Undergraduate Course • Fall 2016


Many of the most important scientific breakthroughs in history have dramatically reshaped humankind’s understanding of our place in the universe.  Examples include the Copernican revolution, evolution by natural selection, the Big Bang theory of the origin and evolution of the universe, and the molecular and genetic basis of evolution.  In addition to their intrinsic scientific importance, these ideas also have far reaching implications for other aspects of people’s lives (e.g., philosophical, religious, and political).   This course will cover the modern understanding of origins, from the Big Bang through to the evolution of our own species. This is arguably the single most important set of scientific ideas that non-science majors should be introduced to in their time at Berkeley.   We will cover the Big Bang and the origin of the elements, the formation of the Earth and the solar system, the discovery of planets around other stars, the origin of life, the evolution of complex life, and the origin of humans.  A major theme of the course will be the scientific method and how we know what we know.   The course is intended for non-science majors.  Although we will only make modest use of math, you will continually be grappling with complex and conceptually difficult material.This course will cover our modern scientific understanding of origins, from the Big Bang to the formation of planets like Earth, evolution by natural selection, the genetic basis of evolution, and the emergence of humans. These ideas are of great intrinsic scientific importance and also have far reaching implications for other aspects of people's lives (e.g., philosophical, religious, and political). A major theme will be the scientific method and how we know what we know.