PHIL 125: Philosophy of Science syllabus, Spring 2017

Course Description

PHIL 125. Philosophy of Science. Study of the philosophical problems that arise in the sciences: the nature of scientific reasoning, the limits and styles of explanation, identifying pseudoscience, values in science, unity and diversity of the sciences, and science's impact on our world-view. Course satisfies Area B5 GE requirements. Units: 3.0

For General Education Area B5 Student Learning Outcomes, see the schedule below and the expanded description of specific objectives at the end of this syllabus. Philosophy Department General Education Courses listed here.

This is the login page for SacCT: If you have questions about SacCT or need technical help, click on "student resources" on that page for further information.

Required course materials:

  1. Online readings, handouts and links to videos available at
  2. Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (2002) by Samir Okasha, digital version appx. $7 at, there is also an audible version of this text.
  3. Science and Religion: Are They Compatible? (2010) by Daniel Dennett and Alvin Plantinga, paperback appx. $11 at
  4. There is also a Blog for this course, find the link to it in SacCT and check it regularly to see what is happening.
  5. YouTube page with some of the videos we discuss in this course:
dates topic/reading = what you need to be familiar with
Jan 23 - Feb 1

1. Why do people respect and distrust science?

  • Chapter 7 in Okasha text: Science and its critics
  • Handout 1 in SacCT under "Assigned Readings": Read sections 1 - 7
  • Begin the Self-Study Assignment on Intelligent Design and Evolution in SacCT
  • Find links to videos and their due dates in SacCT under "Study Questions"
  • Learning Outcome (LO) aims for these weeks: 1.3, 3.4
  • The first in-class essay test is on 1 February 2017

Feb 1 - 13

2. Why are most scientists and physicians so negative about alternative medicine?

  • Chapter 1 in Okasha text: What is science?
  • Handout 1 in SacCT: Read sections 8 - 11
  • Nature of Science tutorial (UCB)
  • Video: The Alternative Fix
  • Learning Outcome (LO) aims for these weeks: 5.1-5.3, 6.1-6.3

Feb 13 - 27

3. What standards and hierarchies of evidence do scientists use?

  • Chapter 2 in Okasha text: Scientific reasoning
  • Handout 1 in SacCT: Read sections 12 - 17
  • LO aims: 1.1, 1.2, 5.1-5.4, 6.1-6.3
  • The second in-class essay test is on 22 Februrary 2017


TEST 1: Online in SacCT

Opens: Monday 27 February 2017 at 11 am
Closes: Wednesday 1 March 2017 at 11 pm

Feb 27 - Mar 6

4. Isn't truth relative to one's perspective?

  • Handout 2 in SacCT: Theories about Truth & Knowledge
  • Video: The Vaccine War
  • LO aims: 1.1, 1.2, 2.1-2.5, 3.4, 4.1-4.3

Mar 6 - Mar 15

5. What is scientific knowledge?

  • Handout 2 in SacCT: Problems with Anecdotal Evidence, Statistical and Cognitive Biases
  • LO aims: 1.1, 1.2, 2.1-2.5, 3.4, 4.1-4.3

Mar 20 - 24

Spring Recess - no class meetings

Mar 27 - Apr 10

6. What is the difference between science and non-science?

  • Handout 3 in SacCT: Deductivism, Classical Empricism, Inductivism
  • Read Hume, Ayer, Popper, Hempel excerpts in SacCT under "Assigned Readings, etc."
  • LO aims: 1.3, 2.2, 2.7, 3.4, 5.1 - 5.3
  • The third in-class essay test is on 29 March 2017

Apr 10 - 17

7. How does scientific reasoning work?

  • Handout 3 in SacCT: Logical Empiricism, Positivism
  • complete the online Self-Study Assignment
  • Video: The Witches Curse
  • LO aims: 1.3, 2.2, 2.7, 3.4, 5.1-5.4


TEST 2: Online in SacCT

Opens: Monday 10 April 2017 at 11 am
Closes: Wednesday 12 April 2017 at 11 pm

Apr 17 - 24

8. Does science describe reality?

  • Chapter 4 in Okasha text: Realism and Anti-Realism
  • Handout 4: What do Scientific Theories do?
  • Video: Great Transformations
  • LO aims: 1.3, 2.1, 2.5, 3.3, 3.5, 6.4, 6.5
  • The fourth in-class essay test is on 26 April 2017

Apr 24 - May 1

9. How do scientific explanations work?

  • Chapter 3 in Okasha text: Explanation in science
  • Handout 5: Reasoning about Cause and Effect
  • Video: Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial
  • LO aims: 2.4, 3.1-3.5, 6.4

May 1 - May 8

10. What makes a theory scientific and what makes a scientific theory good?

  • Chapters 5 & 6 in Okasha text
  • Handout 6
  • Video: Darwin's Dangerous Idea (excerpts)
  • LO aims: 4.1-4.3, 5.1-5.4
  • The fifth in-class essay test is on 8 May 2017

May 8 - 10

11. Are science and religion compatible?

  • Read Chs. 1 - 6 in Dennett, Plantinga text
  • Naturalism vs. Supernaturalism: In what ways do the scientific worldview and the religious worldview conflict?
  • LO aims: 1.3, 2.7, 3.1-3.5, 6.4, 6.5

finals week

TEST 3: Online in SacCT

Opens: Monday 15 May 2017 at 11 am
Closes: Wednesday 17 May 2017 at 11 pm


Assignments, Grades and Attendance

8 Assignments: 5 in-class essays (12 pts. each) plus 3 online tests in SacCT (13 pts. each)

this score corresponds
< 3
to this letter-grade
C -
C +
B -
B +
A -



How do I determine your overall course grade? I add the scores you earn on all of the tests, then assign the final letter-grade based on my grading scale. For instance, if you earn a total of 84 points, then you receive a B for the course. Since rounding introduces error, I do not round scores up or down.

this total number of
points at the end of the course corresponds
< 45
95 +
to this letter-grade
D -
D +
C -
C +
B -
B +
A -



Attendance is mandatory. If you miss a meeting, then you will probably miss something important, for instance, meetings will have an in-class test or a video or a discussion containing material you are responsibe for and will be tested on. Visit me in my office or meet with others in the class for what content you missed. Please try not to be late to class, but it is better to come to class late than not to come to class at all.

Laptops, iPads are permissible, but please refrain from using them in ways which distract fellow students. Please, no eating or texting during class meetings, if you distract us, then you will be dismissed.

How does one succeed in this course? I recommend that you read assigned material before the class meets, don't skip class or tests, and never hesitate to ask me questions.


Services to CSUS Students with Disabilities

If you have a disability and require accommodations such as the use of assistive technology, you need to provide me with your official documentation from Services to Students with Disabilities (SSWD), which is in Lassen Hall 1008, (916) 278-6955. Please discuss accommodation needs with me ASAP during my office hours or by appt. early in the semester so that we may make a plan to help you out. To apply for SSWD services, start here:

SSWD at Sacramento State offers a wide range of support services and accommodations for students in order to ensure students with disabilities have equal access and opportunity to pursue their educational goals. The Assistive Technology Act of 2004 defines an assistive technology device in the following way: “…any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.” (29 U.S.C. Sec 2202(2))

If you are registered with SSWD and require the use of the Campus Testing Center in 2302 Lassen Hall, then for any in-class test or test, you will need to complete a Testing with Accommodations Instruction Form to give to your instructor, so that we can make a testing schedule.


CSUS Policies and Procedures Regarding Academic Honesty

Review all academic responsibilities, definitions, sanctions and rights described herein. Students may work together on homework but each student must submit their own answers on each of their tests. Sharing or copying answers on tests is cheating, which is dishonest and violates campus codes of conduct.


More about the specific web-assisted nature of this course - eLearning

This web-assisted course includes both online and face-to-face activities. Online texts, articles, handouts, videos, tutorials, and graded tests are part and parcel of any online/hybrid/web-assisted course. For example, in this course, students will use a university or personal computer, laptops, tablets, or smartphones as tools to access course content. On a regular basis students complete online-only learning activities such as submitting graded writing assignments and SacCT assessments. Doing so may require the use of SacCT/Blackboard, clickers, a commercial portal such as a textbook publisher’s website, GoogleDocs or another publicly available website, a website (not SacCT) set-up by the instructor, and sometimes content from relevant online course material outside of Sacramento State.


Learning Outcome objectives for students in this course and how they are accomplished

1. Students will define basic theoretical terms used in science and philosophy. E.g.,

  1. Through the readings and discussions, students will understand the precise, technical senses of key terms such as 'hypothesis' and 'theory' in science, which depend upon clear definitions of 'truth' and 'justification' and 'knowledge' drawn from philosophy.
  2. Students will learn that the notion of "scientific proof" needs to be clarified in ordinary language, since it is either incoherent or self-contradictory. Loose, popular senses of these terms are vague and thus useless for making practical, mature decisions about whether to believe what scientists tell us.
  3. Also, in order to undertand the workings, goals, successes and limits of science, students must become familiar with one big scientific theory by interacting with the introductory, online Evolution 101 tutorial produced by the University of California Museum of Paleontology, Berkeley, and the Regents of the University of California. This tutorial and also videos and study questions posted online in this course constitute a learning module/self-study unit which all students must complete within the first half of the course. We discuss its content and implications throughout the course.

2. Students will distinguish various philosophical concepts, scientific theories and theoretical positions inn their essays and tests.

  1. E.g., students must understand the significance of relativism and absolutism about truth for science.
  2. We discuss philosophical resolutions to the problem of discerning science from non-science (the demarcation problem).
  3. Students learn how to distinguish accuracy from precision in measurement, they will be able to say whether a test is valid or invalid, reliable or unreliable. Students will judge hypotheses as credible vs. incredible, verifiable or falsifiable, and apply this understanding to actual claims and cases in the literature in each class meeting.
  4. Students will learn why exactly correlation is required for causation but that correlation is not sufficient for causation.
  5. Students compare and contrast realism and non-realism about the aims and outcomes of science.
  6. Students will learn how to separate good science from bad science, and also understand the difference between believing and accepting a hypothesis.
  7. Since science has more rigorous standards of evidence than do journalism and courts of law, students will become familiar with standard criteria that scientists want satisfied before accepting any specific claim or hypothesis or theory.

3. Students will analyse specific scientific arguments and explanations for consistency and credibility.

  1. Understanding the difference between arguments and explanations is a crucial but rare skill; students will learn how to tell the difference and how to evaluate each sort of rationale appropriately.
  2. Students will be able to construct and criticize justifications for specific claims that people make (scientists and non-scientists alike). They will do this this by using logical inference patterns (deduction and induction) and scientific methods (such as literature searches and the randomized, controlled trial).
  3. Students also learn how to assess explanations of phenomena using empirical data, statistics, testable predictions, and alternative hypotheses.
  4. In particular, students will examine arguments for and against opinions about current controversies concerning the safety of vaccines and genetically modified organisms, the causes of global climate change, and also causes of apparent design, complexity and diversity in nature.
  5. Students and the instructor juxtapose the virtues and limits of evolutionary theory and intelligent design theory throughout the course.

4. Students cite critical observations, underlying assumptions and limits to explain and apply important models in the physical and life sciences.

  1. Students learn how to frame testable hypotheses about observable events in such a way that logical reasoning and controlled observations help us to accept tentatively that explanation which explains best.
  2. Throughout the course, students will be compelled to examine published research in peer-reviewed journals describing phenomena ranging from the efficacy and safety of herbal supplements to the unifying/explanatory power of evolutionary biology.
  3. Students will understand that the systematic lack of certainty in science, the use of probabilistic reasoning, the vulnerability of a null hypothesis to refutation, and the simplicity of theories that do not rely upon unobservables or supernatural forces are all strengths rather than weaknesses.

5. Students recognize evidence-based conclusions and form reasoned opinions about science-related matters of personal, public and ethical concern. E.g.,

  1. Students review actual experimental studies about the effectiveness of alternative medicine and learn why cohort studies are better than case reports and that both are inferior to systematic reviews and meta-analyses.
  2. Students will learn about the hierarchy of evidence in the life sciences and in particular learn about the significance of blinding and randomized controlled trials in biomedical science.
  3. Students will apply these evidence-standards to novel claims found in popular and scientific media and judge their quality.
  4. Students will find sources of scientific claims in the scientific literature, and cite references according to MLA or APA citation standards.

6. Students will enage in cogent and respectful discussion about historical and philosophical perspectives pertaining to the practice of science and medicine.

  1. Students learn how ancient and medieval philosophers asked basic questions about what the world was made of and how the cosmos worked but were not content with the answers of previous generations and cultures, and so set about finding out for themselves. We review and apply early methods of logical reasoning such as the Square of Opposition. The earliest thinkers spent much of their time examining, describing and explaining physical phenomena to whomever would listen and up until about 200 years ago anyone who did so with some success (that is, got others to agree with them) was called a natural philosopher. Science, as a product and process, is the intellectual progeny of philosophy. Modern scientists are empirical philosophers. In short, students understand that science as a public source of knowledge requires collective, controlled observations.
  2. Students understand why science is simultaneously respected and distrusted given that its findings are inconsistent with common-sense and traditonal beliefs.
  3. We discuss how ancient humoral theory of disease influenced the medieval idea of the four temperaments (choleric, melancholic, sanguine, and phlegmatic) and also popular chemical imbalance theories of behavior and the five-factor model of personality in modern psychology.
  4. Students examine and debate the persistent tension between religious and scientific perspectives on world-views and public policies. E.g., students learn why most scientists and philosophers believe that evidence-based reasoning and faith-based reasoning are incompatible: the former method requires a questioning, skeptical attitude (i.e. doubt) but the latter eschews it.
  5. Students will be able explain why religion is not science and why science is not a religion, and also contrast the merits and problems of incorporating non-science into science curricula.