The Languages of Science and Religion

Steve Smith (smithsg) – Academic Complex 109F, phone -1334
Office hours & syllabus posted @
Home: 1611 Edgewood St, 601-354-2290

Philosophy/Religious Studies 2750-01
Fall 2017 TTh 2:30

Language may have created man, rather than man language. –Jacques Monod

Even as all leaves come from a stem, all words come from the sound OM. —Chandogya Upanishad II.23.2

Whoever enters this new, and unfrequented path [of science], and inquires for truth in the vast volume of Nature . . . he meets with such a crowd of observations . . . for many things occur which have yet no name; such is the plenty of things, and the dearth of words. —William Harvey

Scientific and religious modes of speaking go beyond ordinary language and “common sense” in different but comparable ways. What constitutes the typical scientific and religious modes of speaking? How do scientific and religious ways of speaking create new meanings—and new problems in understanding our life in the world? To what extent do the forms of scientific and religious language determine the validity of scientific and religious affirmations? In what ways might the two styles of language conflict? In what ways might they complement each other?

This course counts as Philosophy of Religion for the PHIL-RLST major requirement and for the RLST Arguments requirement.

The primary purposes of this course are (1) to gain insight into how language works; (2) to recognize how scientific and religious meanings are linguistically shaped; and (3) to develop our skills of analysis, articulation, and critical reasoning.

The course grade will be based on class participation (10%), the Notebook (30%), a 3,000-word essay (30%), a take-home midterm (15%) and final exam (15%).

The required book on sale in the Millsaps bookstore is:

Sallie McFague, Metaphorical Theology

There will also be required reading in handouts and e-mails.

Revisions to this schedule may be announced in class or by e-mail.
All READ assignments other than McFague’s Metaphorical Theology refer to handouts.

Aug. 22 Introduction. Elements of language: word, sentence . . .

Aug. 24 Hypotheses about language. READ: “Origin of Language” on Wikipedia; from Rousseau, Essay on the Origin of Languages; from Buber, I and Thou

Aug. 29 The concept of ordinary language. READ from Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and Philosophical Investigations

Aug. 31 Speech act theory. READ from Austin, How to Do Things with Words

Sept. 5   Ethical regulation of language. READ from the Lunyu (the Analects of Confucius), and from Habermas, “Discourse Ethics”

Sept. 7 The special language of magic. READ from Malinowski, Coral Gardens and Their Magic

Sept. 12 The categories of magic, science, and religion. READ from Frazer, The Golden Bough, and from Malinowski, Magic, Science and Religion

Sept. 14 Myth. READ myth samples and Barbour, “Symbol and Myth”

Sept. 19 Transcendence in language. READ from Origen, Concerning First Principles, on allegory, and from Aquinas, Summa Theologica, on analogy

Sept. 21 Scientific language examples

Sept. 26 Scientific language in classical perspective. READ Snell, “The Forging of a Language for Science in Ancient Greece”

Sept. 28 Scientific language in modern perspective. READ selections from Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, and Leibniz

Oct. 3 Scientific language, cont. READ from Wolpert, The Unnatural Nature of Science

Oct. 5 Bohm’s “rheomode.” READ from Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order



Oct. 12 Religious language examples

Oct. 17 Religious language examples, cont. READ Ramsey, from Religious Language

Oct. 19 McFague’s Metaphorical Theology. READ McFague, chap. 1

Oct. 24 McFague, chap. 2

Oct. 26 McFague, chap. 3

Oct. 31 McFague, chap. 4

Nov. 2 McFague, chap. 5

Nov. 7 Other feminist views. READ Anderson, from A Feminist Philosophy of Religion, and Daly, from Gyn/Ecology

Nov. 9 Noncognitivist views of religious language. READ from Arnold, Literature and Dogma

Nov. 14 Noncognitivism, cont. READ from Hick, Philosophy of Religion

Nov. 16 Separate “magisteria” of speech? READ from Gould, Rocks of Ages, and Goodenough’s response

Nov. 21 NO CLASS (Instructor at conference)


Nov. 28 Attempts to harmonize science and religion: a linguistic assessment. READ from Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man, and the Dalai Lama, The Universe in a Single Atom (handout)

Nov. 30 The spiritual nature writing of Sue Cerulean (author of Tracking Desire and Coming to Pass). READ Cerulean, TBA

Dec. 1: Sue Cerulean Friday Forum, 1:00 p.m. in AC 215



For your course Notebook, a loose leaf binder is recommended. This will make it easier to hand in and take back your entries, and also to keep handouts together.

Once a week, on Tuesday unless announced otherwise, you will be asked to bring to class a new entry in your Notebook—about 2 pp., if typed double-space—in which you discuss the week’s work (readings and discussions) both positively and negatively.

Positively, you will attempt to draw out of the week’s work the elements that you most want to include in your own philosophical toolkit—ideas and arguments that you think will be good to use in the future. I encourage you to develop ideas and arguments using your own observations on language, science, and religion.

Negatively, you will attempt to identify the mistakes or otherwise unhelpful elements in the week’s work. (You are not committing yourself to rejecting anything! You can change your mind later about your earlier “mistake” calls! So be bold!)

The Notebook is an important learning tool that will enable you to keep track of what our class comes up with in a cumulative way.

Individual Notebook entries and responses will be graded unsatisfactory (-), satisfactory (\/), or very good (+) depending on the attentiveness and thoughtfulness they show. The Notebook as a whole will get a letter grade.

On one occasion this semester you will provide guidance to class discussion by preparing a 1-page handout for us in which you address such questions as these: What basically is going on in the assigned reading? What do you think is a particularly important passage? How does the argument of the reading seem to fit into our group’s discussion so far? How does it speak to your concerns in particular? What is most obscure in it or controversial about it?

For your major essay, a 3,000-word paper, you will tackle an issue in the philosophy of religion—or in the philosophy of science with reference to the science-religion relationship—that hinges on how language works in our area of concern.

Here is an example of a thesis in our area of concern (drawn from Logical Positivism): Any assertion about “God,” e.g. “God is love,” is meaningless, not really an assertion at all, inasmuch as no experience could confirm or disconfirm its truth. You could lay out an argument for this thesis, clarifying its assumptions about language, experience (the “empirical”), and religious referents—determine some of the argument’s strengths and weaknesses—and offer your own reasoned recommendation as to what we should make of it.

As the course goes along you’ll see many more issues like this that you could study. And we will confer individually about possible plans for your paper.

You will get feedback on your first submission and an opportunity to rewrite the essay to improve it.


All students are strongly encouraged to visit the Writing Center, which is staffed by student Writing Consultants who are trained to help you grow as writers. Writing Consultants work with all writers, at all skill levels, and in all stages of the writing process. A writing consultation is essentially a conversation that challenges you to think deeply about your writing process, your ideas, the structure of your argument, and the organization of your essay. These conversations are most useful to students 48 hours or more in advance of a due date. Visit for more information about hours, locations, and upcoming events.



  1. Class attendance. Being in class, being engaged with the work of the class, and behaving courteously are all expected. One discourtesy to avoid is coming into class late. Better late than never, definitely; but lateness counts as half an absence—that is, your work with the class that day will be counted as only half done. One percent of the course grade will be lost for each absence from class for any reason, beginning with the third absence. (For example, someone who missed class 7 times would lose 5% of the course grade, or half a letter grade.) The reason for this: our in-class work is a crucial and irreplaceable part of the substance of the course.
  1. Electronic communication devices (phones, laptops, etc.). Electronic devices have become harmful Interrupters and Distracters in the current state of our social evolution. Their use is banned in our class. If you have special needs, discuss with me.
  1. Late papers. Written assignments turned in late will lose a letter grade or equivalent. Homework may not be turned in more than one week after its due date. No work of any kind will be accepted after the last day of final examinations. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only to the victims of unforeseeable and uncontrollable circumstances.
  1. As a general rule, no e-mail submissions. Unless the instructor allows it under specified circumstances, e-mail submissions of assigned writing are not accepted.
  1. Plagiarism. Using the words or ideas of others without acknowledgment—that is, passing them off as your own—is a fraudulent practice called plagiarism. It also misses one of the main points of being in college, which is to develop your powers of thought and expression. Plagiarism is an offense under the Academic Honor Code (see next page).
  1. Incompletes. An “Incomplete” grade for the course will only be given to students who, due to unforeseen and uncontrollable circumstances, find themselves unable to complete course requirements during the term and can reasonably be expected to complete them within a few weeks after the term’s end. The “Incomplete” must be requested and appropriately justified before the end of final examinations.
  1. Disabilities. Students with documented disabilities should discuss their needs with the instructor at the beginning of the semester.

From the ODS: If you have any needs or require accommodations related to a disability or learning difference, please contact Patrick Cooper to register with the Office of Disability Services. You can reach him via e-mail at or by calling extension 1228. Accommodations will not be granted until a meeting has taken place with Patrick, letters have been processed, and you have met with your instructor. 


Millsaps College is an academic community dedicated to the pursuit of scholarly inquiry and intellectual growth. The foundation of this community is a spirit of personal honesty and mutual trust. Through their Honor Code, the students of Millsaps College affirm their adherence to these basic ethical principles.

An Honor Code is not simply a set of rules and procedures governing students’ academic conduct. It is an opportunity to put personal responsibility and integrity into action. When students agree to abide by an Honor Code, they liberate themselves to pursue their academic goals in an atmosphere of mutual confidence and respect.

The success of the Code depends on the support of each member of the community. Students and faculty alike commit themselves in their work to the principles of academic honesty. When they become aware of infractions, both students and faculty are obligated to report them to the Honor Council, which is responsible for enforcement. A representative, but not exhaustive, list of academic offenses and violations covered by the Millsaps Academic Honor Code is provided at:

The pledge signed by all students upon entering the College is as follows:

 As a Millsaps College student, I hereby affirm that I understand the Honor Code and am aware of its implications and of my responsibility to the Code. In the interests of expanding the atmosphere of respect and trust in the College, I promise to uphold the Honor Code and I will not tolerate dishonest behavior in myself or in others.

Each examination, quiz, or other assignment that is to be graded will carry the written pledge: “I hereby certify that I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this assignment. (Signature)” The abbreviation “Pledged” followed by the student’s signature has the same meaning and may be acceptable on assignments other than final examinations.

It is the responsibility of students and faculty to report offenses to the Honor Code Council in the form of a written report. This account must be signed, the accusation explained in as much detail as possible and submitted to the Dean of the College.

The Honor Council, 2017–2018

Students:                                                                      Faculty:

Patrick Davis, Chair                                                     Dr. Lynn Raley, Interim Faculty Chair

J. Hawkins, Vice-Chair                                                 Dr. Blakely Fender

Alycee Moity, Sergeant-at-Arms                                 Dr. Nathan Shrader

Lillian Lee Broussard

Emma Carter