FALL 2010




Meeting Hours: Tuesday/Thursday 11:15-12:30

Class Room: AIMS Hall 227

Phone: 453-2045

Office: AIMS Hall 207


Office Hours: MWF 1:30-4:00, T 4:00-5:00 or by appointment


Texts:   DeWitt, Richard. Worldviews: an introduction to the the history & philosophy of science. Blackwell Publishing.

             Bowler, Peter. Evolution: the history of an idea. 3rd ed. U. California Press.

Barbour, Ian. Religion and Science: historical and contemporary issues. HarperCollins




The primary goal of this course is to provide a context for understanding the scope and significance of the natural sciences. We will address several broad questions: What is the nature of science? What have been the major milestones in the history of science? How does science relate to other modes of understanding? How have the natural sciences influenced our understandings of ourselves, the universe, and God? How can contemporary issues in science be illuminated by philosophical and historical perspectives? It is my hope that this course will assist you in addressing these questions in an informed and thoughtful manner.


The ability to think critically about scientific topics is a valuable skill often ignored in much of science education. The range of potential topics is challenging and exciting. It includes issues such: as evolution and intelligent design; big bang theory and the origin of the universe; modern physics theories such as relativity, quantum physics and string theory that challenge our fundamental conceptions of reality; the nature of mind and consciousness; contemporary debates such as the extent of human contribution to climate change; the genetic or environmental impact on human behavioral traits, and many other fascinating issues and topics. We will engage in many of these controversies using the tools of philosophy and informed by the history of science.


The course is divided into four sections. The first examines various understandings of science by surveying the field of philosophy of science. Chalmers provides the primary text for the philosophy section. Chalmers, like most philosophers of science, approaches the topic with the biases of the physical sciences, so a supplementary reading from Ernst Mayr will provide a biological perspective. We will conclude the section with an examination of the relationships between science and religion using Barbour's text as a guide. This first section provides the philosophical tools to understand what follows.

The second section will survey the early history of science up to the 19th century. Topics include ancient and medieval science, the scientific revolution” of the 17th century, the enlightenment, the rise of modern geology, and scientific understandings of the diversity of life. Barbour, Bowler will provide readings for this section.

In the third section we examine the history of evolutionary thought, with particular emphasis on Darwin and his contemporaries. We again will turn to the philosophy of science and the previous history of science to understand the issues surrounding evolution in greater depth. Bowler’s text will be the primary source for this section. We also read directly from Darwin’s Origin of Species.

The final section is devoted to contemporary issues in science. Our focus will be on controversial issues that continue previous threads of thought from the history of science. We will examine how modern cosmology and physics are altering our understandings about the history of the universe and the nature of reality. We will consider how genetics, geology, and other fields contribute to current controversies regarding the history of life and the nature of humanity. The primary sources of readings will be Barbour and Internet sites which provide contrasting views on many of the discussion topics. We will read from sites as diverse as the American Academy for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and those advocating "intelligent design.” Web site addresses are included in the syllabus. Because such sites are often transitory, you must consult the online posting of the syllabus for updates and changes to the readings. From that site you will be able to link directly to the required readings.

My educational philosophy includes the conviction that learning is best accomplished by constructing understanding, rather than simply receiving facts. A lecture-only style of presentation is not adequate to this task for this subject matter, so student involvement through thoughtful discussion of conceptual issues is an integral part of this course. Most class sessions will begin with class discussion. By formulating your own thoughtful perspectives to be shared in class, you will not only increase your own grasp of the subject, but you will facilitate the learning of others. I recognize that students differ in their boldness and confidence regarding oral participation. The topics of each day’s discussion are listed in the syllabus schedule, so you can prepare your thoughts ahead of time. Periodic written assignments on the discussion topics will also help you organize your thoughts for effective participation.




1.          Articulate various philosophical understandings of natural science.

2.          Understand the nature, scope, strengths and limits of scientific knowledge from consideration of science in historical perspective.

3.          Analyze complex and controversial scientific topics using the tools provided by the philosophy of science.

4.          Describe the diverse ways in which science and religion have interacted through history.

5.          Explain the impact science has had in shaping our understanding of nature, humanity, and God.


The general sequence, readings and test dates for the four sections of the course are given below. Detailed lists of readings, discussion questions and topics will be hyperlinked below at the beginning of each section.



Credit will be awarded for the following:

 Total                                                                          800 points

Grades will be assigned as follows:

             A = 90% +        B = 80 - 89%    C = 70 - 79%    D = 60 - 69%

Grades will be modified by a plus or minus when within 2.5% of the grade cut-offs.

Examinations may include matching, short answer and essay questions. Short answers questions may include definitions, examples, explanations of important concepts and events, and analysis of excerpts of selected writings. Essays will usually reflect (but are not limited to) the discussion topics and questions given in the syllabus and identified in class.

Response Papers: You are to submit a written response to eight of the discussion topics given in the syllabus lecture schedule. Your papers must meet the following requirements:

Participation will be evaluated based in part upon attendance and punctuality, but mostly upon the quality of your contribution to class discussion. Responding to questions raised by the instructor certainly constitutes participation, but appropriate and thoughtful questions raised by students are also a valuable component of participation. I recognize that students differ in their boldness in contributing to class discussion. Topics for discussion are included in the syllabus so that you may prepare ideas to share. With adequate preparation beforehand, all students should be able to participate meaningfully. Grades for participation are subjective, but I will use the following four criteria: consistent participation; significant contribution to classroom discussion; demonstration of familiarity and thoughtful reflection on current readings and previous lectures; regular and punctual attendance. A = strong in all four criteria; B = similar to that of an “A”, but with weaker in one area; C = weaker in two areas or poor in one area; D = weaker in three areas or poor in two; F = does not significantly meet the criteria.