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Module VPR-3332:
Faith and Reason

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 2

Organiser: Dr Toby Betenson

Overall aims and purpose

This module aims to investigate the interaction of faith and reason. It has two distinct parts: Firstly, we will investigate the historical origins of our conception of ‘reason’, and how that conception has been used to support religious belief. We will track the development of philosophical views regarding religious belief through modernity, asking whether the prioritisation of enlightenment ‘reason’ would ultimately squeeze God into ever smaller gaps, leaving little or no room for ‘faith’. In the second part of the module, we will investigate the relationship between science and religion, focussing on some specific examples of their interaction. We will look at some examples of science being used to support religious belief, and some of science being used to debunk religious belief. We will ask whether science and religion are in conflict with each other, whether they complement each other, or whether they simply speak to different parts of the human experience.

Course content

The module is composed of two parts, each looking at the interaction of ‘faith’ and ‘reason’. In the first part, I construct a narrative regarding the origins of our modern conception of ‘reason’, contrasting this with our conception of what it is to have ‘faith’. This narrative begins with Francis Bacon and (which is the more usual philosophical starting point) Descartes. I develop this through certain key thinkers of the modern period (Spinoza, Locke, Hume), concluding with the 19th century’s conception of ‘natural theology’. I press the case that a certain conception of ‘reason’ squeezed ‘faith’ out of the picture (along with a great deal of other meaningful dimensions of human life), prompting us to ask whether we must hold to the traditional conception of ‘reason’ at any cost. The second part of the module looks at contemporary examples of the interaction of ‘reason’ and ‘faith’, in the form of the interaction of science and religion. We consider examples of science being used to support religion (‘Intelligent Design’, the ‘Fine Tuning’ argument), and to debunk religion (evolution, the cognitive science of religion), and ask whether science and religion must necessarily be in conflict with each other. No prior philosophical or scientific knowledge is presumed. A brief introduction to quantum theory will be included.

Assessment Criteria


Shows some knowledge of key areas of the module with acceptable presentation of arguments.


Shows detailed knowledge of key areas covered in the module with the arguments presented in a logical and coherent way.


Shows comprehensive and very detailed understanding of the material covered in the module, with considerable analytic ability or originality.

Learning outcomes

  1. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate the major themes of the interaction of faith and reason, and science and religion.

  2. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate the historical development of the interaction of faith and reason.

  3. To demonstrate knowledge of, understanding of, and an ability to critically evaluate some of the major examples of science being used to defend or debunk religious belief.

  4. To analyse, research, and construct a sustained argument applicable to the content of this course, showing some degree of originality.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
ESSAY Essay 50
EXAM take home exam 50

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Lecture 22
Private study 178

Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others

Subject specific skills

  • Articulacy in identifying underlying issues in a wide variety of debates.
  • Precision of thought and expression in the analysis and formulation of complex and controversial problems.
  • Sensitivity in interpretation of religious and philosophical texts drawn from a variety of ages and/or traditions.
  • Clarity and rigour in the critical assessment of arguments presented in such texts.
  • The ability to use and criticise specialised religious and philosophical terminology.
  • The ability to abstract and analyse arguments, and to identify flaws in them, such as false premises and invalid reasoning.
  • The ability to construct rationally persuasive arguments for or against specific religious and philosophical claims.
  • The ability to move between generalisation and appropriately detailed discussion, inventing or discovering examples to support or challenge a position, and distinguishing relevant and irrelevant considerations.
  • The ability to consider unfamiliar ideas and ways of thinking, and to examine critically presuppositions and methods within the disciplines of philosophy and religion.

Courses including this module