Search | Directories | Reference Tools
UW Home > Discover UW > Student Guide > Course Catalog 

Instructor Class Description

Time Schedule:

Lynn Hankinson Nelson
PHIL 160
Seattle Campus

Why Do We Believe in Quarks, Evolution, and Other Crazy Things? Perspectives on Science, Reason, and Reality

Study of how scientific theories are justified and why they are accepted, using selected examples from the history of science.

Class description

As the sub-title of the course suggests ("Why do we believe in quarks, evolution, and other crazy things?"), a central focus of research in philosophy of science concerns /science and evidence/: What is the nature, and what are the strengths and/or weaknesses, of the evidence that supports scientific hypotheses, theories, methods, and research? Is certainty possible? Is it possible that many or all of the theories currently accepted in the sciences will be replaced in the future by theories thought to be better? What is the evidence for unobservable objects (sub-atomic particles) and unobservable events (e.g., geological or evolutionary or cosmological events that occurred in the past)? How we answer these and related questions shape our understanding of scientific objectivity, scientific methods, what (if anything) distinguishes science from other sets of practices or institutions (e.g., literary theory, classics, politics, religion and so forth), and the way we view science's cognitive authority. To explore them, this course uses examples from historical and contemporary science, and accounts offered by scientists and philosophers of what science is, in what respects it is successful, the limits of its success, and related topics. [Optional writing credit & linked with ENGL 198K.] TEXT: "Why Do We Believe in Quarks?", McGraw-Hill.

Student learning goals

General method of instruction

Lectures and discussion sections. Lectures include content that extends and further develops course readings, films, current science news relevant to course topics, examples to illustrate positions advocated in course readings... and, when appropriate, laughter. Material covered in lectures and discussion sections (which often overlap but are not the same as one another and extend the material covered in the readings) is required and will be reflected in tests and formal paper assignments.

Recommended preparation

No formal background in philosophy or a science is required for this course but good study habits are a must. Students should be prepared to read assignments before lecture (as lectures will presuppose this), to look up words they don't recognize, to ask questions, to pose challenges to positions considered (offered by anyone, including the professor), and to have an open mind to positions that are unfamiliar or with which they disagree. For many readings, you will need to plan on a second reading after lecture and discussion section.

Class assignments and grading

Three short answer/multiple choice tests. Two short essays. On-line worksheets (for extra credit but highly recommended as an aid). Pop quizzes. On-line quizzes for selected lectures. There will NOT be a final test.

All of the assignments, plus attendance and participation (both are required and you will lose points for missed lectures or discussion sections).


The information above is intended to be helpful in choosing courses. Because the instructor may further develop his/her plans for this course, its characteristics are subject to change without notice. In most cases, the official course syllabus will be distributed on the first day of class.
Last Update by Annette R. Bernier
Date: 06/05/2013