21L.448J | Fall 2010 | Undergraduate
Darwin and Design


The materials in this course offer a mixture of discursive and narrative texts dealing with a variety of evolutionary issues. In this class, we read what many thinkers and writers have had to say about one of the great human questions: how the realm we call nature defines our existence. Your reading and discussion of authors who have considered this question will help provide you with a historical foundation for understanding a rich literary tradition, as well as many assumptions held by people in many contemporary cultures. There will be about 100 pages of weekly readings – sometimes less, sometimes more.


Carroll, L. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Broadview Press, 2000. ISBN: 9781551112237. [Preview with Google Books]

Hume, D. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Penguin, 1990. ISBN: 9780140445367.

Voltaire. Candide. Prestwick House, Inc., 2006. ISBN: 9781580491624. [Preview with Google Books]

Smith, A. The Wealth of Nations. CreateSpace, 2009. ISBN: 9781442147928.

Malthus, T. An Essay on the Principle of Population. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199540457.

Darwin, C. On the Origin of Species. Greenwood Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780313317484. [Preview with Google Books]

Butler, S. Erewhon. IndyPublish, 2008. ISBN: 9781437833966.

Stevenson, R. L. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002. ISBN: 9780393974652.

Wells, H. G. The Time Machine. CreateSpace, 2009. ISBN: 9781442146327.

Buy at MIT Press Wiener, N. God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion. MIT Press, 1966. ISBN: 9780262730112. [Preview with Google Books]

Gibson, W. Neuromancer. Ace Hardcover, 2004. ISBN: 9780441012039.

Lunsford, A. Easy Writer. Bedford/Martin’s, 2006. ISBN: 9780312478209.

Selections From

Aristotle. Physics. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199540280.

The Holy Bible: The Book of Genesis. St. Anthony Guild Press, 1948.

Paley, W. Natural Theology. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199535750.

Huxley, T. H. Evolution and Ethics. Appleton, 1916.

Darwin, C. The Descent of Man. CreateSpace, 2010. ISBN: 9781450520393.

1 Introduction: Wordsworth’s Tintern Abbey and the idea of design in nature.

1. Wordsworth’s “Lines composed a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798”, with an excellent commentary and additional images 
2. Some background on travel, tourism and Wordsworth’s poem 
3. Design, the adaptation of means to ends, is a hard concept to pin down, given its many contexts. Here are some dictionary definitions and other discussions 
4. A useful Wikipedia segment on design

5. Poet Robert Frost’s poem titled “Design.” How do his ideas of design in nature compare with Wordsworth’s?

2 Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The fantasy world of anti–design.

Carroll, L. Chapters 1–5, 7–9 and 11–12 in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Broadview Press, 2000. ISBN: 9781551112237. [Preview with Google Books]  
1. Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Some reading topics

1. What kind of nature do the inhabitants of Wonderland live in?

2. Does rationality work in Wonderland? What is the status of nonsense in Wonderland?

3. In what ways, if any, does Wonderland resemble an evolutionary world? Do rudeness and confrontation have any survival value in Wonderland?

4. Why is Alice always trying to work out what the rules of Wonderland are? Is she successful?

3 Genesis; Aristotle, selections from the Physics. Pattern recognition, narrative and analytical, in nature in the ancient world.

The Holy Bible: The Book of Genesis. First 3 sections. St. Anthony Guild Press, 1948.   
1. Genesis, from King James Bible 
2. World’s creation myths

3. Discussion of science and faith

4. Discussion of the creation from a religious perspective

5. The Day—Age theory of creation

6. Excellent blog on broad speculative cosmological questions

Aristotle. Physics. Book II. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199540280.

1. Book II of Aristotle’s Physics 

2. A brief discussion of Aristotle’s Physics

3. General background on Aristotle

4. A review of the concept of teleology or purpose in nature

5. This set of notes explores aspects of Aristotle’s 4 causes in the framework of Ancient Greek thought

Some reading topics

1. Do the inhabitants of Wonderland live in a nature governed by Aristotelian chance (Aristotle, Physics, pp. 20–30) or uniformity (p. 32)? Both? Neither?

2. What happens to Aristotle’s four factors or causes in Wonderland? What, if any, are the patterns in the events of the narrative?

3. Does the creation account in Genesis conflict with an Aristotelian nature?

4. What does Aristotle mean by a telic world or nature (p. 37)? Do you agree with Aristotle’s tooth proof for the telic view of nature (p. 38)?

5. How does the idea of design apply to the world of Genesis? Wonderland? Aristotle’s Physics?

4 Voltaire, Candide. The Accidental World.

Voltaire. Chapters 1–7, 13–21, and 25–30 in Candide. Prestwick House, Inc., 2006.  ISBN: 9781580491624. [Preview with Google Books]   
1. Candide
2. Notes on Candide

3. An important design distinction between adaptationism and Panglossianism

4. A technical exploration of the meaning of “Panglossian” adaptation in evolutionary biology

Some reading topics

1. Is Dr. Pangloss an optimist or a fatalist?

2. Identify some of the targets of Voltaire’s satire.

3. Compare the different views of life of Pangloss and Martin (Chapter 20).

4. If the worlds of Candide and Wonderland are both irrational, which kind of irrationality do you prefer, and why? Is an evolutionary world irrational?

5. Is there any sense in Candide that human progress is possible?

6. What is the significance of Eldorado in Candide? The garden?

5 Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Three theories of world origins.

Hume, D. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Preface and Parts 1–5. Penguin, 1990. ISBN: 9780140445367. 
1. Hume’s Dialogues
2. A comprehensive website on David Hume, with texts and excerpts of his main works

3. Hume’s famous statement on miracles

4. Occam’s razor

5. Naturalism as a world view

Some reading topics

1. Hume’s listener, Pamphilus, refers at the start of the Dialogues to the accurate philosophical turn of Cleanthes, the careless skepticism of Philo, and the rigid inflexible orthodoxy of Demea. Whose position do you agree with most—that of Cleanthes (natural theologist), Philo (skepticism), or Demea (orthodoxy)?

2. How strong a case do you think Cleanthes makes in his description of the world as a great, wonderful machine of a supernatural being? (Chapter 2).

3. Is this case consistent with Cleanthes’ earlier arguments that Copernicus and Newton have shown how God works through natural laws?

4. Which of the three discussants is closest to Aristotle’s idea that nature is a telic world? Which is closest to Wordsworth’s vision of nature? Which discussant would feel most comfortable in Wonderland?

5. Is Cleanthes’ argument about the eye in Part III convincing? Why?

6 Hume, Dialogues, cont. Is the world a Rube Goldberg machine?

Hume, D. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. Parts 7, and 10–11. Penguin, 1990. ISBN: 9780140445367.   
1. Short paper on natural catastropies and their costs  
Rube Goldberg, Self–Operating Napkin.

Some reading topics

1. Compare and contrast Philo’s example of the ship and carpenter (Part 5) with Cleanthes’ example of the great wonderful machine of the universe (Part 2).

2. What might Wordsworth have said to Philo’s suggestion in Part 5 that the world may be the first rude essay of some infant deity who was ashamed of his job and ran away? What might Aristotle have said?

3. What problem does Philo’s vegetative world model solve (Part 7)?

4. In part 10, Demea mentions the perpetual war of existence. Is he thinking about evolution?

5. What are Philo’s four circumstances of evil? (Chapter 11). Is the world a Rube Goldberg Machine?

7 Paley, Natural Theology: Intelligent Design Theory.

Paley, W. Natural Theology. Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 5–15, 22, 26–27, and 35–44. ISBN: 9780199535750.   
1. Paley’s Natural Theology
2. William Paley—general background

3. A major pro–intelligent design website

4. A thorough but skeptical review of intelligent design arguments

5. Wikipedia survey of Intelligent design arguments

6. A New Yorker article on intelligent design

7. An evolutionary account of the development of the bacterial flagellum, previously thought irreducibly complex

8. A Primer on the Anthropic Principle

Some reading topics

1. Paley states that there cannot be design without a designer (p. 10). In what sense is this true? In what sense false?

2. What is the point of the eye – telescope comparison and how well does it work?

3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of Paley’s analogical method of reasoning?

4. Why does Paley think God used contrivances to make Nature work?

5. Does the parallel structure of animals pose any special problem for Paley’s argument?

8 Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations: Self–Organized Complexity?

Smith, A. Book 1, Chapters 1–3; Book 3, Chapter 4 in The Wealth of Nations. CreateSpace, 2009. ISBN: 9781442147928.   
1. Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations
2. Economics as an expression of evolutionary principles

3. Short discussion by Helen Joyce of Smith’s invisible hand theory

Some reading topics

1. Does the principle of division of labor have any applications to organic systems? What advantages might division of labor confer on organisms?

2. In what ways is Smith’s Oeconomy a self–regulating system? Is it more like Cleanthes great machine of the universe, or like Demea’s vegetative principle? Or more like the mad tea–party in Alice?

3. In what ways is evolution be thought of as a centralized process? In what ways is evolution a market?

4. What role does opportunism play in Smiths system?

5. Is Smith’s Oeconomy compatible with Aristotle’s idea that nature is a telic?

6. What is Smith’s conclusion concerning the role of the economy in the progress of nations?

9 Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population: Compound Interest in the biological realm.

Malthus, T. Preface, Chapters 1–3, and 9 in An Essay on the Principle of Population. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199540457.   
1. Principle of Population
2. A brief but useful website for understanding Thomas Malthus

3. A real–time world population counter

4. A real–time worldometer

5. Another excellent website on Thomas Malthus

6. This website explores the powerful effects of exponentialist phenomena

7. This page explains the idea of exponential growth, using the Rule of 70 approach

8. A modified Malthusian growth model for populations

9. Voluntary human extinction movement

Some reading topics for Malthus’s An Essay on the Principle of Population

[Read chapters 1–3, chapter 9.]

1. To what extent, if any, do you think Malthus’s concept of the Natural Inequality holds in an age of advanced technology? Does technology have the potential to eliminate the Malthusian predicament?

2. According to Adam Smith, self–interest drives the development of an economy that benefits everyone by providing more opportunity. This self–interest could be argued to be instinctual, un–self–conscious behavior. In Malthus’s system, instinct, which may lead to the development of an economy, leads also to the production of excess population. Can the views of Smith and Malthus be reconciled?

3. Malthus introduces the term Struggle for Existence in Chapter 3. How does this term apply to his system? Is it used in any way that suggests evolutionary process?

10 Malthus, Principle of Population.

Malthus, T. Chapters 13–14, and 18–19 in An Essay on the Principle of Population. Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199540457.

Some reading topics for Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population

[Read chapters 13, 14, 18–19]

1. Malthus seems to view the human mind as a compound entity. Compare the role of instinct in Malthus’s Essay and Smith’s Wealth? What does the compound nature of the mind in the Essay have to do with Malthus’s rejection of Smith’s view of human motivation?

2. In Chapter 18, Malthus suggests that the human mind arises out of the misery of the human condition. Do you agree? Why?

11 Darwin, On the Origin of Species.

Darwin, C. Chapters 1, 2 and 3 in On the Origin of Species. Greenwood Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780313317484. [Preview with Google Books]   
1. Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species
2. Excellent short biographical sketch of Darwin

3. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online

4. Biology and Evolutionary Theory

5. Summary of Lamarckian evolution

6. Speciation

Some reading questions

1. What reasoning is behind Darwin’s strategy of talking first about Variation Under Domestication? (See, especially, pp. 30–31). What do humans select for?

2. What are some of the problems of defining a species?

3. In Chapter III, Struggle for Existence, Darwin talks about a Web of complex relations (pp. 73–75). In what ways does this Web of relations affect the struggle for existence among individuals of the same species?

4. According to Adam Smith, self–interest drives the development of an economy that benefits everyone by providing more opportunity. Does this principle of an expanding economy benefiting everyone, work in a Darwinian economy?

5. How is Natural Selection like Artificial Selection? How is it different?

12 Darwin, Origin (cont.)

Darwin, C. Chapters 4 and 5 in On the Origin of Species. Greenwood Press, 2006. ISBN: 9780313317484.   
1. Sexual selection

Some reading topics

1. Discuss Darwin’s personification of natural selection (pp. 83–4). Is there a fallacy in the way Darwin presents natural selection as an agent?

2. Compare sexual selection with natural selection. Which version is stronger? What are some of the problems associated with sexual selection?

3. Why is divergence of character a problem for the formation of species? (pp. 111–112. What does divergence of character have to do with the Darwinian idea of place or niche?

4. What issues does Darwin’s discussion of Organs of extreme perfection raise? (pp. 186–88).

5. What does the Darwinian Natura non facit saltum refer to? (p. 194). Are there any problems with this idea?

13 Darwin, Origin (cont.)

1. Darwin’s taxonomy chart in the Origin   
Chapter 7 (Instinct), Chapter 10 (Geological Succession, Appearance of New Species, Disappearance of Species), Chapter 13 (The Natural System, Morphology, Embryology), Chapter 14 (Summary). [CD] 
2. An excellent summary of geological periods illustrating the extreme age of the earth

Some reading topics:

1. In what way is instinct like a physiological organ in Darwin’s system?

2. What are some of the ways in which the topic of geological succession defines the spatial characteristics of evolution?

3. How does Darwin use the natural system of classification to support his theory?

4. In what ways does Embryology support Darwin’s views?

14 Darwin, Descent of Man (selections)

Darwin, C. Chapter 1 in The Descent of Man. CreateSpace, 2010. ISBN: 9781450520393.   
1. Descent of Man, 2nd edition (1874)
2. Films and illustrations of various prehistoric and modern hominoid forms

3. Prehistoric fiction (Websites, bibliography)

Some reading questions

1. What evidence does Darwin use to assert that humans are governed by evolution?

2. What methods do humans have to complement evolutionary development?

15 Butler, Erewhon or Over the Range.

Butler, S. Chapters 1, 7, 9–12, 15, and 17 in Erewhon. Indypublish, 2008. ISBN: 9781437833966.   
1. Utopias in America
2. Utopia

3. The question of social Darwinism. Was Darwin a social Darwinist? Was Butler?

4. Exploration of the literary notion of satire.

5. Image archive about eugenics in America

6. Evolutionary art (PDF - 5.12MB)

Some reading topics

1. What explains the extraordinary beauty of the Erewhonian people (Chapter 7, pp. 78 ff.).

2. Discuss the Erewhonian trial system (pp. 112–117).

3. What are some of the targets of Butler’s satire? In what ways are they similar to those of Candide?

4. What is the role of Yudgrun in Erewhonian society? (Chapter 17, pp. 156–161). Is there a Yudgrun in our contemporary society?

5. In what way does evolution contribute to the world view of Erewhon?

16 Butler, Erewhon (cont.)

Butler, S. Chapters 23–25 in Erewhon. IndyPublish, 2008. ISBN: 9781437833966.   
1. The evolution of machines: The golem project for the automatic design and manufacture of life forms
2. Self–replicating robots

3. On the concept of evolutionary robotics

Some reading topics

1. What are some of the dangers the Erewhonians see in machine consciousness?

2. How do the Erewhonians see machine evolution taking place?

3. How will humans and evolved machines co–exist, in the view of the Erewhonians?

4. How are machines extensions of humans, in the view of Erewhonians?

5. Is Butler’s argument about machine evolution plausible?

17 Wiener, God and Golem, Inc. (selections)

Buy at MIT Press Wiener, N. God and Golem, Inc.: A Comment on Certain Points where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion. MIT Press, 1966, pp. 1–69. ISBN: 9780262730112. [Preview with Google Books]   
1. Photos of Norbert Wiener
2. Short article on Wiener.

3. Definition of Cybernetics

4. Evolutionary systems and artificial life.

5. Cybernetic ethics.

6. A brief history of automatons.

7. Concept of the Golem

8. The golem automatic machine project

9. Translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s poem, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”

10. A useful thread about Baldwinian evolution compared to Lamarckian evolution

Some reading topics

1. Do you agree with Wiener’s definition for machine learning on p. 14?

2. What does Wiener mean by phylogenetic learning? (pp. 13, 27–28). How does this kind of learning compare with individual (ontogenic) learning?

3. What do machines and organisms have in common in respect to reproduction? (pp. 45–48)?

4. What point about technology is Wiener trying to make with his tale of the Monkeys Paw? (pp. 58–60)

5. Are there purposes expressed by technological operations that conflict with human purposes? (pp. 64–65).

18 Turing and Searle Essays on computers and evolutionary issues.

1. Online version of Turing’s key Mind paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” 
2. A short biography of Alan Turing

3. John Searle’s paper, “Minds, Brains, and Programs”

4. John Searle’s paper “What is Consciousness?”

5. Critique of Searle’s Chinese Room thought problem

6. Machine learning

7. Discussion on autonomous agents

8. Talk with Eliza - a friend you could never have before

20 Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

1. Stevenson’s book 
2. An excellent centenary exhibition and brief summary of Stevenson’s life given at the university of South Carolina. See especially Island 6 of the exhibition, which deals with J&H

3. A website specializing in Stevenson

4. Concepts of degeneration

5. Section on reversion from Darwin’s Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication

6. Atavism in science and popular literature

Some reading topics

1. Why does Hyde’s appearance seem so shocking to Utterson?

2. To what extent do Hyde’s personality traits draw on instincts all primates, including humans, share?

3. Why does Jekyll find Hyde so fascinating?

4. Are there any Darwinian interpretations we can place on the Jekyll–Hyde syndrome?

5. What is the implication of the fact that a mere drug separates Jekyll from Hyde?

21 Huxley, Prolegomena to Evolution and Ethics.

Huxley, T. H. Evolution and Ethics. Appleton, 1916, pp. 1–45.   
1. Prolegomena to Evolution and Ethics, 1894
2. Brief biography of THH

3. T. H. Huxley and his times

4. Modern perspective on evolutionary ethics as a natural phenomenon

5. Exploration of the naturalistic fallacy

Some reading topics

1. Huxley speaks of the State of Nature (Section 1, pp. 1–5)) and the Human State of Art (Section 2, pp. 9–11), and the two in a state of conflict with each other (Section 3, pp. 11–3). Is this a valid way of thinking about the human relationship with its conditions of existence?

2. What are some of the implications of Huxley’s analogy of human culture and the colony (Section 5, pp. 16–7).

3. On p. 20, Huxley states that humans compete in evolutionary terms not by struggling with each other but by controlling their conditions of existence. What are the implications of this human strategy?

4. In Section 7 (pp. 20–1), Huxley identifies the serpent in the human Garden of Eden. What is the serpent and how integral a part of human existence is this force?

5. In Section 10 (pp. 26–30), Huxley expands on the human condition as one in which humans carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Does this view share anything with the view of Voltaire in Candide? How is Huxley’s view different from that of Voltaire?

22 H. G. Wells, The Time Machine.

1. The Time Machine 
2. Short biography of Wells

3. The concept of homeostasis

4. NOVA site on time travel

5. BLTC Research

Some Reading Topics

1. Compare the dystopian visions of Wells and Butler. Both use evolutionary themes, but in very different ways.

2. Could human society regress in the way that Wells suggests in his characterization of the Eloi and Morlocks?

3. Are Wells’s creatures reminiscent of Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde in any way?

4. Does Wells’s novel reflect any of the problems of Huxley’s Evolution and Ethics?

23–26 William Gibson, Neuromancer. 1. Study Guide for William Gibson: Neuromancer (1984)

Course Info
As Taught In
Fall 2010
Learning Resource Types
theaters Lecture Videos
assignment Written Assignments