Welcome to Honors 399: Physics, Philosophy and Fundamentalism

8 Jan 2001


Lecture 11:30-12:25 MWF
in Room Optics Bldg, 300A (Conference Room)


Dr. Robert Sheldon

Office Hours:

MWF 9-11, & TBA, Room 348 Optics Bldg


UAH:824 2860
NSSTC: 961 7652
MSFC:544 1652
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 two term papers on the reading and the lectures. That is, in place of a midterm or final exam, I will be assigning a term paper on topics related to the class. Both the papers will be 40% of the grade.

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 I said in class were to be 3-5 pages (single-spaced, typed) but in retrospection, 6-10 double-spaced pages would be easier for me to grade. The first paper will be due on Monday, February 12. The second will be due March 9. Follow the instructions below.
Update: Since these instructions were not clear the first time, I am splitting the paper into 2 pieces, the first paper on Feb 12 being considered the first half of the full assignment. See below for the second half of the first assignment.

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 6-10 page 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.

College of Science Complaint Procedure


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

Additional Resources


1Jan 08SRI1Introduction
1Jan 10SRH1 Medieval Synthesis
1Jan 12SRH2 CopernicusQuiz 01
2Jan 15 Holiday
2Jan 17SRH3Galileo
2Jan 19SRI2 Newton No Quiz 02
3Jan 22SRH4,5 Enlightenment
3Jan 24SRH6 Paley
3Jan 26SRH7 Darwin Whoops!
4Jan 29SRH8 Neo-Darwin Quiz 03
4Jan 31 TBA
4Feb 02 TBA NoQuiz
5Feb 05(ID) Neo Darwinism
5Feb 07(WT) Intel. Design
5Feb 09 Darwin vs Religion Quiz 05
6Feb 12SRH-allCath. EpistemologyEssay #1
6Feb 14SRI3Reformation
6Feb 16SRI4Germ. LiberalismNo Quiz
7Feb 19SRI5 Naturalism
7Feb 21SRI6 FundamentalismQuiz 07
7Feb 23 Creationism
8Feb 26SRI7 Positivism
8Feb 28SRI8 Process Theology
8Mar 02Job Quiz 08
9Mar 05SRI9Mechanics
9Mar 07Job ThermodynamicsNoQuiz
9Mar 09GP1 AtomsEssay #2
10Mar 12GP2,3 Creation
10Mar 14GP4,5 Ex Nihilo
10Mar 16GP6,7 Contingent Quiz 10
11Mar 19GP8,9 Cosmology
11Mar 21GP10,11 Anthropic Principle
11Mar 23GP12,13 Escape from DesignQuiz 11
12Mar 26 ** HOLIDAY**
12Mar 28 ** SPRING**
12Mar 30 ** BREAK **
13Apr 02GP14,15 QM Physics
13Apr 04GP16,17 QM Weirdness
13Apr 06FE1 QM ConsciousnessNo Quiz
14Apr 09FE2,3 Miracles
14Apr 11FE4,5
14Apr 13FE6,7 The End of DeismNo Quiz 14
15Apr 16FE8 Self-Reference
15Apr 18 PARTY/Teacher Evaluations
15Apr 20 * * Wedding * *
16Apr 24 Study Day
16Apr 25 Term Paper Due11:30
16Apr 30 **No Final Exam**11:30-2:00

Last Modified Apr 17, 2001