Friday, June 11, 2010

Scope and Sequence

INTRODUCTION/MOTIVATION: The scientific study of origins helps us probe the roots of our existence. So, it is a key component of how we seek to understand ourselves and our place in our world, based on the evidence, which gives it great importance. Unfortunately, some educators, public policy advocates and scientists have recently undercut this search by mistakenly trying to re-define science as a search for “natural causes,” which imposes materialistic conclusions before the empirical facts can speak. Such methodological naturalism also effectively establishes materialistic secular humanism as a de facto, functional equivalent to a religion backed by state power on law, education and many other aspects of our public square. However, we can instead allow the evidence to speak for itself, creating a more objective approach. For instance, reliably, functionally specified complex information comes from intelligence. And, we see many such signs in cases such as: (i) the origin of cell-based life that is based on information-rich macromolecules, or (ii) of the origin of body-plan level biodiversity, or (iii) that of a cosmos that seems to be fine-tuned in many ways to accommodate such life. A critically aware objective approach to origins science should therefore teach students to consider the issues and alternatives before drawing conclusions. Thus, we need a fresh, independent approach to origins science and science education.

I] COURSE OBJECTIVE: Providing an independent, community-based open-access critical survey seminar/course on origins science that summarises major points and perspectives, presents key alternatives and provides a balancing overview. This, so that participants will be able to analyse and discuss the decisive scientific facts, theories, ideas, issues and alternatives on origins in an informed, objective way that makes use of credible, empirically based distinctives of natural and artificial causes, especially specified complexity. Thus, they will be better equipped to draw balanced conclusions, do further studies and act as responsibly informed, critically aware citizens in light of their findings.


1] Origins Science overview – OS as scientifically informed study of our “roots,” from hydrogen to humans. Why it matters. [[Lakatos and Keynes: shaping of the path, conclusions, potential and institutional/cultural influence of science through worldview factors in the core of scientific research programmes.] Important views on OS across time and currently. The challenge: methodological naturalism and associated imposition of materialistic secular humanism as a de facto, functional equivalent to a religion backed by state power, e.g. in education. Trends, implications and concerns illustrated through Lewontin, NSTA, NAS, NCSE, Kansas, etc. Solution: clarifying origins vs. operational science, in light of philosophy of science-based, history of science anchored insights on the nature, strengths and limitations of science and its major methods. Key issues: [[a] methodological naturalism, vs. science as a search for the truth about our world in light of evidence; [[b] creationism and debates over religion, science, policy and "theocracy" vs. radical secularisation; [[c] material/mechanical (chance, necessity) and intelligent causal factors; [[d] signs of intelligence and the Intelligent Design [ID] approach. Design Science in a nutshell, and its potential to open up new paths for the future.

2] Cosmological Origins -- setting the stage for life, with the observed/inferred fine-tuning. Major views, models, theories, approaches. Linked philosophical issues and alternatives: contingent and necessary beings and worldview alternatives. Key observational evidence [[mostly astronomical and geological, including inter alia the Hertzsprung-Russell chart, the Hubble “constant,” radioactivity and radio-dating, sedimentation settling rate and index fossil issues]. Dating and presented timelines for the cosmos, the solar system and the Earth: how estimated, issues/limitations, provisionality of these and other scientific findings.

3] The origin of life -- classical and current views on OOL, and the value of a humbly open-minded scientific approach. Modern abiogenesis models, issues and limitations. The implications of functionally specified, complex information in life as observed. DNA and the flagellum as key case studies on CSI and IC.

4] The origin of biodiversity -- The diversity of current and fossil life and the associated range of body plans (tree of life). Information requisites to go from unicellular life forms to typical major multicellular forms and body plans. Design, descent, commonalties in life and the capacity/limitations of causal factors [[chance, mechanical necessity giving rise to law-like natural regularities, intelligence]. Major historic and current views on, theories of, and models for the origin of biodiversity; issues and alternatives. The Cambrian fossil life revolution as a key case study.

5] The origin of man, mind and morality -- What makes us different, and how did that come about? What is mind? Why do we feel morally obligated? Implications of self-reference when we use our minds to theorise and reason on origins. Major models, proposed timelines, evidence, issues and alternatives.

6] Origins Science in Society -- Implications of alternative views on origins of the cosmos, of life and of man for morality, policy, law and society. The associated responsibilities of science and science education to the community. Key case study: Social Darwinism and its consequences.

7] Assignments, practicals and projects -- practical and desk research and write up exercises. Science fair type investigatory “science” projects [[at HS and College levels], from concepts to proposals and funding to implementation, and display/presentation of findings. Science and citizenship projects. Assessments.