Beyond the Human Scale: Cosmology, Ecology, and Faith

A Week-long Seminar for Religious Leaders

This class is no longer offered.

Course Website (password protected)

Class Description and Sample Syllabus

This ground-breaking course will offer participants the scientific background necessary to engage in the most universal questions of both science and religion by examining the human role in nature from infinitely large scales to the very small. Participants will learn the state of the art in cosmological science, evolutionary biology, quantum mechanics and more by exploring the science behind questions of the ultimate fate of the universe, the uniqueness of humanity on this planet, the wave-particle nature of reality, the state of the biosphere, how humans are altering the climate and how our biology interacts with our ethics.

Day 1: In the Beginning
From the big-bang till now, participants will be provided with an overview of the history of the Universe. We will cover topics such as the ultimate fate of the Universe, our place in the Universe, and address the question, “Are we unique?” This will include a tour through the Universe in Columbia’s virtual reality theater.

Day 2: The Reality of the Very Small
We’ll push beyond the human scale as we delve into the world of the very small, Quantum Mechanics. We will cover topics such as the wave-particle nature of reality and the uncertainty principle, and will discuss the important question, “Could God play dice?” as we delve into the probabilistic nature of the Universe.

Day 3: The Value of Nature
As we move from the universe to our local planet, we’ll look at how biological communities work: focusing on the inner working of ecosystems, the value of biodiversity, and the utility of ecosystem services. Is the Creation valuable? By whose criteria? “How should we then live?” Was that evolution speaking or God? We’ll follow with a guided tour through the American Museum of Natural History.

Day 4: The Changing Biosphere
Scaling from ecosystems to the planet, we’ll delve into the causes and consequences of global climate change? What is likely on local and global scales? Could scientists be the new prophets? We’ll discuss this and more as we look at ecological stewardship in the face of change.


Dr. Timon McPhearson is a Research Scientist for The Center for the Study of Science and Religion. He attended Taylor University, an Evangelical Christian school. After earning his B.S. in Environmental Biology he completed his Ph.D. in evolutionary biology and ecology at Rutgers University. Following three years with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History, his interest in Buddhist ways of knowing led him to the CSSR. Now, as a Columbia Science Fellow in the department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology, he teaches Frontiers of Science to undergraduates and studies cooperation in ecological communities.

Dr. Stuart Gill is a Research Scientist at The Center for the Study of Science and Religion. He received his Ph.D. from Swinburne University, Australia, in 2005. Currently he is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Department of Astronomy and an instructor in the Frontiers of Science. Dr. Gill uses computer simulations to study the formation and evolution of galaxies that inhabit the largest objects in the Universe: galaxy clusters. Even though he studies the largest objects in the Universe, he still retains the optimism that there is something even bigger out there– a perspective that led him to pursue a Masters of Divinity degree as well as closer involvement with the CSSR.


Union Theological Seminary*
475 Riverside Drive, Suite 500
New York, New York 10115

*Site visits will be held at Columbia University and The
Museum of Natural History. Exact schedule for visits TBA

Program Fee

$325; $20 per day students (valid ID required)

Beyond the Human Scale is co-sponsored
The Center for the Study of Science and Religion


New York Theological Seminary