Tag Archives: history

Past talk:
12:00 Friday, April 17                                                                                       WAG 316

“Replacing Paley: Natural Theology, Abolition, and the Prelude to Darwin in American Universities”

William Paley’s Natural Theology was a mainstay in the curriculum of many American universities in the first half of the nineteenth century. The book is primarily recalled today as the exemplar of an “argument from design” that was refuted by Darwin’s theory of natural selection, and is frequently cited in current debates about “intelligent design” and the teaching of evolution in American schools. The ways Paley’s argument is interpreted today is very different from how antebellum readers consumed. Of course, readers of Paley’s text in the 1830s-50s did not regard its primary message as a preemptive rebuttal of Darwin. In this talk, I want to examine the changing role of Paley’s works in American education in the first half of the nineteenth century. I will argue that reforms to the moral philosophy curriculum that were motivated by the abolition debates led to a reframing of natural theology and to reinterpretations of the relationship between natural religion and revealed religion. These trends helped to create a distinctly American reading of Paley by the time that Darwin’s Origin of Species was published, and helped to shape Darwinism’s reception in America.
 Shapiro - headshot

Dr. Shapiro is Lecturer in Intellectual and Cultural History at Birkbeck – University of London and author of Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools (Chicago, 2013). He recently gave an interview on “Darwinism and the Scopes ‘Monkey Trial'” for the UT History Department’s 15 Minute History Podcast.


Past talk:
12:00 Friday, April 10                                                                                       WAG 316

Richard Fitzpatrick

“Ptolemy’s Almagest: Fact and Fiction”

The modern world inherited two major scientific treatises from the civilization of Ancient Greece. The first of these, the Elements of Euclid, is a large compendium of mathematical theorems concerning geometry, proportion, and number theory. The Elements is rightly regarded as the first, largely successful, attempt to construct an axiomatic system in mathematics, and is still held in high esteem within the scientific community. The second treatise, the Almagest of Claudius Ptolemy, is an attempt to find a simple geometric explanation for the apparent motions of the sun, the moon, and the five visible planets in the earth’s sky. The scientific reputation of the Almagest has not fared as well as that of Euclid’s Elements. Nowadays, it is a commonly held belief, even amongst scientists, that Ptolemy’s mistaken adherence to the tenets of Aristotelian philosophy—in particular, the immovability of the earth, and the necessity for heavenly bodies to move uniformly in circles—led him to construct an overcomplicated, unwieldy, and faintly ridiculous model of planetary motion. The aim of this talk is to re-examine the scientific merits of the Almagest and to determine whether the aforementioned criticisms are fair.

UT Professor of Physics Fitzpatrick is author of several books, including Plasma Physics: An Introduction (2014) and a translation of Euclid’s Elements of Geometry (2007).