticized, to rely on nothing as a solid foundation, to believe in nothing concrete then the world as we know it would be chaos. It is these unifying ideas and beliefs in religion, God, science, truth, that make us the way that we are and allow us to go about our daily lives with a relative self-peace. We believe that the sun will rise in the morning, set in the evening, that there is a night, that there is a dark, that we have to pay our taxes, we have to go to school, we have to listen to our parents- without these social structures we are at a loss. The reason people look for answers, via God or science, is because we want stablity. 

amoskowi's picture

Sorry about the delay-

Sorry about the delay- Haverford plenary.

I wanted to respond to something brought up in the new reading for tuesday...I've basically just started it so I don't know if the author is going to get around to answering one of the smaller questions he put out there, so I wanted to hazard an answer myself. He was talking about purpose, Aristotle's fourth "cause," the answer to the "why" (basically, about what we've been refering to as foundationalism), and whether or not their could be a purpose without it being someone's purpose. I feel like, even in Darwin, actually, we see that we can. The point is to survive, and while I'm not sure it's entirely philosophically sound then to say that survival is "good" thing, I think the implication is definitely embedded in Darwin. And, more to the point, continuing life is therefore a better thing- having offspring, babies, is being naturally supported. Do I think you can add to that with other beliefs? Sure, and for many people, myself included, there needs to be a little something more and there are ways to question, consider, and understand that (religion or spirituality being a common way.)

I suppose in general my "His Dark Materials" reading self can't see purpose and meaning as necessitating a God...Not after Mary Malone's revelation in the chapter "There is Now" when she discovers basically the opposite.

fquadri's picture

Religion and Biology

I like Darwin’s story as a narrative, non-foundational story. From what I understand, it’s a story that provides a timeframe but shows that there is no set template or goal at the end, that evolution is an ongoing process. Though, I say here that I like the story, even the “non-foundational” part, I was one of the people in Prof. Grobstein’s section on Thursday who confessed that I’m a little uncomfortable with the non-foundational part. According to Darwin, evolution is an ongoing process, mainly based off of chance and accidents in the past as opposed to a process with a plan and purpose. As I said last week, the idea that I’m here by chance is interesting but scary at the same time. I guess you can blame it on my upbringing, I’m not religious but I was raised with religion and the idea that there is a god who has a plan for everyone and that everybody has a destiny. However with the notion of chance and accidents, I’m starting to think that maybe god’s only part was setting the stage rather than setting the stage and being a director. Perhaps that’s how biology and religion come together for me.                                                                                            

eglaser's picture

Can't we work together?

As I mentioned in our discussion I consider myself to be very religious. I am a methodist who was born and raised in the church, I have helped run sermons and special events and my Mother works as a secretary at a church. I believe very strongly in the teachings of the bible and in the Christian faith.I am also an anthropology major with a minor in bology. I have been convinced that the theory of evolution is correct and have no qualms with any of the proven scientific theories of our age. (I'm still a little confused by quantum theory but that's neither here nor there). 

At a young age I was essentially told that I would eventually have to give up one for the other. I could not believe in both science and God. After some careful consideration I decided that that was simply not going to happen and from then on I have worked hard to understand both science and religion and have since found some amazing similarities between them. I refused to give up my love of either and just wanted it to be known that science and religion are not mutually exclusive and it was quite frustrating in class to hear people dismiss one view for the other.

i just wanted to let this class, this school and this world know that it is possible to have both God and evolution. The most intense religious experiance I have had in my young life occured as I read the introduction to Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" a book about the history of scientists and their theories. Don't be exclusive of any story and please, respect the fact that science and religion are equally important in the lives of some of your class mates. 


sustainablephilosopher's picture

Humans & evolution - possibilites and constraints

To start off with, a very relevant video clip that is an excerpt of "Pale Blue Dot"  by Carl Sagan, talking about humans as parochial beings in the context of the universe:

I loved Prof. Grobstein's remark that evolution opens up new possibilities for humans, rather than shutting us down or making us "merely material" beings just like all the other animals are considered to be. Common origins/ ancestry is definitely not a bad thing - if anything, this ties us closer to the community of life at large. Personally, I think it is beautiful to think of stories such as the theory of evolution not in terms of being true or false, but as opening new lines of inquiry and new possibilities. I think it is beautiful to think of evolution as exploring possibilities for what life could be by expanding, rearranging the patterns, and trying out new things - what else could organisms, humans, and stories seek to do? Certainly, living by the same old patterns and narratives is stagnant both biologically and psychologically.

I saw an interesting quote from Neil Young - "Why are we stuck with war? Are we not supposed to evolve to a point where we don't have war?" Maybe war is an evolutionary way to keep the total number of people down, because we don't seem to really have predators, nor are we subject to the conditions of climate and shortages of food in the same way that other animals are because we have agriculture and technology to 'artificially' acquire food and have secure shelter, etc. It seems that some sort of struggle is evolutionarily necessary to achieve betterment, though I do not endorse war as such or other zero-sum games. As I wrote about in my first paper, I do not think that war or the 'Struggle for Existence' metaphor accurately characterizes all of the economy of nature, nor of human societies.
LS2's picture

moving past "everything is subjective"

In large part, much of my academic work draws on the kind of post-structuralist thinking that has grounded our discussions of the subjectivity of science and history. I think it is hugely important to recognize the manner in which different kinds of agendas--be they economic, political, or cultural--inform the stories we are told and tell ourselves, and that much of what we accept as distinterested truth is in actuality never truly neutral.

That being said, the assertion that "everything is challengable" disconcertingly opens the door for a refutation of histories that are important to recognize and to face. I was thinking about the tactics of some creationists (notably this guy) who exploit one apparent weakness in evolutionary theory(in this case the lack of transitional stages) to discredit an overwhelimg amount of positive evidence. I think this gesture is not dissimilar from many of the strategies of Holocaust Revionism, which will take one piece of contentious evidence(like, for example, the idea that Nazis made soap out of their victims, which has been shown to be false) to argue that none of the testimonies of survivors can be trusted. I wonder how can we both accept that history and science are subjectively informed, but also retain a knowledge that some things are in fact fact, and desperately need to be recognized as such for the sake of humanity. 

This line of thought reminded me of a piece that Michiko Kakutani wrote for the Times in 2006 after word broke that James Frey's best-selling memoir A Million Little Pieces  was largely falsified. In it, she writes about how adademic post-structuralism was co-opted by the Bush administration to  turn "truth" into a kind of dirty word that stood for a radical, leftist agenda, despite a tide of evidence that suggested their actions and rhetoric were based on little to no certainty. She  suggests that the presence of "phrases like 'virtual reality and 'creative nonfiction'" reflect an unacceptable "relativism" in our society that does a disservice to first-person testimony and the accomplishments of science.

How does such an argument change our conversations thus far?  Can we have our "crack" cake and eat it too, or does the destabalization of "fact" too insiduously make possible its appropriation by detrimental agendas? Is there a happy medium between nihilistically clamining that "everything is subjective" and naively accepting every "fact" we are taught?


skhemka's picture

Where the truth lies...

We have been looking at Origin of Species for a long time now and still categorizing is very difficult. The book has never just been part of a single category. The identification of the book solely rests with Charles Darwin. No one has made peace with Evolution completely as yet. There is a lot of confusion and controversy around still.

Calling On the Origin of Species just "another story" would mean diminishing the insight it has provided to the scientists. Observations are important whether we keep them or discard them.

Truth is supposed to knowable. We know some truths that make us believe in God and other truths that make us believe in evolution and some truths make us doubt both God and Evolution. No one has found a complete truth that makes it possible for us to believe one completely.

Before putting "On the Origin Of Specie"s in any category we need to look for the evidence for it. Many people predisposed to reject certain evidences and this increseas the tension between the two topics. I think that Darwin was recounting a scientific tale with good evidence and truths but the book is called into doubt because it didn't have the "complete truth".

eolecki's picture

week 4

Throughare discussions of The Origin of Species I am becoming more and moreskeptical about it as a scientific work. As I think about it, I realize that I don’t really questions things I learnin the context of a science class. The Origin of Species really reminds me of ancient philosopherswho would just observe and think about things and come up with logical explanationsand call it science.  That isreally what Darwin was doing.  Inmy biology class we are reading a book called Beak of the Finch and itis about many different scientist who actually conduct experiments to prove anddisprove aspects of evolution. Many people think of evolution as a “soft science”, meaning that it ismore about stories than experiments and proof.  I feel like viewing evolution as a narrative makes it lessinteresting, making it into a topic that can be easily dismissed.   

kbrandall's picture

I've been thinking further

I've been thinking further about the similarities/differences about science and religion and the ways that they are taught/not taught. Something I came up with is something that we did not come up with in our discussion group but that it would be interesting to discuss further. I remember from our discussion in Prof. Dalke's group last week that she drew a diagram showing the scientific process as believing and debating-- first you accept a theory, then debate it, come to accept further conclusions, then debate them, etc. I think that a similarity between science and religion is that they both require this dynamic-- to learn something, to question further, to learn something new, and to continue the process. I also think that they are often taught in a flawed, simplified way-- that children are first taught to believe and not to question, which is bad science and bad religion.

However, I think there also is a difference between science and religion in the process of questioning. Religions are teleological, they assumes there is a Truth out there that you are trying to understand-- even if that truth is ultimately beyond the grasp of human comprehension. In science, though,  there is no one unified truth, but a bunch of smaller discoveries.

enewbern's picture

The Current Story

I think that evolution told as a narrative, non-foundationalist story is an interesting idea. I like it and find it thought provoking, but I am also not so sure how far I want to believe it. I have found in this class so far that all the ideas and stories that we have discussed have had merit but have left me wanting more or just flat out not buying it. I can definitly agree tha the story of evolution works best as a non-foundationalist story, but the narrative part I am not so sure that I like. Usually when you read a narrative you are getting the story from a single perspective and I don't really think that a story like that of evolution should relegate itself to a single perspective because it can be seen and understood in so many ways. I am not exactly sure what I am trying to say here, but maybe something along the lines of the story of evolution as a narrative, non-foundationlist story is like a building block to bigger picture that includes everyone and many perspectives not just one, like Darwin.
eawhite's picture

Religion vs. Science

In our Thursday small group, I said that religion was my moral compass. Upon further reflection, I also want to add that religion is the foundation upon which my immortal soul rests whereas science is the foundation upon which my mortal body rests. I also said that I thought comparative religion should be taught in school from a historical perspective. I’m not sure I stand by that right now – I need to spend more time thinking about the positives and negatives of such a course. But I do still stand by believing that Darwin’s theory of evolution as well as other theorist’s perception of evolution should be taught in the schools. Understanding the process by which these theorists have come by their theories – teaches a young person how to question their world and perhaps stimulate them to take it one step further.

aybala50's picture


Thinking about how we came to be has always been an interesting topic to me. What I've been interested in hasn't really ever been how the world came to be, but more as to how I came to be and why I'm here. I've always felt like there has to be an important reason why I'm here, something I have to do, to accomplish, to make my life worth-wile. Thinking about this further after class, I realized that I'm probably here because of random chance. Though I thought this would be a depressing thought, to some extent it's freeing. If I have no importance in this world, then the pressure of searching for a greater meaning diminishes and life becomes easier. It is possible that we are all here just because. We are a miniscule part of this universe and even though we feel like we are a smart, developed species, our importance on a greater scale is almost non-existent. 
Lisa B.'s picture

Week 4

As I collected my thoughts for this blog, NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday broadcasted "Taking Darwin Personally." The essayist, who used to teach a college course called Origins, described her students' sensitivity during their discussion of the Origin of Species.

Everything would go swimmingly until we hit Darwin. And while many students treated his Origin of Species the same way they did Newton's work on gravity or Einstein's theory of relativity, others got upset. There'd be anger, even tears. Once, a much-pierced, much-tattooed young woman stormed out of the classroom, saying "I am NOT kin to a monkey." Evolution hurts people's feelings. Nobody denies that cells divide or that light travels 186,000 miles per second. Evolution's different. People take evolution personally. (

Although our class remained composed throughout the discussion of evolution by means of natural selection, we did question many of the same points as the essayist. Before this course, I never thought about the fact that taking evolution personally is an American phenomenon. Because many Americans accept the Great Chain of Being, "Taking Darwin Personally" questioned, does accepting our place in the animal kingdom make us any less miraculous? I agree with the writer, that we lose nothing by admitting that we are part of nature.  

rmehta's picture

some thoughts

In our last group meeting we discussed a lot about the differences between religion and science and the proper environments for teaching each together or separately.  I began to think a lot on what distinguishes the two from one another.  Religion tends to embody an aspect of trust that science does not; there is an element of faith and inner belief that must be assumed as a result of intangible evidence.  In science, this trust is nearly absent, and if present, stems from the fact that there is tangible evidence to support an assumed conception.  We also discussed how religion contains an assumed moral doctrine that is absent in science.  This morality tends to stem from the belief in an authority figure that is able to determine your actions.  Science on the other hand is not influenced by an authority; actions happen because science dictates them to occur.  However, in some sense science is dictated by an authority because certain theories are given a higher respect as a result of the popularity of the theorist and that of the subject matter.  (Does authority have an influence on the importance of our stories?) Religion tends to offer a discourse on the “why” and the “why not” debate while science tends to answer more of the “how” questions.  Professor Grobstein posed the question, “where does this morality come from?” A society constructs a hierarchy of approval, existing within it a necessary sense of needing to display proper conduct as a result of social laws.  In trying to further develop this idea, I started to ask myself if morality includes a sense of survival.  If so, then maybe the divide between science and religion isn’t as big as I originally thought it was.

L.Kelly-Bowditch's picture

Science? Religion?

A main topic of discussion in Thursday's class was the troubled coexistance of religion and science, particularly relating to Evolution vs. Creationism.

While I would love to believe that everyone can be objective about this topic, I think personal experience is too strong an influence to reflect on this issue without attempting to state biases, background, etc.

I was raised sans-religion. My, "Mommy, what's God?" was a question of word clarification. My family was not anti-religion but rather pro-questioning and the church my parents grew up with did not meet their needs. This background, usually labeled "atheist", allowed me to see life and make up my own explanations, and create my own stories, as opposed to listen to those given to me by a church or by other means.

I don't think I questioned human origins until it was brought up in science class. Evolution made sense to me, and I was able to see evidence of it myself, my criteria for accepting a story. 

When friends questioned this, stating, for example, Creationism, as an alternative,  I couldn't fit that particular story into my vision of life, but I had no problem accepting that THEY did.

What bothered me, then and now, was the inability of others to be tolerant of other stories. Through most of class, I kept asking why? Why can't we let one person believe in Evolution and another in Creationism? Why is there  even a question of coexistance of stories? Does my belief in one idea really bother you that much? If my belief in something threatens your belief in something else, maybe you need to find a better story for yourself.



ccrichar's picture

biology as a story

I think biology can be seen as a story as I am evolving (learning) in this class.  I used to think that biology was a fact based science and not a story.  However, just because biology usually requires empirical evidence doesn't mean it can't also be a story about some findings.
jrlewis's picture

recipe for Darwin's birthday cake

This is a bit complicated, sorry...

cake batter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cups dark brown sugar
1 1/2 cups flour (a little little more)
3/4 cups cocoa powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1-1 1/2 tsp ground cloves
1-1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 cup boiling water

inter-layer icing
on medium-low heat combine
1 stick butter, 1 small jar marmalade, and cocoa powder
allow to cool before applying to cake

outer-layer icing
in a standing mixer combine
1 stick butter
approximately 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
Ghirardelli ground chocolate

(I prefer Girhadelli's cocoa powder too)

Lastly, bake at 350 for 30-50 min, my oven is a senior citizen and behaves strangley.

jrlewis's picture

Before baking Darwin’s

Before baking Darwin’s birthday cake, I began considering how to decorate it. Is there any way to summarize Darwin’s theory sufficiently to fit it on an 8 in layer cake?  What could I possibly say to Darwin or my classmates about his life, work, and theory of evolution?  Should I have drawn a picture of a pigeon? A barnacle? A human?  Should I have scrawled the words natural selection?  Descent with modification?  What about the more controversial elements of the story?  The act of celebrating Darwin’s birthday already indicates his importance to us, our class culture…
Anonymous's picture

Darwin cake

This Week in Evolution has photos of a decorated Darwin birthday cake.

eawhite's picture


Thanks - does it matter what kind of marmalade you use? You have no measurements for the additional icing cocoa powder, should it be as I like?


jrlewis's picture

Definitely to your taste! 

Definitely to your taste!  I must gain a pound every time I bake the cake for that exact reason.  Enjoy.
Marina's picture

the hows and the whys

In Prof. Dalke's Thursday section we had a lengthy conversation on why science and religion are so divided in the United States and eventually came to the idea that science and religion answer two different questions. Science is the how and religion is the why. Science explains how we came to exist and how we ended up the way we are, but it never clearly describes how all the events were set off- is this where religion comes in? Religion can be used to explain how everything was set into motion by a supreme being. I can't help but be reminded of deism which emerged during the scientific revolution and stated that the world was like a clock in that a higher power sets it in motion and does not intervene afterwords, but instead allows it to run according to the laws of nature. Deism is an interesting fusion of both science and religion as it requires the existence of some kind of higher power to set the world in motion while also claiming that the world acts in accordance to laws of nature and scientific observation.

Another interesting topic we came across in this discussion was faith. Many felt that the difference between science and religion was the concept of faith. In science, we have observations and experiments to prove something exists while in religion all we have is our own personal faith. I say our own because an individuals faith cannot be duplicated like an experiment could be duplicated in a scientific setting. However, Professor Dalke pointed out something that I had never considered before- science too demands a fair amount of faith. An interesting example brought up in discussion was how we know the earth is round. Many of us were taught this in school and took it as fact which requires a great deal of faith because I'm sure none of us had the opportunity to hop on a spaceship and see for ourselves.

I also just want to mention how thought provoking Professor Grobstein's lecture was on Tuesday. I was a bit taken aback at how ignorant I was as to how large the universe really is. The picture illustrating multiple galaxies really put the infinite size of the universe into perspective for me. I did not realize how small we really are until seeing that picture. It's almost unsettling, but fascinating at the same time.

ibarkas's picture

Evolution in Europe

A question that was brought up in Professor Grobstein's Thursday section was why is evolution such a problem in the United States and not such a problem in Europe?  This reminded me of a conversation I had with my cousin in Greece last summer.  We were talking about college and she asked me what classes I was planning on taking my first semester.  When I mentioned an evolution course to her, she was surprised because she couldn't understand how an entire course could be based on one theory.  The education system in Greece briefly introduces evolution as a theory in a science course in middle school classrooms and does not test students on it.  They also teach them the story of creationism in their Greek Orthodox religion course.  They then require students to pick their major in high school and they subsequently enter a professional school immediately after high school.  If you choose to go into biology, you will surely hear about evolution in depth.  However, if you choose another field, like religion, you will never encounter the story of evolution again.   Until Thursday's lecture, I thought that the difference between Europe and the U.S. was simply that they placed more emphasis on religion (they include religion courses in the curriculum in Greece), so the evolution dilemma was never really an issue.  However, during Thursday's class, I began to think that maybe the reason the U.S. is having this dilemma is perhaps because they are continuously struggling with the question of whether there is a difference between science and religion. Our education system is really a lot different so we are constantly struggling to answer this question.  It seems like in Greece and in other European countries like it they have already answered this question-they have decided that there is a difference between science and religion and it is an individual’s choice to decide which story they would like to further explore.  In the U.S., however, we have concluded that science and religion are two different stories, but we are having trouble discerning if there really is a difference between the two.  Should the story of creationism and evolution be taught simultaneously because there is no difference between science and religion? Or should the story of creationism be confined to a comparative religion course while evolution remains within the science classroom?  Although I am not entirely sure how I feel about these questions, I think that the problem is no longer how we feel about evolution in the U.S. because I think a majority of the population; whether they trust evolution or not, can agree that it is a good story.  I think the question that we need to answer is, the question that we were trying to answer in class on Thursday-is there a difference between science and religion.  I think that once we answer that question, the controversy over evolution will begin to subside.  We will either decide that science and religion are separate and therefore, evolution and creationism should be taught as separate stories. Or we will decide that science and religion are the same and therefore, evolution and creationism are stories that should be taught simultaneously.  Either way, I think coming to a definitive conclusion will lead us to recognize that both religion and science both consist of stories and I think coming to this conclusion as a society will help this controversy subside.   
Jackie Marano's picture

Chicken and the Egg

      In Prof. Grobstein's Thursday section, we discussed whether science and religion had a common ancestor and endured a 'speciation event.' After struggling as a class to distinguish the fundamental difference(s) between the two, most of us agreed that this was probably the case. Perhaps there is no real essence to either that allows them to be separated, and we only define the two as similar by their common ancestor. I did a little web-search and I found a sentence from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy that I very much disagreed with: "Modern western empirical science has surely been the most impressive intellectual development since the 16th century. Religion, of course, has been around for much longer..."

      While I agree that religion has undoubtedly been in existence before the 16th century, I don't think that religion should be considered older than science. I think that science pre-dates humans; that is, if science is about summarizing observations, modern animals, humans, and ALL of our ancestors were 'scientists.' I think that science was a lifestyle, and that those who fulfilled this lifestyle were able to yield descendents more suited to make the necessary observations. Eventually, humans came along and were sophisticated enough to do more than just make the observations...they could question them too! Whatever they couldn't immediately explain likely made them think out of the box, and thus religion (man-made) was created.

      HOWEVER, one might also argue that none of these scientific phenomena could have occured 'randomly' at any point in time, and that some greater power existed long before the 'science lifestyle' happened. All that is new, then, is the human recognition or speculation of such powers, and NOT the 'acts' of such powers themselves.

      So temporally-speaking, science and religion seem really difficult to separate. I do think that less-obvious scientific phenomena have led to religious inquiry, and that religious ideas have led to scientific curiosity/discovery. Now though, their dependence on each other does seem to be waning...and they seem to be more self-sufficient in their ability to produce inquiry. This is beginning to sound like that 'chicken and the egg' question.

aseidman's picture

The Further Adventures of the Story of Evolution

Hurray! I logged in properly today!

 So last week I started by talking about some impressions I had of the way a friend of mine seemed to perceive the story of evolution, and the nature of "fact." I spent this weekend in Florida with my grandmother and grandfather (84 and 91 respectively), and they, in due course, asked me the question

"Arielle, what are you reading?"

I was reading "Darwin's Dangerous Idea," and I told them so. Ultimately this led to a discussion of what dangerous idea was, and this led to a family discussion of evolution.

 Here's the interesting part.

 I explained to my family that I was studying evolution as a story, not neccessarily fact and not neccessarily fiction, but a story to be examined, proved, or disproved based on evidence and loopy science. I explained that what I had experienced in class the other day had given me the impression that people were likely to beleive what it is they'd been taught, and that evolution and (for example) creationism couldn't exist in the same mind by they were diametrically opposed, and similiar in that they both required some quality of willing belief, even faith.

 My father, the doctor who studied at UPenn and would consider himself to all degrees a scientist, absolutely refused to believe that evolution was anything but fact. "Of course it can be proven," he said. He made his views on any other theory, such as various religious theories, known. He thinks they're ridiculous. (As in the previous case, with my friend Dave, he could not actually supply this concrete proof.)

 My grandparents, two elderly orthodox jews who have attended synagogue every weekend of their lives, were readily willing to believe that evolution could be viewed as a story, just as religious belief could. They're personally fans of the religious viewpoint, obviously, but they saw what I meant immediately when I said that what it really took was a little bit of faith.

 Interesting how how the scientist was less willing to consider the nature and possibilities of "fact" or "fiction" than the elderly couple who'd happily entertained blind faith all of their lives.


Rica Dela Cruz's picture

One of the topics discussed

One of the topics discussed in class that kept me contradicting myself was the question of whether one could consider science as a kind of religion or if science and religion are totally different. When I first heard the question, I almost laughed because I thought it was ridiculous to even consider science a religion because I thought they were too different. However, after thinking more about the question and expanding more in the discussion, I felt like it could be a possible to say that science may be considered a type of religion. I feel like one of the main functions of most religions is to provide people with an answer for their being, their existence. The answer science gives us is evolution. Another function of religion is to provide guidance on how one should journey though life. Science does not necessarily provide set morals one has to follow, but I feel that it does suggest a life of curiosity, observation, and testing. I think one big difference with science and religion, however, is that religion provides a story for life after death. I feel like science does have some aspects of religion, it just provides more evidence for its stories. At the same time, how can we actually know the stories of other religions never happened either?
epeck01's picture

I agree that Science may be

I agree that Science may be thought of as a religion.  Science offers a believe to its followers - the belief that Truth is out there, just waiting to be sought after.  Like religious questions, many scientific questions can never be answered or truly proven, yet they still spur thought an discussion despite their never-ending qualities.  Science also offers a way of life.  To be a scientist is to be constantly questioning, never accepting anything at face value, and to use these skills (among others) to determine Truth and Knowledge.  Both scientists and followers of religion say the other is afraid.  Scientists say religious people are afraid of reality and the cold hard truth, while believers say that scientists are afraid to look beyond facts and into the unknown.  Although there is often a break between scientific findings and G-d, perhaps once examined further (maybe in a more scientific manner) they have many of the same properties.
mcurrie's picture


Every time I hear about the big bang and how the planets are still moving apart and then may even move toward each other and collapse I am flabbergasted.  I keep trying to get my mind around it but still can't. Then I wonder what are the other galaxy's like? And think there probably is some other living thing out there but I'm not going to get obsessed over it.  At first when you're little you hear about our galaxy and how our planet is only a small part of this large space.  At first I think, crap if the earth falls out of orbit were going to falling forever like in Alice in Wonderland or something.  Next i think I don't want to be floating I want the earth to be on something that won't let it fall.  Then when hearing about the universe I feel like a speck, unimportant and small.  Which is not a great feeling until I just forget about it and move on with life.  When we were in our groups on Thursday I love singing happy birthday to a dead guy that was an experience.  Then it was off to discussion and Prof. Grobstein asked us if we were okay with thinking that our lives were formed at random without a plan or some big guy like God saying this is how you will look and here is your life that I have decided, or something along those lines.  For me it depends on the time of day, some days I'm glad there is not ultimate plan that I have to follow. And other days I want my life to have some meaning to feel that I belong.  I guess right now I'm going back and forth between being afraid or comforted by the unknown.
amirbey's picture

The universe and religion vs. science

Something about last Tuesday’s lecture that has made me very happy, was that we started talking about a question that I have always been asking myself, were does the universe come from and why is it constantly increasing?  I was glad to learn that it wasn’t actually some material that exploded in the Big Bang, but the universe itself!  I mean, it might not be really what happened, but it is a pretty good story, in which the observations fit and lead us to new sets of questions.  Some of my own questions were; is there something else outside the universe?  Who or what created it?  How far ago was the universe created? 

Now, I will talk about something completely different that we have discussed on Thursday; the difference between religion and science.  Is there a boundary between the two?  I unfortunately did not have the time in class to say what was on my mind, but here it is: I believe that people created religion in order to explain the questions that they did not have any answers to, so religion gave a purpose to their existence.  For instance, we did not know where we came from, so we invented a God who created Earth and its life in 7 days.  On the other side, science is based on observations and it proves what we can see.  People are refusing the theory of evolution maybe because they do not want to admit that science is proving to them where the humans actually came from.  Science is correcting the former theories of religion into different theories, which explain better the meaning of life since it is based on real observations.  So, religion might be a theory that science has proven to be wrong.  

Hilary McGowan's picture

I was also really excited to

I was also really excited to talk about the Universe as a whole. It literally gives me chills down my spine when I try and comprehend everything together. I love the idea of thinking about the Universe existing as something so huge and there, but it is not tangible. I can't see it. I can't feel it. Most of science is based upon things that are explained only by phenomenons that can be proved over and over again or by fantasitcal math equations. Can these intangible things be like religion in a way?
kcofrinsha's picture


I wanted to share this image I came across that reminded me of our group's discussion today of the relationship between religion and science.


Paul Grobstein's picture

religion, science, and belief

Thanks. Is relevant too to an earlier general class discussion of "belief," as per The Perils and Potentials of "I Believe".