Evidential Reasoning in Astronomy & Cosmology

February 22nd-24th, 2013

What role does evidence and reasoning play in astronomy and cosmology? What are some of the philosophical implications of evidential reasoning applied to the largest scales of time and space? This interdisciplinary three-day workshop at the University of Notre Dame will bring together historians of astronomy, philosophers of science, and working astronomers and cosmologists to dialogue on how evidence and reasoning shape our theories of the universe. Issues to be addressed will focus on three primary nodes:

History of astronomy:
Since antiquity, how have observers used the stars as evidence to infer the properties of the heavens? What role did observation of apparent star sizes play in arguing for or against a sun-centered universe? How did (and do) astronomers use forms of evidence to make inductions regarding the presence of life throughout the solar system and beyond? By examining the role of evidential reasoning in the history of astronomy, we can better understand the uses of evidence in making universal claims in astronomy and cosmology today.

Contemporary astronomy & cosmology:
What is the role of evidence in contemporary astronomical and cosmological theory construction? What steps go into examining each rung of a “ladder of induction” when evidential reasoning leads to unexpected results as, for example, in the discovery of dark energy? What does the proliferation of high-level instrumentation and modeling mean for the role of evidence in discovery? How is discovery defined in terms of evidence, as for example in the search for exoplanets? A major goal of this workshop is to strengthen ties between Notre Dame HPS & physics by exploring these and other issues in contemporary astronomy and cosmology.

Philosophy of science:
Because astronomy and cosmology extends the claims of science to the very boundaries of space and time, is there something unique in the role that evidential reasoning plays in these fields? What would a distinct philosophy of astronomy and cosmology look like? What role does evidence and reasoning play in regions outside the realm of typical observational techniques, for example the early universe or theories of the multiverse? An outcome of this workshop will be to map out directions for a philosophy of astronomy that examines these issues.

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