Myth and Science History and Philosophy of Science 0427/ Classics 0330 Spring 2004 (04-2)

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Myth and Science

History and Philosophy of Science 0427/ Classics 0330

Spring 2004 (04-2)

Lecture: Monday, 6:00—8:30pm
Instructor Information:

Instructor: Jim Tabery

Office: Cathedral of Learning 901M


Office Hours: Monday, 5:00—6:00 and 8:30—9:30

Student Information:

(Name) (e-mail)

(Name) (e-mail)

Course Description and Objectives:

Mythology and science are generally understood to be two very distinct endeavors. The one based in fact; the other based in speculation. This distinction begins to break down, though, when one realizes that early science actually found its origins in and then grew out of mythology. Furthermore, both myth and science share the same ultimate goal—to provide explanations for the phenomena of the world around us. Despite the similarities, early science struggled to separate itself from its mythological counterpart while, at the same time, retaining many features found in mythology. Interestingly, this close relationship between science and myth continued in such a fashion for the next 2500 years and can still be seen today in modern science.

This course will trace this fascinating story, examining the practice of mythology, the origin of science in this practice, and the struggle between science and myth to locate their own domains of explanation. Because we are dealing with such an enormous topic over such a vast time period, the second half of the course will focus specifically on the science of biology and medicine. Many of the important themes of the relationship between science and mythology are most easily observable in these scientific fields.

Myth and Science is a blend of history, science, philosophy, and mythology all rolled into one. The advantage of including so many fields is that we can utilize the most interesting features of these studies while eliminating the boring elements. We will grab history’s analysis of the remarkable development of ideas over time, while ridding ourselves of the need to memorize dates, names, and cities. We will integrate science’s incredible ability to understand the world around us, and then apply a philosophical analysis to evaluate this ability. Most undergraduate courses follow a standard (and usually pretty dull) book. This course moves away from that trend by turning to the original sources. The course packet to be bought for the course (see Required Texts) is a compilation of works by the figures who shaped this history.

Required Texts*:

1.) Myth and Science Course Packet. Prepared by James G. Tabery. University of Pittsburgh: Copy Cat. 2004. [“CP” below]

2.) Lindberg, David C. The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1992. [“Lindberg” below]

3.) Ruse, Michael. But Is It Science? Amherst: Prometheus Books. 1996. [“Ruse” below]

*All books and the Course Packet have been ordered by the Campus Bookstore and are available for purchase there. However, the Course Packet is the only text available solely at the Campus Bookstore. Don’t be afraid to shop around for the best deal you can find on the other three books.
The Learning Environment:

Material is best learned in a variety of ways. Therefore, the learning environment in the classroom will utilize many different formats. Some of the class will be lecture, where you will receive a general understanding of the most important issues for a particular topic. In addition, there will also be an extensive amount of class discussion (both between the professor and the students and among the students themselves). The goal of these class discussions will be to identify (and answer) the many important questions that we will come across as we read the primary and secondary sources. Finally, there will also be group work. Groups will be assigned in the classroom and given different problems to solve, or issues to organize, etc. You will not receive a direct grade for group work, but it will count towards your class participation grade (see below).


Your grade will be based on the following 5 criteria:

  1. Attendance and Class Participation (10 points)

  2. Quizzes (15 points, best 5 of 6)

  3. 5-page Essay (25 points)

  4. Mid-Term (25 points)

  5. Final Exam (25 points)

A+ = 100-97 C+ = 79-77

A = 96-93 C = 76-73

A- = 92-90 C- = 72-70

B+ = 89-87 D+ = 69-67

B = 86-83 D = 66-63

B- = 82-80 D- = 63-60

Class Participation can come in a variety of ways. While some of the class will be lecture, much of it will be based on eliciting a dialogue between the students and the professor and between the students themselves. Your participation in the class discussions, your role in small group works, and any time you spend discussing the course during my office hours will all be taken into consideration when determining Class Participation.

Quizzes will be given at the beginning of roughly every other class. The quizzes will cover the readings for the material to be discussed that day along with the material discussed during the last class. There will be 6 quizzes throughout the semester, and your grade will be based on your 5 best.
The Essay is designed to allow you to perform some historical research of your own. You will be given the option of two different essays to pick from, and you must write on one of them. The topics will take one of the issues or figures we discuss in class and explore it in more detail.
The Mid-term and the Final are both structured exactly alike and will be worth the same amount of points (25). There will be 5 objective questions (1 point each), 5 Key Word questions (3 points each), and 1 essay question (5 points). You will receive, at the beginning of each class, several Key Words on the blackboard unique to the topic of the day. Most of the Key Words are in the readings, but they will be explained in greater detail during the course of the class lecture. You will then be responsible for providing one paragraph of your own account of 5 of these Key Words on the Mid-term and Final. You will have the option of choosing 5 out of 8 Key Words and 1 out of 2 essays on both exams.

Class Policies:

The dates of the Mid-Term, Final Exam, and Essay are strict. If either of the exams cannot be attended, a typed explanation with appropriate documentation must be given to me before or within one week after the exam dates. Regarding the Essay, a letter grade will be lowered from the final grade for each day the paper is late. The Quizzes are more flexible. If you cannot take the Quiz on the assigned date, then you must make it up before the next class.

Cheating/Plagiarism are widely frowned upon throughout the university and so are not taken kindly to in this class. Anyone caught cheating during a quiz or exam, or anyone caught plagiarizing an essay, will have the quiz/exam/paper confiscated, a zero will be given to the work, and the student’s action will be reported to the dean.
Everybody has disabilities of some sort. If you have a disability that requires special testing accommodations or other classroom modifications, then please notify both the instructor and Disability Resources and Services (DRS) by the second week of class. DRS can be contacted at 648-7890 or at This office is located in the William Pitt Union, Room 216.
There are no prerequisites for this course.

Monday, January 5th

-Topic: Introduction to Myth and Science

-Readings: None, but review the syllabus before the next class.

-Questions/Issues to Consider: What is myth? What is science? How are these two practices different? Are they at all similar? What is the conceptual and historical relationship between myth and science? Why would science want to separate itself from myth? Do elements of myth still permeate science, or has it rid itself of the practice?

Monday, January 12th

-Topic: Creation Myths

-Readings: 1.CP: Eliade, “Myths of the Creation of the World” (pp. 83—118) [Reading #1], pay special attention to “#55. Mesopotamian Cosmogony”

-Questions/Issues to Consider: What are the four types of creation myths Eliade identifies? What common themes emerge again and again in the various myths? What examples do you find of supernatural causation? What examples do you find of natural causation? How are the supernatural creators characterized? What examples of both successes and failures by the supernatural creators are given? Do the creators always create from nothing, or are they working with a preexisting element/reality? What do the various creators create first? What are the various ways in which the creators impose order upon their creation? What differences emerge between creation by a creator and creation by creators? What phenomena of the natural world are being explained with the creation stories?

-Important Event: Quiz #1
Monday, January 19th

-School Closed: Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday observance

Monday, January 26th

-Topic: Greek Mythology

-Readings: 1. CP: Hesiod’s Theogany [Reading #2]

2.CP: Homer’s The Iliad, Book I [Reading #3]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: What similarities do you seen between Hesiod’s Theogony and the Creation Myths we read last week? What message is Hesiod hoping to convey with his Theogony? What is the first thing in creation, according to Hesiod? Who is the creator in the Theogony? What natural entities are assigned gods? Why do you think these entities receive gods and not others? What are some of the gods’ personalities? Why do the Titan gods and the Olympian gods battle each other in the Theogony? For what events are gods responsible in Homer’s Iliad? How do humans and gods interact with each other in the Iliad? What stops Achilles from killing King Agamemnon? What are some of the relationships like between the various gods?
Monday, February 2nd

-Topic: The Presocratics

-Readings: 1. CP: Wheelwright’s “The Scientist-Philosophers of Miletus” and “Atomism” [Reading #4]

2. CP: Popper’s “Back to the Presocratics” [Reading #5]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: Why do you think it is commonly claimed that science had its earliest origins in the Presocratic philosophers? What do Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Leucippus, and Democritus take to be the basic nature of all things? What were some of the problems and questions the Presocratics struggled to answer? How does Anaximander use his concept of Apeiron? What contributions of the Atomists do you think will be important for the subsequent development of science? How did the Atomists quantify matter and space? What seems scientific and what seems mythical about the Presocratics? Why does Popper believe the Presocratics hit at the most important focal point of philosophy? How do Parmenides and Heraclitus solve the problem of change in completely different fashions? Why is Popper so fond of “the tradition of critical discussion”?

-Important Event: Quiz #2

Monday, February 9th

-Topic: Plato

-Readings: 1. Lindberg: “The Greeks and the Cosmos” (pp. 35—43)

2. CP: Plato’s The Republic, Book VII [Reading #6]

3. CP: Plato’s Timaeus, pp.66—82 [Reading #7]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: What is the difference between the world of forms and the world of reality? How does this difference help solve the problem of change? How is this difference displayed with Plato’s allegory of the cave? How does Plato use his allegory of the cave to outline the proper way to study nature? What is similar between Plato’s allegory of the cave and his account of creation found in the Timaeus? What is the relationship between the Demiurge (or the “Intelligence”), the Chaos (or the “Necessity”), and the Receptacle? How does the Timaeus compare with the other creation stories we have read? What does it look like Plato has inherited from the Presocratics? In what sense is Plato scientific, and in what sense is he mythical?

Monday, February 16th

-Topic: Aristotle

-Readings: 1. Lindberg: “Aristotle’s Philosophy of Nature” (pp. 47—58, 62—68)

2. CP: Aristotle’s Parts of Animals, and Movement of Animals [Reading #8]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: How does Aristotle diverge from the Platonic worldview? What is Aristotle’s distinction between form and matter? Why/how does Aristotle make a distinction between potential being and actual being? How does this distinction help solve the problem of change? What are the 4 Aristotelian causes? What role does teleology play in Aristotle’s natural philosophy? Why do you think Aristotle is considered the father of biology? According to Aristotle, can the biologist study the soul? What are the three degrees of biological composition for Aristotle? What organ is the seat of emotions? Does Aristotle seem more or less scientific than Plato? In what ways?

-Important Event: Quiz #3

Monday, February 23rd

-Important Event: Midterm, Essay topics handed out

Monday, March 1st

-Topic: Medicine Battles Myth

-Readings: 1. Lindberg: “Greek and Roman Medicine” (pp. 111—119)

2. CP: Hippocratic Writings, selections [Reading #9]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: What was pre-Hippocratic medicine like? Why is the Hippocratic Corpus called the “Hippocratic Corpus”? How do the Hippocratic writers characterize pre-Hippocratic medicine? How do the notions of balance and imbalance fit into Hippocratic medicine? What were some ways that Hippocratic physicians treated disease? How is prognosis, prevention, and treatment of disease different in Hippocratic medicine from pre-Hippocratic medicine? Why does Lindberg claim that there is no real “Hippocratic doctrine”, but rather only a collection of various theories? Are all mythical elements eliminated from Hippocratic medicine? If not, then where do they emerge?
Monday, March 8th

-Topic: Galenic Medicine and Biology

-Readings: 1. Lindberg: “Greek and Roman Medicine” (pp. 122—131)

2. CP: Galen’s “On the Sects for Beginners” [Reading #10]

3. CP: Galen’s “On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body” [Reading #11]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: How did the three Greek medical sects of Hellenistic Greece emerge from the various approaches to medicine found in the Hippocratic Corpus? How do these three sects study medicine in different ways? Which sect does Galen seem to favor? In what way does Galen synthesize ideas from Plato, Aristotle, and the Hippocratics? What elements does he borrow from each source? How does Galen’s composition of the animal body differ from the account of composition provided by Aristotle? What path does blood take throughout the body according to Galen?

-Important Event: Quiz #4
Monday, March 15th

-Topic: Science and Religion in the 13th c.

-Readings: 1. Lindberg: Chapter 10 (pp. 215—244)

2. CP: “The Reaction of the Universities and Theological Authorities to Aristotelian Science and Natural Philosophy” [Reading #12]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: How did the Greek works by Plato and Aristotle make their way to Europe in the 13th century? What features of ancient Greek natural philosophy did 13th c. theologians find to be problematic with their own worldview? Why couldn’t the Christian church simply claim that all the ancient Greek knowledge was incorrect? What were some early attempts (by such figures as Bacon, Grosseteste, Bonaventure, Aquinas, and Albert Magnus) to keep science from conflicting with religion? How did these individuals attempt to bring natural philosophy and religion in unison? What is “Christian Aristotelianism”? What events lead to the condemnations of 1270 and 1277? What was condemned in these acts?
Monday, March 22nd

-Topic: Renaissance Biology

-Readings: 1. CP: Kearney’s “The World as Organism” [Reading #13]

2. CP: Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body, plates [Reading #14]

3. CP: Harvey’s Circulation of the Blood (pp. 3—15) [Reading #15]

-Questions/Issues to Consider: Where is Vesalius in the title-page of the Fabrica? How has Vesalius broken free of the Galenic tradition? How would this break allow him to take new approaches to anatomical investigation? In what way did Vesalius lay the groundwork for Harvey to introduce a new physiological theory of the heart? Who does Harvey see as the architect of the standard understanding of the heart? What is the classic (pre-Harvey) understanding of the diastole and the systole? How does Harvey challenge this understanding? What mechanism does Harvey conceptualize the heart as? What types of experiments did Harvey perform to prove his revolutionary idea?

-Important Event: Quiz #5
Monday, March 29th

-Topic: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: the origin of the debate

-Readings: Ruse, Chapters 1—5 (pp. 42—98)

-Questions/Issues to Consider: Does the Genesis story bear any similarities to the creation myths we read earlier in the semester? How is it at all different from the other stories? What metaphor does William Paley use to argue for the intelligent design of complex life? How were science and religion related prior to the publication of Darwin’s Origins? Prior to Darwin, what was the scientific (and the religious) explanations for the origins of species? How was Darwin’s Origins received by the scientific and the religious communities? Does Darwin leave room for a supernatural creator in his scientific program?

-Movie: PBS’s Evolution-Darwin’s Dangerous Idea

-Important Event: First Draft of Essays Due

Monday, April 5th

-Topic: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: the modern dispute

-Readings: Ruse, Chapters 15—18 (pp. 227—286)

-Questions/Issues to Consider: What is similar/different about the evolution-intelligent design debate and the dispute between competing medical theories from Hippocrates to Galen discussed earlier in the course? Are any trends in the evolution-intelligent design debate found also in the dispute between science and religion from the 13th century? How does Duane Gish argue for creationism and against evolution? What were the reasons the Arkansas legislators gave for teaching creation science in their public schools in 1981?

-Movie: PBS’s Evolution-What About God?

-Important Event: Quiz #6, First Draft of Essays Returned

Monday, April 12th

-Topic: Evolution vs. Intelligent Design: What is Science?

-Reading: Ruse, Chapters 19—22 (pp.287—355)

-Question/Issues to Consider: How does Michael Ruse distinguish science from non-science in the testimony he gave to the McLean v. Arkansas hearing? How was Ruse’s testimony taken into consideration by Judge William R. Overton in his final decision? What is the “demarcation problem”? Why does Larry Laudan criticize attempts to distinguish science from non-science? How does Laudan criticize Judge Overton’s ruling on the McLean v. Arkansas case?

-Important Event: Final Draft of Essay Due

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