T C 301 • Origin Science: The Universe and LifeW
9:30 AM-11:00 AM
We will consider the successes and limitations of the scientific mode of reasoning by focusing on two subjects of origin science. The origin of the Universe and the origin of life have long been considered from religious and philosophical points of view. In the twentieth century, both became the subject of scientific inquiry. We will examine the history of cosmology to understand the evolution of our world-view and the development of the scientific approach. The current state of understanding of the origin of life will be considered in the same context. We will study recent developments in both areas, both to learn what the scientific method has revealed and to compare the scientific method to other approaches. The students will learn astronomy and physics in the first part and chemistry and a bit of biology in the second.
About the Professor Professor Neal Evans studies the formation of new stars from interstellar molecular clouds, using radio and infrared telescopes. He regularly teaches undergraduate classes on extraterrestrial life and the origins of the Universe, stars, planets, and life. He survived the sixties at Berkeley, earning both Bachelors and PhD degrees in Physics, while dabbling in English literature classes. After a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech, he joined the faculty at the University of Texas, where he is currently the Randall Centennial Professor of Astronomy. Professor Evans runs religiously at noon with an eclectic group of faculty and staff, backpacks with his wife, and listens to blues, jazz, and classical music.
This course contains a substantial writing component. There will be two exams, primarily on the scientific content (40%) and three papers (each about 5 pages), which focus on the historical and philosophical issues (45%). The remaining 15% will be based on homework and class discussion. The grade for the papers will include a component for an oral presentation; each student will make one such presentation during the semester.
The primary book for the origin of the Universe will be The Accelerating Universe, by Mario Livio. In addition, we will use an anthology on cosmology edited by N. Hetherington entitled Cosmology Historical, Literary, Philosophical, Religious, and Scientific Perspectives. For the origin of life, we will use a book by Iris Fry called The Emergence of Life on Earth and also a book by R. Shapiro called Origins, A Skeptics Guide to the Creation of Life on Earth. This book is out of print, but the Co-op has permission to produce copies. The book deals with both the science and the philosophical issues. I will also supply materials, including articles at the level of Scientific American and occasionally more technical pieces.