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2013 -14 lecture series on

A series of speakers from Villanova and the Carnegie Institute for Science covered the origins of the universe, from the Big Bang, stars, galaxies, the earth, life, mammals, humans, politics, and the religious imagination.

From the Big Bang to Atoms

Philip Maurone, Department of Physics

Dr. Philip Maurone, Chair of the Department of Physics, begins the year-long lecture series "Beginnings" with a presentation about how you, the earth, the Sun, and 100 billion galaxies each with 100 billion stars began 13.82 billion years ago as a single infinitely hot and dense point smaller than a pin head.


Stars, Galaxies, the Sun, and Earth

Edward Guinan, Department of Astronomy

How did gravity sculpt enormous clouds of hydrogen into dense balls that ignited and lit up a dark sky with twinkling stars within galaxies like our own Milky Way? Why are many galaxies racing away from each other, some almost at the speed of light? How do stars transform elements like hydrogen into the carbon from which you, and I, and all life on earth are made? How did a supernova's violent death bring about the birth of our sun and the earth just over 4.5 billion years ago. Dr. Edward Guinan of the Department of Astronomy guides us through the vast reaches of space and time - and explains how we are all made of stardust.



Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institution for Science

Dr. Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science ( ) will discuss evidence about the origins of life almost 4 billion years ago. Dr. Hazen is author of Genesis: The Scientific Quest for Life's Origins; as well as The Story of Earth: The First 4.5 Billion Years, from Stardust to Living Planet, and many other books and articles. How did the hydrogen that formed soon after the Big Bang 13.82 billion years ago, the carbon and oxygen forged in stars at least 5 billion years ago, and other elements and molecules combine to form the first life on earth?


Single Cells to Dinosaurs

Dennis Wykoff, Department of Biology

Are you glad that the 1,000,000,000,000,000 (or so) cells in your body know how to work together? That you have a right and a left side? That your eyes, nose, and ears are up in your head? That you have four limbs? Back bones that let you bend and twist? Wrists and fingers? These and so much more about you are traits that you have inherited from all sorts of critters that began them and lived hundreds of millions of years ago. Please join us when Dennis Wykoff, Ph. D., the Dennis M. Cook Endowed Gregor Mendel Chair in Genetics, will introduce you to some of your ancestors. He will show how your genealogy began with single cells and then kept getting more complex. My, how you resemble LUCA, our Last Universal Common Ancestor. What a fabulous family album you have!



Todd Jackman, Department of Biology

Our common ancestry with whales, horses, lions, mice, shrews, and other mammals began a long time ago. A meteor may have removed those pesky dinosaurs 65 million years ago and given our ancestors a chance to thrive. Our family has branched out quite a bit since then, although we mammals all still share many similarities. As a result, for example, we hear the world differently than our even older non-mammalian ancestors. Please join us as Dr. Todd Jackman introduces us to our family and our many resemblances. (But do we have to invite the naked mole rats to the family reunion?)


Hominids and Humans

Michael Zimmerman, Department of Biology

In our "Beginnings" lecture series, we have become time travelers. But it is very difficult for us to understand the time span covered by our time machine, the Big Bang Express. Instead of saying that the universe began some 13.82 billion years ago, let's equate all of time to a more comprehensible single calendar year. The Big Bang was on January 1. Our sun and earth were formed in August. Life began in September. The first dinosaurs appeared on December 24. Apes appeared first on Dec 31 at 10:15 am. Homo erectus appeared at 10:48 pm; humans at 11:54 pm. In this lecture, travel back an hour or so to meet Ardi, the Taung child, Lucy, George from Georgia, the Trinil fossil, KNM-ER 1808, Turkana Boy, Shanidar One and the Cro-Magnon family. You might bring a gift for when you meet your ancestors.


The Beginnings of Politics and Culture  

Lowell Gustafson, Department of Political Science

Your personal political memories probably began at some point in your childhood. American politics began 13 miles from Villanova with the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or the Constitution in 1787. International Politics began with - well - say the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648. (Or relevant international relations with 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the end of WWII or . . . ) A beginning for our theory of politics is often found with Plato from almost 2,500 years ago. But humans have existed for about 200,000 years and the universe for 13,819,997,558 years (ok, it's not that exact, but about that) before Plato's birth. How should Liberal Arts courses incorporate our entire past? When did culture, society, politics, art, ethics, communication, symbolic thought, and history begin and how did they develop before the invention of writing? What narrative do light, rocks, bones, and blood tell us about our beginnings? How are our beginnings embedded in us now? What has the universal past ever done for you?


Augustine and Genesis

Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, The Augustinian Institute

Lecture by Fr. Allan Fitzgerald, Director of The Augustinian Institute.  Augustine saw the stories of Genesis as true but his interest was in what Genesis -- rightly understood -- had to say about creation. He refused to use Genesis to replace an investigation of the world. Genesis was the foundation for his understanding of creation, not a substitute for the study and observation of the world in which he lived.


He was always interested in exploring the mystery ... of creation, of the self, and of the world, not as a philosopher but as a pastor whose only real concern is to understand and apply the Word of God. He could criticize the silliness of asking, "what God was doing before he created the world?" and insisted that Genesis not be used against the scientists of his day.


Perhaps the question for a presentation on Augustine and Genesis is not about what he believed, but how and why did it make a difference (then and now) that a man of faith tried to convince his listeners that meaningful talk about the world in which he lived was fully a part of the search for truth.