Course Information Sheet
 Honors314: Ideas in Conflict 20th Century
 AKA: How Darwin Changed our View of Human Nature

Instructor: Dr. Matt Rossano
Office: 213D White Hall
Office Hrs: MW 10-1; Tth 9-11
Phone: 549-5537 email:


(1) "The Medieval Christian Concept of Human Nature" from Visions of Human Nature by Donald Palmer. Mayfield Press, 2000.
(2) "The Darwinian Conception of Human Nature" also from Visions.
(3) "Origin of Species" and "Decent of Man" by Charles Darwin, from Human Nature: Lynchburg College Symposium Readings, J.L. Nelson, editor. University Press of America, 1997.
(4) "The Atheistic Existential Conception of Human Nature, from Visions.
(5) "Existentialism" by Jean-Paul Sartre from Human Nature
(6) For the New Intellectual by Ayn Rand (chapter 1). Random House, 1961.
(7) The Thanatos Syndrom by Walker Percy. Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1987
(8) The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1989) Oxford University Press.
(9) Walking the Bible by Bruce Feiler (2001) William Morrow

Course overview and objectives: Short answer: to better understand and appreciate how Darwinian evolution has changed our view of what it means to be human. Longer answer: Over 2,000 years ago Aristotle constructed the Scala Naturae, a hierarchy of natural life forms. Humans, of course, were placed atop the heirarchy. To the Greek philosophers and their Medieval followers, there seemed little doubt that humanity was wholly distinct from Earth's other beasts.
Thomas Aquinas, over 1,000 years after Aristotle, concurred with the great Philosopher, placing humans above all other animals and just below the angels in his Great Chain of Being. Having been endowed with a rational soul, unparalleled intelligence, and language, humans seemed unquestionably distinct and unique among earthly creatures. Surely we were created as the Scripture claimed, "in the image and likeness of God." And few seriously doubted that until 1859, when Darwin published The Origin of Species. Suddenly there was no hierarchy, no grand design to the universe, no real distinction between humans and other animals, and quite possibly no God in whose image and likeness we were created. So how did humanity take Darwin's rather humbling news? That's what we will try to figure out over the next 15 weeks.

 Grades: Course grades are based on six things: three tests, one paper, performance as in-class discussion leader, and a final. The dates for the tests and final, and due dates for the papers are noted on the course outline. Each test will be worth 50 points (150pts total); the paper will be worth 50 points, leading discussions will be worth a total of 50 points, and the final will be worth 100 points. Thus, there will be a grand total of 350 points possible. I grade on a relative scale based on the points achieved by students. At the end of the semester I will total up the points that each student has received across all five items.  The student with the most points, wins! (i.e. is assured of an A).  I then take 93% of that top score, and all students with at least 93% of the top score also get A's.  I then take 85% of that top score and all students with at least 85% of the top score get B's; and so on using 78% for C's and 70% for D's.  The bottom line is that you must get at least 70% of the top score in order to pass. Because the grade scale is based on student performance I honestly don't know how many points are necessary to pass or to get an A or any of those things until after the final when all the points are in. Even so, there is a fairly accurate way to keep track of how you are doing in the class.  After each test and quiz I will post the class distribution of scores noting the top score.  Write down your score and the top score.  Keep a running track of these scores throughout the semester.  At any time you can take your point total and divide it by the top point total.  This will yeild a proportion.  Compare that proportion to the grade scale cited earlier. This is your grade so far in the class.  It is your responsibility to keep track of your grade, not mine.  You have all the information neccessary to know how you are doing, so don't ask me about your grade!

Tests: As mentioned before, there will be three tests and a final. The tests and final will be all essay in nature. I will provide a set of about 6-10 questions covering the to-be-tested material, and five of them will be on test. The tests will not be cumlative, however, the final will be. I'll use the same format on the final, only there will be about 30 questions or so to select from and you'll choose 5 of 8 or so to answer on the final. Since I am providing the test and final questions in advance I do expect clear, well-organized, and thoughtful answers, and the grades will reflect this expectation.

Make-up tests: If you miss a test you must either see me beforehand or promptly afterwards.  By "promptly" I mean by the next class meeting.  If I donot hear from you by the next class meeting immediately following the missed test, I will not allow you to take a make-up.  You may see me personally, or you may call, or you may leave a message for me at the main office or email (there is an answering machine there that will pickup even when the office is closed, my email is  I must hear from you, I donot "automatically" leave make-up tests for students.  If I approve, you will be allowed to take a make-up.  Make-ups are given by the department.  They take place on Fridays at around 3pm.  You must make arragnments to be there at that time to take the make-up, you cannot re-schedule or make-up a make-up.

Papers:  Papers must be at least 15 double-spaced pages and are due by Thurs. 5/2 2pm. There are many possibilities for paper topics. Nearly any of our topics in the first section can be explored more deeply (e.g. existentialism, objectivism, Darwinism). Furthermore, a range of topics dealing with human evolution, animal behavior, animal rights, genetics, human genome project, etc., could all serve as potentially good topics. Any topic related to the interaction of science and religion, such as biblical archeology, evolution and religion, creationist/evolutionist controversy, the itelligent design movement -- I have long list of recently published books on the science/religion dialogue and conflict which can be used. Depending upon your topic, I think at least 5 reference is a good rule of thumb, however, an indepth summary and critic of a single book might also be appropriate. Please consult with me as you formulate a topic and get my approval - you may also find that I can be helpful with some references as well.

 In-class discussion leaders: Although I love hearing myself talk, its important for students to hone their skills in preparing and presenting information before a group. Throughout the semester as we progress through the different readings, each student will be assigned as the "professor for the day," thus that person is in charge of presenting the major ideas, posing challenging questions, and initiating discussion relevant to whatever reading we are currently on. On the first day of class we will assign readings to each student. We will do our best to be fair - the number of performances that each person does should be roughly equal across students, and the total points possible for each person will be 50. I will grade each performance separately on a ten point scale. Since we must move along at a efficient rate, each presentation should concentrate on the key questions posed at the begining of each section on the course outline. At this point I'm not opposed to someone doing "extra" performances if those opportunities present themselves.

Disabled students: If you are a qualified student with a disablility seeking accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, you are required to self-identify with the Office of Student Life, Room 203, Student Union.

Attendance: I do take attendance for every class as is required by University policy.  However, do not count on me to drop you for non-attendance.  It is the responsibility of the student to drop this class if it is his/her desire to do so.

In class behavior: any behavior that inhibits the ability of the instructor to teach or fellow students to benefit from that instruction will not be tolerated.  Therefore no uncivil or disruptive behavior will be permitted in class.  Furthermore, no beepers, cell phones, or other noise-making electronic devices may be brought to class unless prior approval has been given by the instructor.

Withdraw dates:
2/28: first half semester classes
3/22: regular class withdraw deadline
4/29 second half semester classes

 Course Outline

Section 1: Key Questions: What is X? How is it different from Y? How does X envision humans? Where do we come from? Where are our unique attributes? What is our purpose/task?
Date Reading Topic      Presenter
1/15 none   class info Dr. Rossano
1/17 1   Medieval view of human nature Dr. Rossano
1/22 2 & 3   Darwinian view of human nature
1/24 4&5   Existentialism
1/29 6   Objectivism
1/31 6   Objectivism (same person)

2/5 Test 1 (Medievals, Darwin, Existenialism, Objectivism)

Section 2: Thanatos Syndrom Key Questions: Characters? Events? Places? What's New? Insights?
Date Reading Topic Presenter
2/7 7 to 64   Thanatos Syndrom
2/14 7 to 107 Thanatos Syndrom
2/19 7  to 133 Thanatos Syndrom
2/21 7  to 186 Thanatos Syndrom
2/26 7 to 239 Thanatos Syndrom
2/28 7  to 283 Thanatos Syndrom
3/5 7  to 325 Thanatos Syndrom
3/7 7 to end Thanatos Syndrom

3/12    Test 2 Thanatos Syndrom

Section 3: Selfish Gene. Key Questions: What is the major theme or point of each chapter (Italized terms are important here, define them, understand them, give examples). What evidence is used to support that theme? What does this imply about humans?
Date Reading Topic Presenter
3/14 8 (ch 1&2) People  Replicators
3/19 8 (4&5)   Machines  Aggression
3/21 8 (6&7)    Games  Family Planning
3/26 8  (8&9)   Kids and Sex
3/28 8 (10&11) Reciprocity  Memes

 4/9  Test 3 Selfish Gene

Section 4:Walking the Bible. Key Questions: Where are we (both geographically and Biblically)? Who are the characters? How are we (and the author) to understand the significance of this place and biblical account assoicated with it?
Date Reading Topic Presenter
4/11 9 B1 1-2 Patriarchs
4/16 9 B1 3&  B2 1 Joseph
4/18 9 B2 2-3 Exodus
4/23 9 B3 1-2 Wilderness
4/25 9 B3 3& B4 1 Wandering
4/30   9 B4 2-3 Wandering some more
5/2 9 B4 3& B4 1 War and Conquest
5/7 B4 2-3   Promised Land
5/9 B4 2-3   Promised Land

Ruse Lecture is 4/23 class may be cancelled, have to wait and see. If so, everything may get pushed back a week. Stay tuned.

The final exam is: Weds., May 15 at 12:30 (Walking Bible + Everything Else)