Course Meeting Times

Lectures: 2 sessions / week, 1.5 hours / session


“The tide of evolution carries everything before it, thoughts no less than bodies, and persons no less than nations. -George Santayana

Evolution is a central organizing principle in modern biology. Evolution and Society provides a broad conceptual and historical introduction to scientific theories of evolution and their place in the wider culture. The course embraces historical, scientific and anthropological/cultural perspectives. It is grounded in relevant developments in the biological sciences since 1800 that are largely responsible for the development of the modern theory of evolution by natural selection. However, it extends thematically into other historical sciences (e.g., cosmology, historical geology, paleoanthropology, archaeology, evolutionary psychology) as appropriate; and it locates key developments in all of these sciences within wider cultural debates about the ethical, religious, cultural and political significance of evolution.

The course is taught by a combination of weekly lectures and discussion hours led by the instructor and a graduate TA. The instructor and the graduate TA meet on a weekly basis to discuss set readings, identify key issues and determine teaching plans. The discussion hours provide an opportunity for students to deliberate on key ideas and issues. They will include two organized debates, in each of which individual students will adopt specific roles in relation to a socially contested question. In the first debate, students will take roles in the historical debate that followed the publication in 1859 of Darwin’s Origin of Species; and in the second debate, students will take roles in the ongoing debate in the U.S. about the teaching of evolution and creation in the public schools.


1 Introduction and Course Overview  
2 The Nature and Scope of the Historical Sciences  
3 Natural History and Natural Theology Assignment 1 handed out
4 The Birth of Historical Geology  
5 Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism

Assignment 1 due

Assignment 2 handed out

6 “Victorian Sensation” – Chambers’ Vestiges  
7 Voyages of Exploration, Part I: Darwin Assignment 2 due
8 Voyages of Exploration, Part II: Wallace and Bates Assignment 3 handed out
9 The Path to The Origin of Species  
10 “Mr Darwin’s Hypotheses”  
11 Guest Lecture: Andrew Berry  
12 The Reception of Darwinism  
13 The “Gospel of Evolution” in the Late-19th Century Assignment 3 due
14 Evolution and Eugenics Assignment 4 handed out
15 The “Eclipse of Darwinism” in Biology Around 1900  
16 The “Eclipse of Darwinism” in the Social Sciences After 1900  
17 Evolution and the Rise of Christian Fundamentalism  
18 Movie: Inherit the Wind  
19 Darwinism, Mendelism and the Birth of the “Modern Synthesis”  
20 Changing Understand of Human Origins  
21 Darwinism and Behavior: From Ethology to Sociobiology  
22 The Creation Controversies: From “Scientific Creationism” to “Intelligent Design” Assignment 5 handed out
23 Guest Lecture  
24 Reclaiming Evolution for the Social Sciences: the New Evolutionary Psychology Assignment 4 due
25 Evolutionary Humanism, from Julian Huxley to E.O. Wilson  
26 Stocktaking: What Makes Evolutionary Biology Special? Assignment 5 due


Attendance and participation 20%
Written papers (4) 50% (total)
Final “debate” paper + presentation 30%

Course Info

Learning Resource Types

notes Lecture Notes
assignment Presentation Assignments
assignment Written Assignments