Cosmology and Philosophy

















Cosmology and Philosophy
Instructor: Gary Zabel
Office: 035/5th Floor of Wheatley
E-Mail Address:


This is the Golden Age of cosmology. Many scientific advances have converged in the 21st Century to make it so. Einstein's theory of general relativity provided physicists with the conceptual framework necessary to describe the spatial and temporal structure of the universe as a whole. Hubble's discovery of galactic redshift demonstrated that the cosmos is expanding, and that, if we "run the film backwards," we ultimately arrive at a moment when it began. That discovery resulted in the development of Big Bang Theory, which is now the dominant view of the origin of the universe. Heisenberg's uncertainty principle showed how it is possible for everything that exists to emerge from a quantum fluctuation in the primordial vacuum that is thought to have preceded the Big Bang. Theories of cosmic inflation developed by Guth and Linde tells us that our "universe" is one of many, perhaps an infinite number of, alternative "universes," each possessing its own physical constants and perhaps obeying its own set of physical laws. Finally the development of telescope and space technology has brought us breath-taking images and detailed knowledge of a vast array of strange and beautiful cosmic inhabitants, such as quasars, supernovas, stellar nurseries, intricate planetary surfaces, and ancient galactic clusters. However, as our knowledge of the universe expands, so does our sense  of its deeply mysterious character. As a result, scientists have begun asking questions on the basis of their research that have a long history in the reflections of philosophers. Why does the universe exist at all; in other words, why is there something rather than nothing? Is the universe infinite in space and time, and if so, what is the nature of such infinity? Is intelligent life a cosmic accident, or does the universe, in some sense, want to become conscious of itself in us, or in other intelligent beings? Are we alone in the cosmos, or do we share it with other civilizations, and what is the ultimate significance of either of these conditions? Will the universe eventually end in nothingness, in unending material but unintelligent existence, or in the emergence of an eternal Mind or community of Minds? In this course, we will pursue these deeply philosophical questions on the basis of the findings of contemporary physical cosmology. In so doing, we will try to develop a creative dialogue between science and philosophy, a dialogue in which neither adopts a superior posture, but each realizes that it has something to learn from the other. The course material will be challenging but not incomprehensible to any student willing to put in the necessary time and effort.

All readings are contained on this CD and are linked to the syllabus. The readings are divided into two parts. The first part, "Cosmological Questions," specifies the broad topics that will guide our work. The readings linked to each of these topics are required. The second part, "Resource Material," includes links to scientific and philosophic papers and books that have been selected because they shed further light on the questions addressed in the course. While no specific readings are required from this section, each student must consult at least eight entries of his or her choice, and cite them in writing two ten-to-fifteen page papers on topics to be developed in discussions with the instructor. There will also be midterm and final exams.



Cosmological Questions


Why Is There Something Rather Than Nothing?

From Timaeus by Plato

Big BangBig Bang History

Timeline of the Big Bang

Guth: A Unverse in Your Backyard

Guth: The Inflationary Universe

Linde: Self-Reproducing Inflationary Cosmos

Knobe: Philosophical Implications of Inflation

Leslie: Cosmology and Theology

Craig: The Ultimate Question of Origins

Smith: Simplicity and Why the Universe Exists

Grunbaum: The Pseudo-Problem of Creation

Flew: Stephen Hawking and the Mind of God

Smolin: Theory of the Whole Cosmos

Is The Universe Infinte?

Platonic Realms: Infinity You Can't Get There From Here

Peter Suber, Infinite Sets

Plotinus: Fifth Tractate

Bruno: On the Infinite Universe and Worlds, Intro

Smith: Infinity and the Past

Wright: How can the Universe be Infinite?


Was The Universe Waiting For Us?

Leslie: Prerequisites of Life in Our Universe

Rees: Recipe for the Universe

Dorrell: The Anthropic Principle


Donahue: Anthropic Design

Bostrom: Anthropic Principle

Smith: Anthropic_Coincidences

Smith: The Anthropic Principle and Many Worlds Cosmology  

Stenger: Anthropic Coincidences


Are We Alone?

Nature and Origin of Life on Planetary Bodies

Barrow: Cosmology, Stars and Life

Rothstein: Generalized Life

Chown: Is anybody out there?

Drake Equation

Fermi's Paradox Part 1

Fermi's Paradox Part 2

Fermi Paradox Part 3

Rees: Are We Alone?

Michaud: Extraterrestrial Politics

Tipler: We Are Alone in Our Galaxy

Life on Europa

Warrington: Extraterrestrial Life

The search for extraterrestrials is no longer such a far-out idea

NASA Scientist Sees Possible Mat of Martian Microbes



Does Consciousness Have A Future?

Van Gulick: Consciousness

Artificial Intelligence [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Horst: The Computational Theory of Mind

Bostrom: How long before superintelligence

Moravec: Rise of the Robots

Bostrom: The Doomsday Argument is Alive and Kickingl

Greenberg: Apocalypse Not Just Now


How Will It All End?

Ultimate Fate of the Universe

Timescales in open, flat and very large closed universes

Recent Innovations about the Concept of "Universe"

Cosmic 'big crunch' could trigger an early demise of our universe

Bernal: The World, the Flesh, and the Devil

Frank J_ Tipler: Omega Point

Dyson: Time Without End 1

Dyson: Timw Without End 2

Dyson: Time Without End 3

From 2100 to the End of Time

Frank J_ Tipler: Laws

Famous Physicist Defends the Physics of OPT

Famous Theologian Defends the Theology of the OPT

The Tiplerian Scenario

Frank Tipler  The Omega Point and Christianity

Omega point - Wikipedia


Omega Point

Barrow: Information Processing in Open Universes.

Krauss and Starkmann: Life, The Universe, and Nothing


Go To Resource Material