FYS: Reason/Religion/Reality (PHIL 85H.001)

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Instructor: Marc Lange. This seminar meets on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 – 10:45 a.m. in Caldwell 213.

Although we know that Copernicus and Galileo were correct in theorizing that the Earth orbits the Sun (rather than vice versa), it is less clear that the evidence they possessed for their theory was conclusive. The ways that Copernicus and Galileo argued for their theory can reveal a great deal about how scientific theories are tested. In this course, we will examine their arguments in order to better understand the logic by which scientific theories are confirmed and, ultimately, justified. We will consider whether astronomy (and other sciences) can really discover that a theory not only accurately predicts our observations, but also accurately describes what we cannot see. We will think about whether the Catholic Church was justified at the time in regarding Copernicanism as just one among many fairly successful techniques for predicting the night sky’s appearance. We will also investigate whether Galileo could argue for his telescope’s reliability and use mere “thought-experiments” to defend Copernicanism. To grapple with these issues, we will read not only some history of science (and some of what 16th- and 17th-century astronomers actually wrote), but also some philosophical accounts of the logic of theory testing. We will also look closely at the events surrounding the notorious trial of Galileo. Ultimately, we will gain a more nuanced conception of scientific reasoning and of how scientific revolutions occur. No prior background in philosophy or science is presupposed.

Marc Lange’s webpage