Since I’ve not long started the new Lectureship in Philosophy, Science and Religion, we thought it would be a good idea if I said a few words about myself and what we hope to achieve over the coming years. My background is in philosophy of science and online learning here at the University of Edinburgh, and I’ve been employed as part of a new Templeton-funded project to develop a new MSc and MOOC in Philosophy, Science and Religion. Our aim is to see two to three online courses and the MOOC available this year, with the launch of the MSc taking place in 2017. It’s a joint project with PPLS, who have experience in this area, and already have a number of very successful online MSc programmes.
There’s a public appetite for a better understanding of these topics. People are increasingly aware of the enormous impact – both for good and ill – that science and religion, in all their various forms, have on our political practices, our conceptual frameworks, our moral commitments, every aspect of our lives; and there’s felt need to gain some reflective understanding of these forces. By bringing them explicitly into view we can reason about them, rather than merely be driven by them, and perhaps shape them for the better.
There’s also a real interest in the public sphere about how science and religion intersect (or really of how sciences and religions intersect). Public discourse has been dominated by the somewhat dilettantish efforts of the New Atheists; which are marked by hostility to religious thought, and the thesis that there is a rudimental conflict between science and religion. This discourse has trundled on with much understanding of the theological and philosophical thought that’s actually crucial to examining these issues in a perspicacious way. That’s something we think we can improve on, by bringing together people who know the science, know the theology, and know the philosophy, all in one place.
So we want to speak to issues like these, and not only cultivate new scholars with the sort of interdisciplinary expertise needed to address these things, but also raise the level of public discourse more generally. As well as all this, an important part of the motivation for branching out this way into new teaching methods has to do with inclusivity. An online programme will open up a really excellent, graduate-level education to groups of people for whom this simply wouldn’t have been an option a few years ago: people, for instance, with disabilities, family commitments, who come from lower income groups, or for whatever reason can’t relocate to Edinburgh.
All very exciting stuff as far as I’m concerned; not least of all being in such august company within the faculty, and working with a very smart group of grad students.