Syllabus   Perspectives on Evolution

The course:

    The position of modern science :

All life on Earth is evolved from previously existing species

All life is descended from single celled ancestors. The leading theories of the origin of the first living cells, randomness, the template theory, panspermia (seeding of viable organisms from space)

In each cell of an organism exists the complete plan for the whole organism, encoded in the universal chemical code DNA.

Reading: Moore Ch 1,2 Handout: origins of life. Supp: Microcosmos

    The biological world view of 19th century Europe as the background for Darwin's revolution.

The proto-scientific justification for a creationist account of life: Adam and Eve, the Independent and permanent creation of each species (the species as individual thoughts of the Creator), the age of the Earth as about 6000 years (from various scriptural dating schemes)

Reading: Moore Ch 6, Ch 7 pp 138-143

    Early Evolutionary theories: The teleological evolution of Jean Baptiste Lamarck, the theory of Cuvier , Erasmus Darwin's evolutionary poems.

The first revolution: The Geologists reassess the age of the earth, Hutton and the principle of uniformitism in "The theory of the Earth" Lyell's "Principles of Geology"

Reading: Handout on Lamarck

  ♦  Charles Darwin: an early beginning as a naturalist. His "failed" medical career, his appointment as naturalist on the Beagle.

The voyage on HMS Beagle ,the turning point in Darwin's thinking, his extensive specimen collection. His voyage to South America and the Galapagos. The beginning of doubt. The influence on his thinking of Lyell and Malthus.

Reading: Moore Ch 7

  ♦  Darwin's Evolution by natural selection, as an outgrowth of earlier theories.

The theories basic premises: Random variation, competition within species for survival, environmental pressure leading to selection of specific traits, traits inherited by offspring.

Reading: Moore Ch 8, Darwin Ch4

  ♦  Darwin polishes the evidence for 20 years. Wallace independently discovers the idea; the result: "The Origin of Species"

Evidence: Selective breeding, the fossil record, homologous structure, embryology, vestigial organs, accidents of design, similarities of behavior, DNA. Reading: Ch 9

  ♦  Difficulties with the theory: Each stage must represent an advantage to survival, the mystery of Wings etc. The Watchmaker argument

Darwin's answers to the difficulties: The scale and depth of geologic time, the simultaneous selection of linked traits, the possibilities of use for specific intermediate stages.

Reading: Darwin Ch 6

  ♦  The Reception of the theory: from Huxley's "How stupid of me not to have thought of that.", to furious religious condemnation... " On which side of your family to you claim descent from a monkey". The Controversy engendered (still going on), Huxley debates with Wilberforce, the Scopes trial 1925 , Kansas 1999.) The displacement of our species as the centerpiece of creation

  ♦  The evidence for human evolution, Darwin's " The Descent of Man" Modern anthropology fills in Darwin's beginning. Leakey in Africa. the Hominid record, Lucy, From Australopithecus to Cro- Magnon

Reading: Moore pp223-224, Handout : Human Evolution

  ♦  The discovery of the genetic mechanism of inheritance ( Mendel, and Muller) which supports and completes the theory of evolution.

The genetic Code DNA and twentieth century genetics.

Reading: Moore Ch 14

  ♦  The Social appropriation and misappropriation of evolutionary ideas: social Darwinism, and the Eugenics movement, colonialism and its apologists.

  ♦  The actual behavior of technologically primitive peoples, as contrasted to the stereotype of the " Savage", Our hunting and gathering ancestors. Lascaux and Alta Mira, artistic genius in the work of stone age peoples. The Life of Modern hunter gatherers, the Kung!, the Mbuti

Reading: Supp: The Forest People

♦  Sociobiology: the attempt to guess the legacy of our evolution on modern people's behavior, nature vs. nurture and the warring schools of thought. E.O. Wilson

"The Naked Ape", "The Territorial Imperative", and other instances of jumping to conclusions.

Implications for political thought. Reading: E.O Wilson

  The advent of humanly controlled Evolution, the possibilities of modern genetics: What can be done now, and what is impending, the twenty first centuries exhilarating and terrifying power to directly manipulate the genetic code of all life on Earth.

Reading: Moore Ch 17

The Future of Human Evolution. How culture and civilization changed the direction of our evolution.

Required texts:

Science as a Way of Knowing  by John A. Moore

The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin


Ever Since Darwin by Stephen J. Gould

Darwin's Century by Loren Eiseley

The Panda's Thumb by Stephen J. Gould

Microcosmos by Lynn Margulis

Sociobiology by E.O. Wilson

The Making of Mankind by Richard Leakey

The Forest People by Colin Turnbull