What is the Science Conversation?
The Science Conversation is a new general education program for sophomores, designed around an interdisciplinary exploration of science. Students who complete the yearlong program will earn HWC, BTS-T, HBS, SED or IST, and WRI general education credits. It is intended to attract a wide audience for rich, interdisciplinary discussions. We are currently seeking applications from a broad mix of students, from art appreciators to book lovers to science fans.
The Science Conversation brings together students and faculty with a broad range of academic interests for a critical exploration of science within its historical, cultural, and social contexts. The program will encourage a philosophically and theologically informed appreciation for the development of science, the relationship between reason and faith, questions of meaning and purpose, and the complex interplay of science and society. It is designed to illuminate the distinctive character of science and its relevance to the challenges facing our world.
This yearlong program for sophomores consists of three courses (fall, interim, and spring) and follows a ‘great books’ approach with seminar-style discussions. Primary texts by influential figures are read alongside secondary sources for analysis and overview. During the interim, students and faculty will make science come alive by performing hands-on laboratory experiments while considering their intellectual and historical significance. In a broader sense, the Science Conversation seeks to help reunite the sciences and humanities, viewing the scientific enterprise in the context of the liberal arts.
What is the intellectual motivation of this program?
The rise of modern science, and its tremendous success describing the cosmos as matter and mechanism, issued a significant challenge to traditional systems of value, meaning, and belief. Notions about God, creation, and human agency have remained centrally important in human life, but their relationship to scientific knowledge is uncertain or even problematic. One result has been an undesirable fragmentation of worldviews that is increasingly risky and counter-productive as the challenges facing humanity become ever more technical in character and global in reach.
Today, many students of the liberal arts seek to integrate their knowledge, experience, and beliefs within a coherent worldview that does not shy away from questions of ultimate meaning. Exploring big ideas, such as the origins of life, the significance of knowledge, and the nature of free will, requires an interdisciplinary approach. As the students of today develop into the citizens, scientists, and policy makers of tomorrow, they will face a wide array of contested issues and dramatic challenges, including the mitigation of climate change, management of population growth, development of sustainable energy, and the progress of genetic science and engineering. The Science Conversation is design to inspire students intellectually and prepare them to constructively engage with these important issues.
What will Science Conversation classes be like?
The courses are team taught and draw from many disciplines. Together they form an integrated yearlong sequence. The format is a “conversation”, with a stable cohort of 24 students from course to course and a focus on primary sources and discussion. During the January interim, a course in scientific experimentation provides rich, hands-on encounters with scientific inquiry, while revealing a wider perspective on science than is possible when considering just one discipline.
The teaching pair for each course will typically have one member from the sciences and one from the humanities, although other combinations are possible. In all cases, the teams will be drawn from different Faculties at the college. In this way, team teaching fosters a conversation among different perspectives, an essential feature of the Science Conversation.