Current Courses

Fall 2017

ASTR 1010: Introductory Astronomy: Stars & Galaxies (3 credit hours)

We will focus on answering the single question “What is the scientific basis for the claim by astronomers that the universe is 13.7 billion years old?”  Answering this question is the entire goal of this course. To answer this question, we will have to learn a great deal about stars and galaxies and about the physics of gravity and light.

The course goals, in rough order of importance, are:

  • to learn the ages of various things in the universe including the Sun, the stars in our galaxy, and the universe itself;
  • to understand the reasoning and the evidence that lead us to the conclusion that we live in a universe that is billions of years old;
  • to understand the process of science, and in particular astronomy as an observational and historical science rather than a strictly laboratory-based experimental science;
  • to understand that when astronomers look out to great distances, they are looking back in time; therefore, astronomers have access to information about the history of our universe;
  • to be able to solve basic quantitative and qualitative (logical/reasoning) problems in which, given some knowledge or data about astronomical objects, we can calculate or predict other properties or observations;
  • to gain an appreciation of the majesty and wonder of all the fascinating stars, galaxies, nebulae, and exotic objects that are in our universe, and to see that an understanding of them can increase their fascination and wonder for us.

Spring 2018

ASTR 2130 Theories of the Universe (3 credit hours)

catalog text: The interdependence of cosmological theories and religious teachings from the eighth century B.C.E. to the middle of the seventeenth century. Examines scientific works and religious texts, including those of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Copernicus, Luther, and Galileo.
expanded: This course is about the trial of Galileo Galilei by the Roman Inquisition (the Congregation of the Holy Office) in 1633. In order to understand why Galileo was on trial and to discuss and evaluate both the cases for the prosecution and for the defense, we must understand Galileo’s astronomy and why his astronomy was an issue for the Roman Catholic Church. To understand Galileo’s astronomy, we will review ideas in astronomy beginning with pre-history, and continuing with the Babylonians, the early and classical Greeks (including Plato and Aristotle) and Romans (Ptolemy), progress in the first millenium, debates in physics in the late Middle Ages, and the breakthrough ideas of Copernicus, Tycho, and Kepler in the 16th and 17th centuries. To understand the relationship between Galileo’s astronomy and early seventeenth century Roman Catholic theology, we must understand the Church’s position on science, which in 1633 was largely based on Aquinas’ interpretations of Aristotle and in part on Augustine’s Platonism. To understand the Aristotelian and Platonic underpinnings of medieval Catholic theology, we must examine the Aristotelian and Platonic roots themselves and follow their connections into physics and astronomy. Ultimately, this course is about astronomy, philosophy, theology, and epistemology.
Eligible for credit for Communication of Science and Technology major
Eligible for credit for History major
Eligible for credit for Religious Studies major

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