PHILOSOPHY 375: Philosophy of Biology
- Fall Semester, 1999
- Dr. Scott Kimbrough
- Office hours: MWF 10:00-11:00, F 11:00-12:00 or by appointment
- Office: Council 132
- Phone: 745-7118
- Direct questions and comments to my
Last updated 11/19/99
Resources and Announcements
Darwinís theory of evolution did more than change biology: it extended a broadly
mechanistic understanding of nature from the physical sciences to the life sciences, including
the study of human life. Opposition to Darwinís theory remains strong in certain sectors of our
culture to this day. To understand the scientific and cultural controversies initiated by
evolutionary biology, we will examine Darwinís theory and its descendants. Course topics will
include natural selection, the naturalization of purpose or function (teleology), the
evolution/creationism controversy, and attempts to extend the Darwinian paradigm beyond
biology to social theory and artificial life.
- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, W.W. Norton, 1996.
- Michael Ruse, Philosophy of Biology, Prometheus Books, 1998.
- Article Abstracts (10%): Article abstracts will be assigned about once a week. The abstracts should summarize the main points of the article in 200 words or less. The final average for article abstracts will be determined by dividing the number of abstracts completed satisfactorily by the total number of abstracts assigned. For example, if ten abstracts were assigned and only seven were handed in, the final grade would be 70. Because one of the main points of these assignments is to facilitate class discussion, late abstracts are not accepted.
- Exam on Evolutionary Theory and Concepts (15%): Early in the semester, an exam will be given on the basics of evolutionary theory. The purpose of this exam is to insure a basic understanding of background material so that everyone is up to speed for subsequent reading and discussion.
- Papers (20% each): Two five to seven page papers will be assigned.
- Presentation (15%): Each student will give an approximately fifteen minute class presentation. The presentations will provide illustrations or examples of general theories and concepts. For example, a presentation about the evolution of altruism could describe altruistic behavior among ants or prairie dogs; or it could inform the class of a particular researcherís theoretical explanation of altruism (e.g. W.D. Hamiltonís famous theory of kin selection).
- Final Exam (20%): The final exam for the course is comprehensive and essay format.
- Participation and Attendance: Attendance and participation in class discussions are expected.
There is no worse academic sin than plagiarism. Plagiarism consists in copying or paraphrasing the work of another, in whole or in part, without citing the source. This warning goes both for print and electronic media. Plagiarized work will receive a zero.
Schedule of Readings
- 8/26/99 Course introduction
- 8/31 Pre-Darwinian conceptions of life and its origins:
- Aristotle: "The Generation of Animals" (Ruse pp.28-31)
- William Paley: "Natural Theology" (Ruse pp.36-40)
- 9/2 The task of explaining life: Dawkins chapters 1 & 2 (pp.1-41)
- 9/7 Darwin's novel explanation: Darwin The Origin of Species
chapter 1, and
- 9/9 Competition and natural selection: Darwin The Origin of Species
chapter 3 and
- 9/14-9/16 Class canceled due to hurricane Floyd
- 9/21 Alternatives to natural selection: Dawkins chapter 11 (pp.287-318)
- 9/23 Challenging the probability of evolution: Denton "Beyond the Reach of Chance" (Ruse pp.47-61)
- 9/28 Dawkins' reply to the improbability objection: Dawkins chapter 3 (pp.43-74); a version of
Dawkins' biomorph program is available at the Morph lab
- 9/30 Class canceled for university in-service day
- 10/5 Dawkins' adaptationism: Dawkins chapter 4 (pp.77-109)
- 10/7 Exam on evolutionary theory
- 10/14 Darwinian explanations of the origin of all life: Dawkins chapter 6 (pp.139-166)
- Is evolutionary theory unfalsifiable?
- 10/19 Tom Bethell: "Darwin's Mistake" (Ruse pp.85-92)
- 10/19 Stephen Jay Gould: Darwin's Untimely Burial" (Ruse pp.93-98)
- 10/21 Constructive evolution: Dawkins chapter 7 (pp.169-193)
- 10/26 Punctuated equilibria: Stephen Jay Gould: "Darwinism and the Expansion of Evolutionary Theory" (Ruse pp.100-114)
- 10/26 Dawkins' critique of Gould: Dawkins chapter 9 (pp.223-252)
- Teleological explanations:
- 10/28 George C. Williams: "Adaptation and Natural Selection" (Ruse pp.182-184)
- 10/28 Paul J. Kramer: "Misuse of the Term Strategy" (Ruse pp.185-186)
- 10/28 Francisco J. Ayala: "Teleological Explanations" (Ruse pp.187-194)
- Evolution and molecular biology
- 11/2 Kenneth F. Schaffner: "Chemical Systems and Chemical Evolution: The Philosophy of Molecular
Biology" (Ruse pp.198-206)
- 11/2 John Beatty: "The Insights and Oversights of Molecular Genetics: The Place of the
Evolutionary Perspective" (Ruse pp.209-219)
- Social Darwinism
- 11/4 William Graham Sumner: "The Challenge of Facts" (Ruse pp.288-296)
- 11/4 Thomas Henry Huxley: "Evolution and Ethics" (Ruse pp.297-301)
- 11/9 Edward O. Wilson: "Heredity" (Ruse pp.246-252)
- 11/9 Stephen Jay Gould: "Biological Potentiality vs. Biological Determinism" (on reserve)
- More on sociobiology
- 11/11 Stephen Jay Gould: "Sociobiology and the Theory of Natural Selection" (Ruse pp.253-263)
- 11/11 Arthur L. Caplan: "Say It Just Ain't So: Adaptational Stories and Sociobiological Explanations
of Social Behavior" (Ruse pp.264-269)
- Evolutionary ethics
- 11/16 Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson: "The Evolution of Ethics" (Ruse pp.313-317)
- 11/16 Daniel Dennett: "On the Origin of Morality" (on reserve)
- Evolution, Creation Science, and Education
- 11/18 Genesis chapters 1 and 2 (Ruse pp.320-323)
- 11/18 Duane T. Gish: "Creation, Evolution and the Historical Evidence" (on reserve)
- 11/18 Michael Ruse: "Creation Science: The Ultimate Fraud" (Ruse pp.329-336)
- Political action by creationists
- 11/23 Act 590 of 1981, General Acts, 73rd General Assembly, State of Arkansas (Ruse pp.324-328)
- 11/23 Judge William R. Overton: United States District Court Opinion McLean v. Arkansas (on reserve)
- 11/23 Topeka school board resolution
- Artificial life
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