Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

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Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby hyksos on November 29th, 2017, 12:49 pm 

Should contemporary universities offer several semesters of "Nat"?
A semester of "Nat" would be courses whose listing is Naturalism 105 and Naturalism 115 (and so on).

The reason I ask is because you have basically grown adults who leave a university with a degree in their hands, who still believe that the age of the Earth is some contentious topic in science. Grown adults with college degrees who walk around thinking that there is a huge body of evidence for supernatural powers, paranormal psychic powers, and UFOs. That evidence for such things is (somehow or another) actively suppressed by secular godless academics.

At this time, I do not see a reason to have 2 semesters of 'Nat' be required for a degree. First and foremost, I am rather bothered that no universities even seem to offer such courses at all.

Your thoughts?
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 29th, 2017, 1:19 pm 

First and foremost, I am rather bothered that no universities even seem to offer such courses at all.


Yeah, disturbing stuff :(

I think the option should be available at ALL universities. To be honest I would push further and insist that students attend a basic class that teaches the principles of scientific methodology and research. After that then offer optional courses that intrigued students can choose to follow up on.

I would also like to see this in other areas too. I am not suggesting all students must know how to paint, put together a computer or recite passages from the Quran. Just that there should be at least a basic requirement for students to expose themselves to numerous courses in the first year to get a handle on other subject areas they may have been dismissive of previously.

It seems to me the first year at university should be about expanding horizons and getting ready to plunge into more specialized areas.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby hyksos on November 29th, 2017, 2:03 pm 

BadgerJelly » November 29th, 2017, 9:19 pm wrote:To be honest I would push further and insist that students attend a basic class that teaches the principles of scientific methodology and research.

I have some ideas about a plausible curriculum for a two-semester tract in Naturalism. Your suggestion about principles of science methods would actually fit in the second semester, rather than the first.

The first semester would concentrate almost completely on the evidence collected for the following : evolution of species, the age of the earth, the formation of the solar system, and the age of the universe, the number of stars, number of galaxies, the basic size of the observable universe, and so on.

Why a concentration on evidence here? Well, exposure to Carl Sagan and PBS Nova invariably only tells the viewer the conclusions of science , to the complete exclusion of the evidence that backs it up. We have a situation where the earth is 4.5 billion years old, "because that's what Sagan said." PBS Nova series have beautiful computer graphics of the stars and planets, but only deliver the conclusions about solar system formation, completely leaving out the evidence that backs up the theories.

The student should leave the first semester with a clear understanding of these following items :
  • Darwin formulated the theory of Natural Selection in order to resolve a problem of species-versus-varieties that was plaguing victorian biology. I.e. he did not formulate the theory to contradict the bible, or give a "fairy tale for adults".
  • The age of the earth is not a wobbly estimate given only by nuclear properties in some rocks collected from Scotland. The age of the earth has a wide, harmonious , and cross-corroborated bodies of evidence that lay across multiple disciplines. Including radioactive dating, ice cores, and geology.
  • The Ice Ages have a body of evidence that support them, and a very strong coherent theory of Milankovitch Cycles. (in other words, we know what causes the Ice Ages, not merelyt that they "happen and we dont know why")
  • There are 200 billion stars in the milky way, and the density of galaxies is given in the sky. Science has evidence for about (now 2000) extra-solar planets. The course material should concentrate on the evidence of those planets, not the conclusions.
  • Every animal , plant, bacterium, bird, insect, and fungus on planet earth uses DNA to transmit traits. Every. Single. One. (Only a few viruses use RNA -- a fact that need not be repeated on the midterm necessarily).

In any case, the first semester of 'Nat' would be a heavy exposure to evidence about the world around us; the life, the earth, and the larger universe. It really is a tragedy that no such courses exist in uni curricula.

In my next post, I will list what the second semester of 'Nat' will cover in terms of material. (Naturalism 195 lets say)
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 29th, 2017, 11:15 pm 

A bit removed in time for me but I will make three points:

1) I remember in several "main stream" universities of various sizes that there were some "science for non-science" courses, usually offered in second or third year for non-science students who needed some kind of science credits but were not able to take main stream science courses because they were not enrolled in science programs and/or didn't have the math prerequisites. I actually would sit in some of these, time permitting, and they included astronomy and astrophysics, plate tectonics, vertibrate palaeontology, and evoltuon. I even taught some "frauds, myths and mysteries in archaeology". There are usually also courses in science and pseudo science in philosophy plus things like informal logic (aka looking at logical fallacies, poor arguments, etc.) and some of this stuff comes up in main stream biological anthropology (i.s., human evolution) which is generally open to any student who wants to take it and most of the class even up to second or third year is often students from other disciplines taking it as an option. So I do suspect that these kinds of courses are indeed offered at main stream real universities. No promises, though, for Trump University or Oral Roberts University.

2) There is the question of instructor fatigue, sadly. I know from teaching human evolution and evolutionary theory there was a time when you used to get some knuckle heads always trying to raise a bit of a fuss early in September but granted I don't remember that being a really big or regular issue beyond the 1980's (it died out up here). But whacky archaeology myths did spring up more in the electronic age with some of the crap that was on the web and things like "Forbidden Archaeology" (I think it was called). I know I spent some time talking about von Danniken (sic) stuff, the archaeology of "Giants", flood myths, aliens, sasquatch, etc. But frankly I simply got tired of spending so much time on this stuff and not enough on the more interesting, serious stuff that I didn't want to get bogged down and stuck with this wacky stuff when I could be spending my time on more serious pursuits. This stuff just doesn't die and after a while you end up wondering how these people get into universities in the first place. And I know many faculty members will say the same thing. (This is very much related to why many professors don't even like teaching first year or in some cases undergrad stuff at all - you just want to focus on cutting edge research stuff with grad students. Under grad can become too "high school".)

3) Sadly, when universities become so dependent on tuition, the focus can become on teaching whatever students will pay for. So there can be a shift towards teaching more sensational stuff that brings in a lot of students willing to pay to hear anything they like and not hear stuff that is hard or often too controversial. That in turn leads to pressure to hire people who don't want their more fringy topics undermined. Related here are, in fact, some of the contriversies out there even on what exactly science is and is all about. For some of that, see a million and an half threads already here that often get deemed too controversial even for this kind of semi-open web site.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby hyksos on November 29th, 2017, 11:33 pm 

This stuff just doesn't die and after a while you end up wondering how these people get into universities in the first place. And I know many faculty members will say the same thing. (This is very much related to why many professors don't even like teaching first year or in some cases undergrad stuff at all - you just want to focus on cutting edge research stuff with grad students. Under grad can become too "high school".)

Yes there is this complaint about the students themselves, which I sort of mentioned before. They get out of college, degree-in-hand thinking the age of the earth is contentious or wobbly. But in addition to that, there is this problem where I myself feel a little bit robbed. I could make a laundry list of all the stuff I learned about the world, after having left the university. Years later. Time and again I found myself saying, "Why was I never told this factoid in college?"

Science courses reduced to ramming students through homework problems, so they can cover 6 chapters and work a midterm.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby hyksos on November 30th, 2017, 12:09 am 

So back to the tentative curriculum I was cooking up. The first semester concentrates on all the basic facts about the world, heavily skewed towards evidence. Evidence which is sorely missing and left out of the nexus of Sagan, Nye, Degrasse-Tyson, PBS Nova.

The main separation line between Naturalism 190 and Naturalism 195 is that 190 is about facts, and 195 is about the "theory" of Naturalism, as a philosophical and historical trend.

Naturalism is part of an intellectual tradition that arguably has existed for 600 years, starting roughly around the Renaissance in Italy. Naturalism is not a crazy idea cooked up by a tiny circle of French radicals who met at cafes in the 1870s. It is not some kind of "radical atheist ideology" promulgated by a tiny circle of people who travel with Richard Dawkins.

The course material will borrow heavily from the material presented in the subsequent paragraphs here, which were copied directly from plato.stanford.edu encyclopedia.

(1) The “mechanical philosophers” of the early seventeenth century held that any material body maintains a constant velocity unless acted on, and moreover held that all action is due to impact between one material particle and another. So stated, the mechanical philosophy immediately precludes anything except impacting material particles from producing physical effects. Leibniz saw this clearly, and concluded that it discredited Descartes’ interactive dualism, which had a non-material mind influencing the physical world (Woolhouse 1985). (Of course, Leibniz did not therewith reject dualism and embrace the physicalist view that minds are composed of material particles, but instead opted for “pre-established harmony”. Views which avoid ontological naturalistic views of the mind by denying that it has any physical effects will be discussed further in section 1.6 below.)

(2) At the end of the seventeenth century Newtonian physics replaced the mechanical philosophy of Descartes and Leibniz. This reinstated the possibility of interactive dualism, since it allowed disembodied forces as well as impacts to cause physical effects. Newtonian physics was open-ended about the kinds of forces that exist. Early Newtonians posited fundamental mental and vital forces alongside magnetic, chemical, cohesive, gravitational and impact forces. Accordingly, they took sui generis mental action in the material world to be perfectly consistent with the principle of physics. Moreover, there is nothing in the original principles of Newtonian mechanics to stop mental forces arising autonomously and spontaneously, in line with common assumptions about the operation of the mind (Papineau 2002: Appendix Section 3).

(3) In the middle of the nineteenth century the conservation of kinetic plus potential energy came to be accepted as a basic principle of physics (Elkana 1974). In itself this does not rule out fundamental mental or vital forces, for there is no reason why such forces should not be “conservative”, operating in such a way as to compensate losses of kinetic energy by gains in potential energy and vice versa. (The term “nervous energy” is a relic of the widespread late nineteenth-century assumption that mental processes store up a species of potential energy that is then released in action.) However, the conservation of energy does imply that any such special forces must be governed by strict deterministic laws: if mental or vital forces arose spontaneously, then there would be nothing to ensure that they never led to energy increases.

(4) During the course of the twentieth century received scientific opinion became even more restrictive about possible causes of physical effects, and came to reject sui generis mental or vital causes, even of a law-governed and predictable kind. Detailed physiological research, especially into nerve cells, gave no indication of any physical effects that cannot be explained in terms of basic physical forces that also occur outside living bodies. By the middle of the twentieth century, belief in sui generis mental or vital forces had become a minority view. This led to the widespread acceptance of the doctrine now known as the “causal closure” or the “causal completeness of the physical”, according to which all physical effects have fully physical causes.

The story can be 'rounded out' with a short digression into James Randy. Randy offered a huge monetary reward for any person who would come forward and demonstrate psychic and/or paranormal powers to scientists. The prize money was never collected.

There has been an underlying theme developing for six centuries. This theme has an arrow which has been pointing more and more towards a particular conclusion. The conclusion of Naturalism is Causal Closure. All observed physical phenomena in the universe have physical causes.

There are many different interpretations of what evolution does and how it operates. ("survival machines" of Dawkins. "Punctuated Equilibrium", eusociality, etc) Abiogenesis has never been observed, and there is a laundry list of competing hypothesese. However, none of the myriad interpretations suggest a challenge to the primary thesis of evolution : that living organisms on earth are the products of physical events in the past.

All subjects of this kind can be investigated in a deeper way. There is a body of evidence for NDEs. Naturalism is often challenged by arguments from the mind/body problem, and recent problems in consciousness. These challenges wouldn't be included in the course, since it's not naturalism.

The other thing would be whether these two aspects of the topic could be squeezed into a single semester, cut in half at the midterm. Hard to say.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 30th, 2017, 12:15 am 

hyksos wrote:But in addition to that, there is this problem where I myself feel a little bit robbed. I could make a laundry list of all the stuff I learned about the world, after having left the university. Years later. Time and again I found myself saying, "Why was I never told this factoid in college?"


Well personally I also find there was tons and tons of things I wished I could have taken in university but didn't have time for and I spent decades there and used to sit in on perhaps hundreds of lectures, etc., for courses I was never enrolled in. For years I would sit in a lecture for an hour or three because I found the prof and lecture was more interesting than an equivalent amount of time in front of a tv or listening to music. I remember in one of my convocations the speech included a line along the lines of that probably the most important thing you got from university was a reading list that would last your lifetime. Very true and I am a compulsive reader. I know I have more books right now than I will be able to read in my life (and I should have another 20 to 30 years, maybe more). And I am honestly thinking of taking another degree in a while new field and maybe another Master's or even Ph.D. Just for the hell of it. And why not? What do you think? Social work or Geology? Maybe general philosophy? Probably too late for an M.D. Law has some fascination but I think maybe too much of an applied trade that would require living in a city. Not much interest in art or languages, really. Or hanging out in a lab. But I could get into zoology. No... maybe social work.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby BioWizard on November 30th, 2017, 12:33 am 

Forest, I recently stumbled upon the cure for wanting to collect MSc.s and PhD.s. It’s called getting an MBA. Fixes you right up.

Disclaimer: I am joking (half) and I know you’re probably in a very different place altogether.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby Forest_Dump on November 30th, 2017, 12:57 am 

BioWizard wrote:Forest, I recently stumbled upon the cure for wanting to collect MSc.s and PhD.s. It’s called getting an MBA. Fixes you right up.

Disclaimer: I am joking (half) and I know you’re probably in a very different place altogether.


Could be. Collecting letters to me is kind of fun but along the lines of collecting stamps. And I am not looking for a job. Nor do I need any help doing research and publishing it (still doing that). But as Hyskos might be arguing, universities and pursuing degrees, etc., offer the chance to learn tons to cool stuff and a lot more efficiently than any other means. Whe is better than a real expert to tell you exactly what you really need to read on any particular subject and also engage you in challenging debate/discussion on exactly the relevant topics. I mention social work because where I am now there do happen to be a lot of people with genuine problems and it would be great to get a better idea on how to help them out. Its just one of those topics I never really got exposed to in academia and life in the ivory tower and wish I knew more about. Outside my research area(s) I still read as much as I want on the Ice Age, history and philosophy of science and evolution, history, classical literature, political philosophy, etc., etc. I can't keep up with that stuff either. But social problems are a real issue around me now.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby BadgerJelly on November 30th, 2017, 2:25 am 

Hyksos -

I have also pressed the matter before about scientists not being particularly active in political matters. I would think it extremely useful for people studying science to have to take on the flipside of this problem and take courses in basic global economics and politics. I truly believe that if more science students were introduced to these things then they'd be more capable spokes persons for issues about climate change who had a realistic grasp of the socio-economic problems involved. AND be more able to reach the ear of the less scientifically minded public.

I have been hearing a number of complaints coming out of universities over the past few years about the issue of free speech with "safe spaces" being proposed and accusations flying around about the most trivial matters. It seems obvious to me to equip students in their first year with a balanced means to approach problems and encourage discussions and measured debates rather than heated rhetoric and emotional attacks on those they disagree with.

AND I would say that you are correct about evidence. I would add that presenting how evidence is gathered and presented is a major issue in society today (especially in the political sphere.) Pretty much anyone can go online grab some stat and use it to back up their position (often falsely). An understanding of the use of statistics and the limitations of interpretation would be extraordinarily useful across the board - frankly it has gotten to the point where if I see a statistic presented I suspect foul-play, or simply selective interpretation.
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Re: Should unis offer courses on Naturalism?

Postby BioWizard on November 30th, 2017, 8:41 am 

Forest,

I definitely get that. My latest was a degree in managment. I learned a lot and got some exposure to a ton of soft science - which I admit was mind numbing a lot of the time but still good for purposes of gaining perspective and exploring new things.

I’m at 5 graduate degrees now though, so I’m thinking I’m done with that - at least for now.
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