Rethinking the Darwinian Revolution (Gen Ed 1048)





How does intellectual change happen and how do diverse communities respond to new ideas such as evolution, paying attention to different historical forces in social, religious, scientific, and cultural context?


Histories, Societies, Individuals icon with text

Janet Browne

Survival of the fittest, nature red in tooth and claw, trees of life, the ascent of mankind, the biological origin of humankind…. Western culture is loaded with evolutionary metaphors and images.  Many of these derive from Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, published in 1859. But Darwin was not the only evolutionary theorist nor was he necessarily more controversial than others. This course explores major transformations in thought about human origins and the history of life on Earth. You will come away with a stronger sense of what Darwin said and the continuing impact of his ideas. We also draw attention to other key players in the intellectual movements of the era in order to “rethink” Darwin’s place in history.

We will see how evolutionary ideas challenged long-accepted religious beliefs and our close look at modern controversies will help you understand contemporary debates over creationism and intelligent design in the larger cultural setting. Our aim is not to take sides but to understand the diversity of opinion on matters of faith and science. We hope to develop your understanding of the way different historical forces—social, religious, scientific, ethical, and cultural—shape our ideas and how biology has come to have such an important place in the modern world. The course is suitable for any student from freshman to senior and does not require any previous knowledge of biology.