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Volume 72, Issue 68, Tuesday, November 28, 2006

News

Course tackles origin of life

Class will involve studying evolution and the intersection 
of science and philosophy

by J.M. TOWNSEND
The Daily Cougar

This is the second in a five-part series of articles in which Daily Cougar staff writers provide a look into an interesting, non-core class being offered in Spring 2007.

Students interested in exploring the border where philosophy meets science will find a good match in William Austin's Philosophy and Evolution course.

Although the course will begin with a reading of Charles Darwin's Origin of the Species, Austin, a philosophy professor, wants his students to understand the science and philosophy of evolution didn't dock with the Beagle. Many more ideas sprang from that famous voyage and continued as genetic study improved.

"Molecular biology has been able to fill in the gaps there were in Darwin's time," Austin said.

Other scientific discoveries helped fill in those gaps. Stephen Jay Gould's Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History examines the Burgess Shale fossil formation in British Columbia that preserved invertebrate forms. Austin said Gould's general idea is that it is a "glorious, lucky accident that we're here."

A refutation of that idea can be found in Simon Conway Morris' study of the same formations. Austin said Morris puts forth an idea that considers design in books such as The Crucible of Creation.

Austin said Conway "has a more religious point of view of the cosmos."

But students looking for a creationism-versus-evolution argument will not find it in Austin's class.

"I do not intend to devote time to discussing evolution versus creationism. It is bound to come up, but that is not the focus of this course," he said.

Social Darwinism, the attempt to marry scientific principals of evolution to sociology and human behavior, will also not be discussed in the course. 

Again, Austin said these controversial topics are tangential to the course but are not the primary focus.

Austin said a fair amount of the class is scientific, but students do not have to have an extensive knowledge of biology. A review of the scientific method will be discussed early in the course, and any term papers or projects will be analytical and will not require scientific research.

Students can also expect a healthy reading list.

Prerequisites for this course are at least three hours of philosophy or consent of the instructor. This upper-level course is not offered every semester, so interested students should enroll for Spring 2007. 

"I think that evolutionary ideas are important today and are often misunderstood. It is important to get an accurate understanding of it," Austin said. 

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