This course introduces students to the history and philosophy of the natural sciences. During its first seven weeks, we examine two of great achievements in the history of physics: the Copernican Revolution in astronomy and Isaac Newton's codification of the laws of mechanics. We use this history to gain a broad philosophical understanding of the scientific enterprise as a whole.
Topics to be addressed include:
- the nature of the ‘scientific method’
- the process by which hypotheses are confirmed by empirical evidence
- the use of statistical inference in science
- the nature of scientific laws and their role in explanation
- the procedures by which new concepts are introduced into scientific theories.
The last seven weeks are devoted to Darwin's theory of evolution and its implications for the relationship between science and religion. We will focus on the creationist/evolutionist debate about the teaching of biology in public schools. Our main goal will be to decide what qualifies some body of discourse as a ‘science’, and to see whether the theory of evolution or creationism (or both, or neither) fit the bill.
About 15 pages of reading will required BEFORE each class. Students will be asked to complete four short problem sets, write two 4-6 page papers, and take a midterm exam and a final.
No knowledge of physics or biology is presupposed and, while one will learn something about these subjects along the way, students should not expect to walk away with a deep knowledge of these areas. The focus will be on historical and methodological issues.
3 hrs lecture w/discussion per week