Philosophy of Scientific Inquiry: Evolutionary Theory

NYU – Steinhardt School of Education

Fall 2004

Instructor: Matthew Linck

Course Description and Objectives

Our task in this class will be four-fold. First, despite its radical nature, evolutionary theory, like any set of ideas, exists within a continuum of the history of thought. We will thus look at the sets of problems and ideas out of which Darwin’s work emerged. To a great extent we will see that Darwin was truly able to answer many longstanding questions. Second, we will endeavor to explicate in detail the basic components of evolutionary theory. Despite some ongoing disputes, there is a great consensus over most of what has been established in evolutionary biology, and remarkably, most of it strictly adheres to Darwin’s claims in The Origin of Species. Third, we will probe some of the more abstract aspects of evolutionary theory and its implications for our own self-understanding. Lastly, in order to bring this detailed work to bear upon current issues, we will look at some work by proponents of “intelligent design.” These proponents represent the latest, and perhaps most sophisticated, of contemporary creationists. We will work to understand the thrust behind their ideas (or perhaps, their strategy of critique) and examine some critical responses that have been levied.

Required Texts

Darwin, ed. Philip Appleman (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001)

Ernst Mayr, Toward a New Philosophy of Biology (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 1988)

Daniel Dennett, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995)

Jonathan Weiner, The Beak of the Finch (New York: Vintage, 1995)

Optional Text

Edward Larson, Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory (New York: Modern Library, 2004)

Course Requirements

This class will be conducted principally through discussions of the readings. Two to three students will be responsible for presenting a portion of the readings each week. These presentations should be brief (about 10 minutes), highlighting the main points and raising possible questions for discussion. All students should be prepared to contribute to the discussion during each class session. While our main goal will be to digest the assigned readings, lines of discussion relevant to your larger studies are welcomed and encouraged.

In addition, a 15 – 20 page paper will be required at the end of the semester. We will discuss the nature of these papers more extensively at a later date.




Course Introduction


Appleman :

William Paley, Natural Theology

Jean Baptiste Lamark, Zoological Philosophy

Charles Lyell, Principle of Geology

John Herschel, The Study of Natural Philosophy

William Whewell, Astronomy and General Physics

Mayr : Chapters 1 & 3

Dennett : Chapter 1

* Larson: Chapters 1 & 2


Appleman :

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species , Introduction & Chapters I–III

Mayr : Chapter 14

* Larson: Chapter 3


Appleman :

Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species , Chapters IV, VI, IX, XIII, XIV

Mayr : Chapter 6

* Larson: Chapter 4


Dennett : Chapters 2 & 3

Weiner : Chapters 1–3


Dennett : Chapter 4–6

Weiner : Chapters 4–7


Mayr, What Evolution Is , Part II (handout)

* Larson: Chapters 5 & 6


Dennett : Chapter 7

Weiner : Chapters 8–11

* Larson: Chapter 7


Dennett : Chapter 8

Weiner : Chapters 12–14

* Larson: Chapter 8


Dennett : Chapter 9

Mayr : Chapter 8

* Larson: Chapter 9


Mayr : Chapters 19, 20, 23, 26

Weiner : Chapters 15–20

* Larson: Chapter 10


Appleman :

Thomas Henry Huxley, “Evolution and Ethics” (p. 501)

Julian Huxley, “Evolutionary Ethics” (p. 503)

Michael Ruse and Edward O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics” (p. 507)

Frans de Waal, “Good Natured: The Origin of Right and Wrong . . .” (p. 511)

Matt Ridley, “The Origins of Virtue” (p. 517)


Mayr, What Evolution Is , Ch. 11, “How Did Mankind Evolve?”

* Larson: Chapter 11



Phillip E. Johnson, “Evolution as Dogma: The Establishment of Naturalism”

Robert T. Pennock, “Naturalism, Evidence, and Creationism: The Case of Phillip Johnson”

Phillip E. Johnson, “Response to Pennock”

Robert T. Pennock, “Reply: Johnson’s Reason is the Balance

Appleman :

Michael Ruse, “Darwinian Epistemology” (p. 493)

* Larson: Chapter 12



Michael J. Behe, “Molecular Machines: Experimental Support for the Design Inference”

Philip Kitcher, “Born Again Creationism”

Matthew J. Brauer and Daniel R. Brumbaugh, “Biology Remystified: The Scientific Claims of the New Creationists”