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Addressing The Liberal Arts In A Core Engineering Class: Theology, Philosophy, Social Ethics, And The Second Law Of Thermodynamics

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2004 Annual Conference


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 20, 2004

Start Date

June 20, 2004

End Date

June 23, 2004



Conference Session

Ethics & HSS in Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

9.149.1 - 9.149.14



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Paper Authors

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David Shaw

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James Gidley

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3261 Ethics & HSS in Engineering

Addressing the Liberal Arts in a Core Engineering Class: Theology, Philosophy, Social Ethics, and The Second Law of Thermodynamics Dr. David W. Shaw and Dr. James S. Gidley Department of Engineering, Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA


Can an engineering professor address theological, philosophical, and social issues in a core engineering class in a way that is relevant to the core content of the class? Our answer is yes. We have been addressing such issues for more than a decade in an introductory thermodynamics class required of all students in the general engineering program at Geneva College. Our primary vehicle for doing this has been a term paper assignment requiring the students to relate the second law of thermodynamics to issues that are ordinarily the domain of the liberal arts faculty. While the particular contours of the assignment are unique to the mission of Geneva, the authors believe that their approach is adaptable to a wide variety of institutions.

The first author developed a term paper assignment in 1991 requiring students to “consider the development of technology in terms of entropy and the second law of thermodynamics” in the light of biblical teaching and requiring them to consider how their conclusions would “influence their career choice and professional activities.” The second author began teaching the course in 1998 and initially continued with essentially the same assignment. He modified it in 2000, focusing the students somewhat more narrowly on five specific theological and philosophical positions that can be or have been taken regarding the second law. In 2003, he modified the assignment again, requiring the students “to formulate and defend a thesis that relates entropy or the increase of entropy principle to one or more of the concepts” given in the following list: creation, stewardship of creation, the fall, evolution, pollution, and eschatology. The core objective of the assignment has remained the same, and it has become an established, successful feature in the engineering program at Geneva College.

Writing in Technical Courses – A Brief Review of the Literature

Several papers related to our work have been published in the Journal of Engineering Education from 1993 to the present. The most directly relevant work is a Writing-Across-the-Curriculum approach used at Utah State University.1 The WAC approach linked a required engineering course with a required writing course. Writing assignments included “societal impacts of environmental racism” and “the cost and ethics of clean-up of hazardous waste sites.”

“Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2004, American Society for Engineering Education”

Shaw, D., & Gidley, J. (2004, June), Addressing The Liberal Arts In A Core Engineering Class: Theology, Philosophy, Social Ethics, And The Second Law Of Thermodynamics Paper presented at 2004 Annual Conference, Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--13163

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