New concentration unites science with humanities

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Alex Taylor, Contributing Writer

The University of Dallas recently announced the addition of a new concentration, the History and Philosophy of Science, to be coordinated by Assistant Professor of Philosophy Dr. Christopher Mirus.

The concentration was designed to attract science students, because it presents a broader look at their majors and the sciences from a liberal arts point of view, as well as humanities students who are interested in the sciences.

“The idea is to bring together the two wings of Constantin College, the sciences and the humanities, into a program that draws on and contributes to both of them,” Mirus said.

The concentration was formally proposed to the Constantin Curriculum Committee, chaired by Academic Dean Charles Eaker, in March 2011. At the end of the spring semester, the committee voted to recommend the concentration’s approval to the Faculty Senate. Two new courses were approved by the committee to further the concentration, history course Scientific Revolutions, to be taught by Associate Professor of History Dr. Charles Sullivan, and theology course Faith and Science, to be taught by Associate Professor of Theology Dr. John Norris. Both courses were taught in 2011 as special studies courses, and the professors reported that they were very rewarding to teach.

“Regarding the class, I would say that, except for the Scottish Enlightenment seminar that I offer every so often (and to a somewhat lesser extent my Introduction to Russian History and Culture), it was easily the most enjoyable and intellectually rewarding class that I’ve taught at the University of Dallas,” Sullivan said. “A good deal of the credit for that experience goes to the exceptional students I had in the class, both from the humanities and from the sciences.”

Senior history major Peter Raia said that Sullivan’s course was a unique offering in the history department, and presented him with a different learning experience than other classes he had taken at the university. The course had a large impact in shaping his historical interests, and he believes interdisciplinary courses like Scientific Revolutions are a good choice for science and humanities majors alike.

Philosophy professor Dr. Chirstopher Mirus lectures in his Philosophy of Being class.

“Whatever the major, it seems to me that a class like this has something to offer, whether it’s a window into the life of your favorite chemist, or a basic understanding of how the modern world came about,” Raia said. “To understand the modern world, you need a basic understanding of science, and it seems to me that it is best to gain that understanding through examining not just the scientific works of the modern world, but also the scientists themselves and the world in which they lived and worked.”

The program’s faculty stress both the interdisciplinary nature of the concentration as well as of the courses themselves. While the Scientific Revolutions class was taught from a historical background, several faculty members from the sciences were involved and volunteered to do experimental demonstrations related to the theories and scientists figuring prominently in the course. Sullivan suggested that the disciplines complemented each other in the class, and that the concentration promotes mutual exchange between the divisions of the university and of the intellectual world at large.

“I think this kind of dialogue is particularly useful in a contemporary context where there is a lot of mutual distrust between those who have been trained in the sciences and those who have been trained in the humanities,” Sullivan said. “It serves the important function of encouraging mutual understanding between the sciences and the humanities – a mutual understanding that the Vatican in particular has promoted.”

The concentration will require 15 hours of course work, with Philosophy of Science and Scientific Revolutions as required courses and the other three courses coming from a list of electives from the biology, economics, human sciences, mathematics, psychology, philosophy and theology departments. Sullivan plans to teach Scientific Revolutions again in the spring of 2013, and will likely offer it every two years.

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