Welcome to Honors 399, Spring 2002: Physics, Philosophy and Fundamentalism


Lecture 12:40-1:35 MWF
in Room Optics Bldg, 300A (Conference Room)


Dr. Robert Sheldon

Office Hours:

MWF 9-11, & TBA, Room 2006 NSSTC (OB 348 too)


NSSTC: 961 7652
MSFC:544 1652
UAH:824 2860
E-mail: sheldonr@uah.edu


This course is designed to examine the interface between physics, philosophy and fundamentalism. I use the word "fundamentalism" intentionally, because we are not going to discuss other religions than historical Christianity. And since many versions of modern liberal Protestantism fail to qualify as orthodox historical Christianity, I wanted to focus this course on the tension between those who worry both about their salvation and their science simultaneously. The discussion has three centers, and I wanted to give each discipline its own emphasis. For examples of a question posed from these three viewpoints, we have: "Can a Scientist permit his religion to affect his science?", or "Can a Fundamentalist accept science as a legitimate disciple?" or "Can either science or religion provide legitimate Truth?"

The syllabus is rather tentative, since my views on how to present these three threads alternates between a desire to present it topically, chronologically, and pedagogically. As the course progresses, I may find it appropriate to rearrange the syllabus to indicate a change in emphasis. For this reason, it is necessary for you to have WWW access, and look at the assigned readings for the coming week. As all of us know from long experience, keeping up with the readings is the most difficult part of a course like this. To encourage you to keep up, as well as use the WWW, I have decided to put quizzes on the WWW covering the weeks reading which will account for 20% of the grade. In addition, there will be a three term papers on the reading and the lectures. That is, in place of a midterm or final exam, I will be assigning term papers on topics related to the class. The papers will be 80% of the grade as described below.

The course naturally will divide up into 3 sections of unequal length. The first section will cover the history and philosophy of the science vs. religion interaction, with emphasis on the paradigm of modern naturalism from Newton to Darwin. My plan is to intertwine this history with the philosophy that informs these debates. The second section will discuss the religious and philosophical response to these challenges of the faith. It is difficult to identify a single response, so we will look at several: "process theology", "creationism" and "intelligent design". Finally, the third section will discuss the new physics of Einstein and Bohr and its impact on both science and religion. As we will see, it profoundly changes the nature of the debate.


The final grade will be derived from:

Mid-Term Paper #1

The term papers are expected to be a researched paper (with endnotes) which are to be 6-10 double-spaced pages. The first paper will be due on Monday, February 12. The second will be due March 9. Follow the instructions below.
Paper #1
Electronic submittal is encouraged as well, though not essential. Several approaches can be taken on this first assignment:
For example, one student asked if they could discuss the impact of evolution or Darwinism on business theory. I responded that I wanted to see either a philosophical or religious application, and would like to see in such an analysis some discussion of ethics or morality that tie the business theory into religion. In other words, I want to see a discussion that matters to you, not a dry academic treatment.
Several books on the reading list that address Darwinism are: SRH,SRI,ST,WT,C,GN, and of course, you are free to use other sources as well.

Paper #2
I would like this second assignment to consider the inverse of the first assignment, namely, the impact of religion on science. Here are several options for the second 3-5 page assignment:
The third option is to take the essay from the first assignment, respond to my comments and recast it into a longer paper (with endnotes) that develops the themes further. That is, I will be looking for improvements in the arguments and conclusions that show how your thinking is changing during this course. It would also be appropriate to bring in explicitly religious arguments into this second revision, e.g. why business ethics are different in Protestant vs. Catholic countries.

Paper #3
Electronic submittal is encouraged. This paper should be 8-12 pages (with endnotes) and reference at least GNP or FE. It should discuss the impact of the New Physics on Theology or Culture. One could write about, say, the impact of New Physics on Philosophy, but there should be a tie in to "the common man". The handout from GHC gives a nice summary of topics that are suitable for the paper. The due date is 11:30am on April 25.


The texts are available in OB400L with a sign-out sheet, Mon-Fri 8-5.

Additional Resources


1 Jan 07SRI1Introduction
1Jan 09SRH1 Medieval Synthesis
1Jan 11SRH2 Copernicus Quiz 01
2Jan 14SRH3 Galileo
2Jan 16SRI2Newton
2Jan 18SRH4,5 Enlightenment Quiz 02
3Jan 21 Holiday
3Jan 23SRH6 Paley
3Jan 25SRH7 Darwin Quiz 03
4Jan 28SRH8 Busman's Holiday
4Jan 30(ID)Neo Darwinism
4Feb 01(WT)Intel. Design
5Feb 04I.D. Quiz 04
5Feb 06Another Break
5Feb 08 Darwin vs Religion No Quiz
6Feb 11SRH-allHill RobertsEssay #1
6Feb 13SRI3Cath.+Reformed Epistem.
6Feb 15SRI4Day off
7Feb 18SRI5 Religious Epistemology Quiz 05
7Feb 20SRI6 Fundamentalism
7Feb 22 Creationism Quiz 07
8Feb 25SRI7 Day Off
8Feb 27SRI8 Positivism
8Mar 01Job Process Theology No Quiz
9Mar 04SRI9Personal Knowledge
9Mar 06Job Intro to 20th Century
9Mar 08GP1 Thermodynamics & Atoms Quiz 08
10Mar 11GP2,3 Creation Essay #2
10Mar 13GP4,5 Ex Nihilo
10Mar 15GP6,7 Contingent Quiz 10
11Mar 18GP8,9 Cosmology
11Mar 20GP10,11 Anthropic Principle
11Mar 22GP12,13 Escape from Design Quiz 11
12Mar 25 ** HOLIDAY**
12Mar 27 ** SPRING**
12Mar 29 ** BREAK **
13Apr 01GP14,15 QM Physics
13Apr 03GP16,17 QM Weirdness
13Apr 05FE1 QM Consciousness Quiz 13
14Apr 08FE2,3 Miracles
14Apr 10FE4,5
14Apr 12FE6,7 The End of Deism Quiz 14
15Apr 15FE8 Self-Reference
15Apr 17 Quiz 15
15Apr 19 PARTY/Teacher Evaluations
16Apr 24 Study Day
16Apr 25 Term Paper Due
16Apr 29 **Final Exam??**11:30-2:00

The Fine Print

As stated in the UAH catalog: It is a well know fact that students who skip class do poorly on exams and quizzes and therefore receive bad grades.

Academic Honesty:
Again the UAH catalog states: Complaint Procedure:
If you have difficulties or complaints related to this course, your first action usually should be to discuss them with me. If such a discussion would be uncomfortable for you or fails to resolve your difficulties, you might contact Professor Hillman, Chair of the Department of Physics. Professor Hillman's office is OB300C. His telephone number is 824-2481. However, it would probably be more appropriate in the honors program to contact Dr. Richard F. Modlin, Director, Honors Program Morton Hall 336 Telephone: (256) 824-6451, FAX (256) 824-7339. If you still are unsatisfied, you might discuss the matter with Dr. Debra Moriarity, Associate Dean of the College of Science. Dean Moriarity's office is C207 Materials Science Building. However the Dean of College of Liberal Arts, Sue Kirkpatrick, Ph. D. (256) 824-6200 (Internet kirkpas@email.uah.edu) may be more appropriate.

Students with Disabilities.
I would like to hear from anyone who has a disability that may require a modification of seating, testing, or other class procedures. Please see me after class or during my office hours to discuss appropriate modifications.

Short biography of instructor:
Professor Sheldon was born in S. Korea and emigrated to the United States when he was 4. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wheaton College, and obtained a masters in religion from Westminster Seminary, and a doctorate in physics from the University of Maryland. He has worked/taught physics at the University of Berne, Switzerland and Boston University before coming to UAH. He is married with 8.5 children, and attends the Church of the Messiah Episcopal Church in Pulaski, Tennessee.

Last Modified Jan 6, 2002