Centre for Philosophy of Science Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab

Michael Ruse


Course Description

This course will take a historical approach to philosophical questions in biology. We shall start with an in-depth study of Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, its background, its reception, and its subsequent history. Attention will be paid to the coming of Mendelian genetics, to population genetics, and then to the subsequent molecularization of biology. A major concern will be with the virtues (or not) of reductionism. Is this a good strategy in science or is it fundamentally misleading? We shall also look at the problem of human evolution, both in Darwin and in later thinkers. Does human evolution demand a different kind of understanding, perhaps cultural, and if so what does this mean? Are new theories like memetics at all helpful? In the course of this discussion we shall cover many issues in the philosophy of biology to do with classification, with teleology, with theory change, with the levels of selection, with the nature of theories and confirmation. We shall then go on to look at the application of Darwinism to philosophical issues, particularly those in epistemology and in ethics. We shall conclude by looking at the question of science and religion, paying particular attention to the biblical literalist movement (including the so-called Intelligent Design Theorists) and also the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and others). Is it possible to take a middle-line position, or does one have to make a commitment to either science or religion?

Day-by-Day Program

Lecture 1: Introduction to Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution

  1. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Charles Darwin, London: John Murray.

Lecture 2: The Development of Darwin's Thinking and the Coming of Molecular Biology

  1. Ruse, M., 2008. Charles Darwin.

Lecture 3: Human Evolution

  1. Ruse, M., 2012. The Philosophy of Human Evolution.

Lecture 4: Darwinian Epistemology and Ethics

  1. Ruse, M., 2012. The Philosophy of Human Evolution.

Lecture 5: Science and Religion

  1. Ruse, M., Making room for Faith in an Age of Science: The Science-Religion Relationship Reviseted