Darwinian Revolution

Course No. 1527
Professor Frederick Gregory, Ph.D.
University of Florida
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Course No. 1527
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Course Overview

Published 150 years ago, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species—the text that introduced the world to natural selection—is among a handful of books that have changed the world.

Born amid a ferment of speculation about evolutionary scenarios in the early 19th century; vilified and later pronounced dead at the turn of the 20th century; and spectacularly confirmed by discovery after discovery in succeeding decades—natural selection ranks with the theories of Copernicus and Newton for its iconic stature in science.

But the route to that status has been surprisingly circuitous and uncertain. Darwin's profoundly revolutionary message has often been misunderstood, and so have his own views on evolution, the intellectual background that led to them, and the turbulent history of their reception.

Consider the following points:

  • Although Darwinism and evolution are often equated, evolution was debated long before Darwin's time. Darwin's innovation was to propose an astonishingly powerful process for how evolution took place: natural selection.
  • By 1900, Darwin's theory was near death, superseded by the widely accepted view that evolution did indeed occur, but under a purpose-driven mechanism that had little to do with natural selection.
  • In the 1930s, Darwinism made a stunning comeback as researchers realized that the small variations required by natural selection were indeed driving evolution. The resulting "evolutionary synthesis" reigns to this day.

The Darwinian Revolution—24 absorbing lectures by award-winning Professor Frederick Gregory of the University of Florida—introduces you to the remarkable story of Darwin's ideas, how scientists and religious leaders reacted to them, and the sea of change in human thought that resulted.

Perhaps more than any other idea in science, Darwin's theory of natural selection shows how a strikingly original concept can break the bounds of its discipline to influence society at large—in religion, politics, philosophy, and other spheres.

Intellectual Dynamite

Natural selection is the elegantly simple idea that those members of a species that happen to be most well adapted to their surroundings and are best equipped to survive will tend to outlast others; and that over time, species change as a result.

How did Darwin arrive at this theory? Professor Gregory shows that he did so slowly and cautiously, since he was well aware that natural selection was intellectual dynamite, implying that no divine intervention was needed to populate the Earth with a rich diversity of life forms.

In working out the details of the theory, Darwin built on his own observations and on the insights of others, but he also made amazing leaps in the face of apparently contrary evidence.

These are some of the steps to natural selection that you investigate in The Darwinian Revolution:

  • Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology argued that the forces that shaped Earth's surface were slow-acting over eons, rather than operating quickly through planet-wide catastrophes, in accord with biblical views. Lyell's theories suggested that the Earth was much older than commonly believed at the time. Darwin took Lyell's book on his exploring voyage aboard HMS Beagle.
  • Darwin's five-year expedition around the world on the Beagle was the most important event in his life, introducing him to a diverse panorama of flora and fauna that far surpassed his expectations, and which he spent years trying to understand.
  • Darwin was well acquainted with the ability of breeders to promote desirable traits in animals and plants. He took the next crucial step of asking whether this process did not also occur in the wild, under the pressure of the struggle for survival.

The theory that eventually emerged from these reflections was rushed to publication when Darwin got a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist in Indonesia who had reached similar conclusions. But, despite the hurry, Darwin's resulting work, On the Origin of Species, was a meticulously argued case that led to one of the greatest paradigm shifts in the history of science.

The Darwin Debate

Professor Gregory recounts the vigorous scientific criticisms that met Origin, including these objections:

  • On the basis of the rate at which the Earth was cooling, physicist William Thomson calculated that the planet could not possibly be old enough to harbor life forms that evolved by natural selection.
  • Engineer Fleeming Jenkin argued that, contrary to Darwin's theory, favorable characteristics in an individual would have no chance of spreading through a much larger population.
  • Philosopher Ludwig Büchner praised Darwin's commitment to the concept of evolution but saw a fatal flaw in natural selection due to its purposelessness—its failure to account for progress in nature.

You learn how each of these arguments was eventually answered, including the deep mystery that puzzled Darwin himself: What are the actual "atoms" of inheritance that are passed from generation to generation and that initiate evolutionary change? The answer would come long after Darwin's death with the discovery of DNA as the genetic blueprint.

Religious Reactions

But the scientific controversies that Darwin encountered were overshadowed by the firestorm of criticism that he faced from religious thinkers, a reaction that has scarcely subsided to this day. Religious attacks on Darwin were inspired by a wide range of theological perspectives. However, most critics agreed with Darwin's contemporary, the theologian Charles Hodge, that what was original with Darwin was a mechanism that resulted from unintelligent causes; that was the core of Darwin's theory of natural selection, and that was what was unacceptable.

Ironically, the notorious Scopes "monkey" trial in 1925 focused on evolution in general, an idea that was widely accepted by many Christian thinkers. Natural selection, the radical theory that implied atheism in the eyes of many, hardly came up during the proceedings. Professor Gregory points out that the trial was a publicity stunt designed to promote the town of Dayton, Tennessee—not the persecution of a brave teacher for freely speaking out.

A noted authority on the development of modern science, Professor Gregory is uniquely qualified to probe the religious dimension of this subject, since he holds a degree from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in addition to a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University. In The Darwinian Revolution, he brings the controversy up to date by carefully examining the claims of intelligent design, which is the latest and most sophisticated attempt to challenge Darwin on religious grounds.

Far-Reaching Questions

"We have every right to feel enormous pride at what evolutionary scientists have accomplished," Professor Gregory says. But he notes that Darwin's theories raise far-reaching questions about the nature of human identity, society, and the demarcation between science and the supernatural that defines the limits of human knowledge.

Explore the fascinating story of evolution in The Darwinian Revolution and let a remarkable teacher reveal the astounding implications this provocative theory has had on both science and society.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    The Meaning of Evolution
    Why was Darwin so revolutionary and why does he remain so? His breakthrough was not in introducing the idea of evolution, which had long been debated, but in proposing how evolution occurs. In this lecture, you survey these and other themes that are developed in the course. x
  • 2
    The Way It Used to Be
    This lecture examines the traditional worldview in the West, which was based on the biblical account of creation, fixed by one 17th-century scholar at 4004 B.C. An allied idea was the Great Chain of Being, pictured as an immutable scale of life forms from the most primitive to God himself. x
  • 3
    Theories of Evolution in the 18th Century
    You study three 18th-century thinkers: Benoît de Maillet, who estimated the cosmos to be billions of years old; Georges Buffon, who believed that living things descended from more primal forms; and Pierre Simon Laplace, who proposed a developmental theory for the formation of the solar system. x
  • 4
    Fossils and Catastrophism
    At the end of the 18th century, fossils were not necessarily regarded as actual remains of living things. You learn that they became central to the work of Georges Cuvier, who connected fossils to extinct species, which he believed had died out in violent catastrophes. x
  • 5
    Theories of Evolution Just before Darwin
    The idea of evolution was in the air by the early 19th century. This lecture looks at precursors to Darwin, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who wrote a systematic account of the evolution of species over time and proposed that acquired characteristics can be inherited. x
  • 6
    Why Evolution Was Rejected before Darwin
    You investigate the dubious status of evolutionary ideas in the years before Darwin's book. Among the objections: Evolution challenged the Bible and lacked convincing empirical support. Some critics even classed evolution with fringe ideas such as Mesmerism and phrenology. x
  • 7
    Darwin's Conversion to Evolution
    The young Darwin's intention to join the ministry was interrupted by an offer to travel around the world as a naturalist aboard HMS Beagle. The experience changed his life, giving him a growing conviction that species had altered over time, a conclusion he kept largely to himself. x
  • 8
    What's in On the Origin of Species?
    Darwin spent two decades developing his theory of evolution through natural selection. You learn how he was rushed to publish prematurely by the independent discovery of the same principle by Alfred Russel Wallace. Yet Darwin's book, On the Origin of Species, is a masterful statement of his idea. x
  • 9
    How Origin Fared among Scientists
    Even as Darwin's book stimulated greater acceptance of the idea of evolution, scientists criticized his specific mechanism, natural selection. This separation of the general notion of evolution from the means by which it occurs has permitted Darwinism to mean different things to different people ever since. x
  • 10
    The Religious Reaction to Darwinism
    This lecture explores the religious response to Darwin's theory. Some argued that natural selection was tantamount to atheism, raising an issue that endures to the present day. Others reinterpreted natural selection to make it compatible with a belief in God. Still others completely separated science from religion. x
  • 11
    The Social Implications of Evolution
    Those who accepted evolution in the 19th century generally considered it a purposeful or goal-directed process, rejecting the random variation of natural selection. You explore how such an understanding influenced Herbert Spencer's social philosophy of the survival of the fittest. x
  • 12
    Evolution and Heredity
    You examine the difficulty that evolutionary theory faced in showing its compatibility with a theory of heredity. Darwin proposed a particulate theory of heredity, called pangenesis. Meanwhile, Gregor Mendel, an obscure Austrian monk, developed a powerful hereditary theory based on his experiments with pea plants. x
  • 13
    A Nadir for Natural Selection
    In the early 1900s, Darwin's theory was in eclipse as its two fundamental tenets—selection and small variations—were rejected by a majority of scientists. You also see how Mendel's rediscovered work was interpreted as further evidence against natural selection. x
  • 14
    Groundwork for Recovery
    This lecture discusses how developments in cell biology in the early 20th century clarified the process of heredity, showing that small changes in chromosomes were responsible for determining larger characteristics of organisms. This hinted that Darwin had been correct to focus on small continuous variations. x
  • 15
    Human Evolution
    Darwin did not deal with the explosive issue of human evolution in Origin, but others were quick to see the implications of natural selection for the question of human origins. You learn how the discovery of Neanderthal remains and other human-like fossils fed the controversy. x
  • 16
    The Scopes Trial
    This lecture investigates fact and fiction in the famous Scopes anti-evolution trial in 1925. Supposedly, teacher John Scopes was persecuted, attorney Clarence Darrow rose to Scopes's defense and defeated prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, and the anti-evolution movement was discredited. There are problems with all three statements. x
  • 17
    Lamarckian Inheritance on Stage
    Two controversies in the 20th century show the staying power of Lamarck's theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. In Austria, biologist Paul Kammerer claimed that bodily changes in amphibians were heritable. In the Soviet Union, agronomist T. D. Lysenko made a similar claim about food crops. x
  • 18
    Forging an Evolutionary Synthesis
    You learn how the work of population geneticists, field naturalists, and paleontologists in the early 20th century led to an evolutionary synthesis that recognized Darwin's theory of natural selection as the major agent of evolution. Factors such as Lamarckian inheritance were rejected. x
  • 19
    Evolution and Molecular Biology
    The new science of molecular biology added stunning evidence for Darwin's theory with the discovery of DNA as the carrier of genetic information. The decoding of DNA's double-helical structure by Francis Crick and James Watson shed new light on the origin of the minute variations responsible for natural selection. x
  • 20
    The Rise of Biblical Creationism
    This lecture examines the backlash against evolution by American evangelicals, who came up with increasingly sophisticated attacks on Darwinism to defend the biblical account of creation. Their tactics led to an alternative explanation of the origin of life, called "scientific creationism." x
  • 21
    Tinkering with Evolutionary Theory
    Altruistic behavior poses a problem for natural selection at the level of individuals. Therefore some scientists have theorized that selection acts on groups or even on individual genes. You investigate these proposals and also the field of sociobiology, which sees a Darwinian component to human social behavior. x
  • 22
    The Heritage of Eugenics
    You learn how evolution has inspired controversial ideas such as eugenics—the study of improving human heredity through controlled selective breeding. Eugenics led to restrictive marriage laws and forced sterilization in the United States and to mass euthanasia in Nazi Germany. x
  • 23
    Intelligent Design
    You see how the classical philosophical argument from design has been restyled "intelligent design" to attack natural selection, leading to a 2005 court case in Dover, Pennsylvania. The trial ended in an adverse ruling against a school that sought to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution. x
  • 24
    Adding Things Up
    In this final lecture, you take stock of the Darwinian revolution and some of the scientific, philosophical, and religious reactions to it. An analysis of these issues illuminates the difference between metaphysical beliefs and scientific explanations, and how they are inextricably linked when it comes to interpreting Darwin. x

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Your professor

Frederick Gregory

About Your Professor

Frederick Gregory, Ph.D.
University of Florida
Dr. Frederick Gregory is Professor of History of Science at the University of Florida, where he has taught for 30 years. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Wheaton College in Illinois, a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an M.A. in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University. Professor Gregory has received...
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Reviews

Darwinian Revolution is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 53.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of many best courses I own on DVD and will to This course explains the trainwreck of US politics in the 21st century. Critical thinking is absent. 50 % don't understand natural selection, gradual change over deep time; and 50% believe in ghosts. Welcome to the dark ages. I am reminded over again my grad school advisor's advice: "When you begin to believe your own hypothesis, you are a dead duck as a scientist." That self-control has disappeared from American life.
Date published: 2016-09-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent! What an excellent course! I love to think about, and discuss, the topic of natural selection and religion. This course is a perfect primer. It is not a biology class. It is a history lesson full of fascinating developments and opinions on the subject over the decades since Darwin's "origin" book. Highly recommended. I have seen in other reviews that the accompanying booklet is thin. I think it is the perfect length... just enough detail (some 5 pages per lecture) to jog your memory about what was discussed and flll in some blanks. What's interesting about the course is that the instructor never reveals his position on the topics until the last lecture, but when he does, it's a thought-provoking balanced view that makes you want to learn even more about the subject.
Date published: 2016-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough and fair-minded. While this course was about one-third longer and more detailed than I would have preferred, I am extremely glad I stuck it out to the end. The professor surprised me at the end of the course with a philosophically sophisticated, clear and stark set of options for the listener on what to believe, and left it up to the listener to decide. This is education at its finest. He did a great job of keeping a narrative thread going despite some important sidetracks, and I especially liked the way he put various cultural and historical conflicts into perspective. Unless you are very doctrinaire one way or the other on evolution, you too should find a lot in this course of great and lasting value.
Date published: 2015-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History and Philosophy of Darwinian Thought Audio download. For those considering purchasing these lectures be aware that Professor Gregory is an historian of science, not a scientist. In his well organized and articulate presentation, he outlines the state of natural and biologic science before the publication of Darwin's work explaining evolution by way of natural selection, since evolution had been a part of natural science before Darwin brought it to the fore. By placing evolutionary philosophy in the context of Darwin's time, Gregory describes the essence of the scientific method, in which that data and conclusions are critically scrutinized (sometimes brutally)...as it should be...alternate interpretations are offered, and new technology developed and employed, causing the discussions to be refreshed. No room for blind dogma here. I was inspired by these lectures (prompted by Gregory) to rediscover the works of Stephen Jay Gould (one of my scientific heroes), particularly on his views of the clash between the natural and the supernatural (evolution vs creationism). Gould ultimately concludes that there is no resolution possible his NOMA (Non-overlapping magisteria) position, stating: "Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve." and "Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world, and to develop theories that coordinate and explain these facts. Religion, on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings, and values—subjects that the factual domain of science might illuminate, but can never resolve." (Gould, Stephen Jay. Rocks of Ages: Science and Religion in the Fullness of Life.) The controversy of religious faith versus evolutionary biology will never be resolved, but ain't it fun to argue about. Highly recommended, thought provoking, with a philosophical last chapter worthy of Kant. Wait for a sale, but it's worth every penny, especially when you consider how many times you will re-listen.
Date published: 2015-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great course A really really smart course. The course shows the divide over Darwinism that continues today (alas). One great aspect is that the lectures show that there are really two splits. The first over human evolution from "lower" species did NOT really form the core to objections about Darwinism except to the most fundamentalist believers in the Bible. The real deep divide comes from the notion that evolution itself is simply radically random and that there is no deeper process that unfolds. I had never really understood the two-tier nature of the debated provoked by Darwinism until hearing these lectures as I tended before to homogenize these two distinct critiques of Darwin. BTW: Gregory is great as well in giving us the historical background to the emergence of Darwinism and its nadir that began in the late 1800s and robust revival later on. Professor Gregory really brings unique qualifications to the course as he is as knowledgeable in theology as he is in hard science. Again, just a great course.
Date published: 2015-03-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Darwinian Revolution: one of the GC's best This is one of the best GC lectures that I've heard. Both content and delivery are good. The speaker shows that there is much more to "the Darwinian Revolution," both before and after Darwin, than most people probably know. In particular, his lecture on the Scopes trial was excellent.
Date published: 2015-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Overall course is good; several lectures excellent You need to watch all the lectures to provide a context but the three lectures on the Scopes Trial, Eugenics and the summary lecture were worth the price of the course. Course provides an excellent foundation for further study and includes extensive references for that pursuit. Correctly, in my opinion, concludes that the real dilemma is not between science and religion but between two world views - naturalism and super naturalism. Neither can be proved, but that hasn't kept us from trying, with sometimes comical and tragic effects on both sides.
Date published: 2015-02-13
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Hasn't he read anything on Intelligent Design?? Got to the last few lectures, and the lecturer manages to completely overlook the obvious and thorough intellectual deviousness of the Creationism > Intelligent Design movement. He reveals NO context for the well know facts of things like the Wedge Document, the deliberate deception of the publishers revealed in the Dover Case, or the minimally meaningful bona fides of any Creationist/IDer in relevant scientific areas. The Dover Case showed incontrovertibly that ID was merely Creationism in another garb, as through the ICR. With this degree of what I can only describe as mealy mouthed presentation evident in areas I have read about, I really don't trust any of this lecturer's pronouncements in other areas. I will never buy a course from this lecturer again. There are some historical facts and context that I did not know before, and that is why I didn't rate the course a complete loss. I am truly disappointed in TGC that they would let something like this out.
Date published: 2014-12-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A comprehensive history of Evolution Video Review: Dr. Gregory presents the entire saga of the intellectual history of evolution culminating in Darwin's masterful work and continuing through periods of controversy, refinement, and evolution of evolution itself. While many may know how Darwin was influenced by geology, how he held off on publishing "Origin of Species" for many years, how Wallace emerged with a similar theory motivating Darwin to publish, and how Darwin's work has been surrounded by controversy; Dr. Gregory teaches us about many other competing ideas in this domain prior to Darwin, how discoveries in genetics at first conflicted with natural selection, and how the science of evolution itself has evolved from Darwin's "natural selection" to this plus symbiosis among various species. It is a fascinating journey and one that demonstrates how science itself continues to evolve as new discoveries are made. Dr. Gregory is clearly quite knowledgeable on the subject and speaks with enthusiasm and inflection. Most TGC lecturers either stand behind a lectern and speak from their notes, or walk across the set, display body motions, and use (or read from) a teleprompter. Dr. Gregory stands behind a lectern and reads from a teleprompter while largely standing still. There were very few visual aids to accompany him, so I couldn't help thinking that given Dr. Gregory's great baritone speaking voice, the audio version of this course would have been a better way to go. Perhaps I would have rated this course a 5 had I purchased the audio version. The course guidebook presents the lecture summaries in outline form, which typically is fine, but in this case the notes are rather thin. The timeline, glossary, biographical notes and bibliography are fine. Without a doubt this is a history of science course, not a course on detailed scientific principles. Perhaps this course should have been under "Intellectual History" for a topic vs "Science and Mathematics". Nevertheless, I would recommend this to anyone interested in Biology as it is important to understand the history of how the ideas of Evolution and Natural Selection came about OR to anyone just interested in this important part of Modern Intellectual/Philosophical History.
Date published: 2014-11-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sensitive and Informed Overview Having just completed the course from Professor Larson covering this vital subject I was drawn to the longer course from Professor Gregory who has specialised in the History of Science for more than 30 years. This course obviously covers much of the same ground as Professor Larson but the extended 24 lecture format permits a deeper background on some of the key topics. There is a plenty of useful analysis of how the concept of "evolution" was being discussed by a number of scholars in the decades before Darwin including his own grandfather. I also found the Professor very even handed in terms of seeking to highlight the importance of clearly defining the terms of any debate about the religious implications of Darwinian evolution. The Professor was able to show how some on each side seek to caricature the views of their opponents in order to denigrate their respective position. There are many nuances involved in this subject. Darwin for example in his lifetime did not necessarily see natural selection as a completely random process. The neo-Darwinian synthesis that developed in the first decades of the 20th century is arguably materially at variance with Darwin's views in particular relating to the role of "Lamarckian" inheritance. It is also vital to show that from contemporaries of Darwin to the present day there have been highly respected scientists who have not seen a contradiction between theism and evolution. Asa Gray being an obvious example from the time of Darwin. This, as stated above, is gathered together beautifully in lecture 24 which should be listened to by all who comment on this subject. I have only given a 4 star as the one disappointment of the course was that the booklet accompanying the course was very thin. Some notes of lectures were barely over a page. Given the complexity of some of the topics covered this made it challenging to review the lecture notes before proceeding to the next lecture. Professor Larson's course booklet by contrast has much more detailed lecture summaries. Subject to this proviso this is a recommended course.
Date published: 2014-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent coverage of Evolution This course does an excellent job of showing evolutionary theory way beyond the superficial Darwinian Natural Selection that most people seem to think of when hearing "evolution".
Date published: 2014-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from No missing links I reviewed the audio version because it was cheaper. Prof. Gregory was thorough and polished. No misses. I don't know what further benefit there may with the video version. I didn't feel as though I might have missed something with the audio version. That said, Great Courses has another course called Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy by Larson. The two courses are virtually identical in content, near identical twins except this one by Gregory is longer and better presented. I recommend this course by Gregory over the other.
Date published: 2014-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview of the history of evolution I am surprised that some expected this to be a course on modern principles of evolution. For that, you should probably consider a very recent textbook. This is an informative, well organized, and well researched overview of the thinking and the cultural influences that shaped evolutionary thinking over history. Professor Gregory shows no personal bias for or against religion, no bias toward or against any historical worldviews, and obviously knows this historical perspective on evolution like one who loves and is interested in the genre. It should be mandatory watching for any biologist contemplating teaching of biology who wants to enlighten his/her listeners with a very rich past history of the cornerstone of modern biology,
Date published: 2013-11-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Darwinian Revolution I found this 12-CD, 2-part lecture series fascinating. I am a senior lady with a limited science background. I had high school science and a few general education science courses in college, all of which are pretty dated now. I also read a historical novel about Charles Darwin's 5-year Beagle voyage and another about Clarence Darrow, including his part in the Scope's trial, so some of the material was not unfamiliar to me, but much of it was entirely new. For those with little science background who want a fascinating learning experience, I highly recommend this lecture series. For those with greater science background, the historical context presented will help in understanding the profound ramifications of Darwin‘s theory. Professor Frederick Gregory, the lecturer, could not have been more genuine, more intrigued with his subject, or more exciting and vital in communicating information. His material comes alive, and there is a quality of fairness and integrity that shines through and inspires. I listened to parts of a CD every day at breakfast (at times repeating them), and I found myself looking forward to this as if I were meeting with a fascinating, delightful friend. What a great instructor! Professor Gregory presents ideas and controversies fairly. He has respect for opposing ideas and conveys that ideas are shaped by historical context. He presents Darwin in the context of a broad view of scientific, philosophical, social, religious, and legal developments before, during, and after Darwin. This is a huge undertaking. As a result, I agree with a contributor to this site who amusingly posted that the course was a bit like a ride on a motorcycle through the Louvre. These CDs present a lot of fascinating information. Due to my limited background in science, I could not follow this at times, so I did at times replay a track or a whole CD. In addition, a guide to further reading is said to be included. I checked my CDs out of the library, and I want readers to be aware that you might also do this, which is great for seniors on a limited income. Since the guide to further reading for my library copy was unfortunately missing, I cannot comment on it. Dr. Gregory makes it clear that Darwin did not originate the idea of evolution, even though it is sometimes believed that he did, but that Darwin's contribution was his theory of how evolution occurred, that is, through the natural selection of small variations. Dr. Gregory distinguishes natural selection from supernatural selection. He presents ideas before Darwin’s theory arose, describes how Darwin's theory was received, and relates how the objections to Darwin’s theory have been answered in recent times. Through this journey of astonishing scope across multiple disciplines, Dr. Gregory defines Darwin's contribution. In part, I agree with another contributor to this site who wanted more information about Darwin's specific contribution. For myself, I would have liked specific examples of how Darwin believed natural selection occurred in the world. However, perhaps it was just this process that Darwin could not isolate in his time in history due to the limited state of scientific knowledge (such as, genetics). This is not clear to me, but I may have missed it in the wealth of material, and I may listen again to these 12 intriguing CDs to deepen my comprehension. This is a wonderful series of lectures that will provide many hours of learning, inspiration, and enjoyment, and I highly recommend it!
Date published: 2012-12-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Recommended! The Darwinian Revolution is a great course but we must be clear that it is a history-of-science type of course NOT a science course. That being said, Professor Gregory gives an excellent survey of the scientific and philosophical thought leading up to Darwin and then to the present day. I learned A LOT from this course about the development of the relevant Western intellectual ideas of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century. I reluctantly give it only 4 of 5 stars, but still highly recommend it, as I think it got a little off track thematically about 2/3 of the way through but otherwise is very well done. The presentation is clear and engaging. Recommended!
Date published: 2012-11-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent history course on Darwinism By the close of the first lecture, I felt I was in for a wide-ranging, deeply-searching course by a master teacher. Dr Gregory is relaxed and likeable, points out that he is a historian ~ and indeed this is a history course rather than a science course. The professor rightly recognised that it was necessary to provide social, philosophical, scientific and theological backgrounds, i.e. to set the stage. I especially enjoyed the early lectures dealing with: Cuvier, 19th century ideas on evolution prior to Darwin's theory of natural selection, and Darwin's book "On the Origin of Species" itself. There should have been more treatment of Darwin and his theory, frankly. Most lectures are engrossing, fluent, clear and extremely well-constructed; lectures 17 and 18 (Lamarckian Inheritance on Stage and Forging an Evolutionary Synthesis) were very dry for me. Happily, things picked up from lecture 19 with Dr Gregory back in his stride as a truly engaging instructor, getting into some good science chat about DNA and its support for Darwin's minute variations in natural selection, including an illustrative movie clip of the double helix splitting, very neat! Highly-recommended course on Darwinism with the emphasis on history, not science.
Date published: 2012-09-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Nice Historical Perspective Professor Gregory examines Darwin and evolution from a historical and social perspective, not a biological and scientific one. Whether you believe in the theory of evolution and/or the concept of natural selection or not one must admit that the work of Darwin has aroused controversy in many circles. The 24 lectures of this course help to place Darwin’s work into an historical and social framework to better understand both the societal and scientific responses to the theory Darwin proposed. Individuals with loyalties on both sides of the controversy can learn from Dr. Gregory’s course. The initial six lectures lay out the background on evolution before Darwin made his contributions on the issue. Lectures seven and eight present the story of Darwin and his work. The remaining sixteen lectures offer the various responses of society and science to the theory, in a roughly chronological fashion. The famous Scopes Trial of 1925 in Dayton, Tennessee is the topic of lecture sixteen. Additional lectures are devoted to biblical creationism, eugenics, and intelligent design, among other issues. Professor Gregory is an engaging speaker. He knows his topic well and is an excellent communicator. The course is well organized, and I enjoyed the straight forward presentation style. This is not a science course on evolution and its implications. This is also not a straight biography of Darwin, the man and his thoughts. It is a hybrid course which dwells mainly with tracing the societal and scientific responses to a theory and body of thought that has been controversial from the time it was first proposed. The precise reasons for the controversies are laid out very nicely in this fine course from Professor Gregory. I recommend a listen.
Date published: 2012-04-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from On the evolution of evolution This was a very good course. I found it academically satisfying, rigorous, and informative. It covers evolution, Darwinism, or natural selection from a historical perspective and it pretty much comes at you chronologically, which makes it all easier to digest. It’s not heavy on hard science, although the professor does indeed describe plenty of scientific experiments and detail Darwin’s and Lamrck’s theories. This course will definitely catch you up to speed on all the major players over the centuries and they can be found in the Biographical Notes; there’s a useful Glossary you should peruse to form a baseline of knowledge about related terms. Many of the scientists and their arguments and ideas popped every now and again throughout the whole course, so you get a good chance to keep everything fresh in your mind. The first half is dominated by science, while the second half covers its impact on society (especially the US). Overall, I now feel better equipped to engage in discussion on related topics. Professor Gregory is lively for an old guy (I’m now looking forward to his other course). I had the DVDs, and I enjoyed his presentation and the many portraits. However, I think audio will suffice for most customers. Regarding course reviews, it is clear some people did not actually listen to or view the course. Professor Gregory comes right out and says emphatically in the concluding lecture that Intelligent Design (ID) is NOT science and he explains why. Discerning viewers/listeners will always know exactly where he stands on the issues.
Date published: 2012-02-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Darwinian Revolution Disappointing I had expected a useful summary of the topic of evolution, but judging from the lectures, Prof. Frederick Gregory has an almost nil understanding of evolution, although he is not in favor of it. A proper title of the course should be something like: “Is Intelligent Design the Answer to Darwin?” The Great Courses has a course by Martin and Hawks: “Major Transitions in Evolution,” with lecture titles that promise a decent treatment of the topic.
Date published: 2011-12-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from best ever I am just finishing listening to this lecture series. It is excellent
Date published: 2011-08-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Overall View of Darwinism This Course provide an excellent material for those that have problems understanding Evolution. It gets to the basic of Evolution and once you get this great idea and have some understanding of it, all of nature makes sense. The key that I got from Darwin's idea is the advantages is the driving force of Evolution. A good Analogy is gambling in Las Vegas. Gambling is a chance game with advantages, of course for the Casino. Those individuals that have advantages over there fellow competitors will most likely survive and pass on those advantages into the population.
Date published: 2011-08-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Dissappointed Prof Gregory's an historian not a scientist and focuses on Darwin from an historical rather than scientific perspective. He really seems not to get science at all. Tries to show Darwinism embedded in western intellectual history and points out that others were thinking along similar lines. Largely misses the essence of Darwin's work - that he backed up his and others musings on life's evolution with key evidence gathered during his travels on the Beagle coupled with a persuasive narrative making his case. Also seems to be reading the lectures.
Date published: 2011-06-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not enough Darwin Clear and well-organized talks, though the lecturer seems to be reading them. Only two lectures are directly devoted to Darwin, and to only one of his many books. Most are instead devoted to subsequent, often kooky, modifications: social Darwinism, the evolutionary synthesis, creationism, Lysenko, the Scopes trial, intelligent design. All of these are of interest but a summary may leave one unsatisfied (if curious, take a look at the Norton critical edition, Darwin, ed. P. Appleman, not mentioned in the course outline, for some nicely chosen excerpts from these writers). These lectures may whet the appetite, but are not a full course.
Date published: 2011-05-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Not a science course This is not a science course, but a history course. It should definitely be moved from biology section to science history section. I bought this course hoping to learn about the science itself. But I've end up with a history course. I didn't like the contents and I was bored. However I am not objective on this end. I don't like history courses and I am not interested. So my feelings about this course was negative. Nevertheless, the instructor seems like to know his subject and presentation is OK.
Date published: 2010-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Concept of Evolution - Older Than Darwin Professor Gregory certainly knows how to make history of science come alive. As in his previous TTC course “History of Science 1700 – 1900” he engages the listener with his fast-paced but clear narrative that, however (or, perhaps, precisely because of it), requires the listener’s close attention (I found listening to the lectures while driving in heavy traffic problematic, but this is the driver’s fault, not Professor Gregory’s). The lectures strike a good balance between the “intramural” development of evolutionary theory within the established scientific research system and the reaction to it in the world at large (having grown up in an environment where evolution was accepted as the best available explanation of how we came to where we are, I still remember my incredulity when, as an exchange student in a small mid-western community in the 1960’s I was asked by a fellow student if I “really believed” in evolution). This is not primarily a lecture on the science of evolution (although it is covered in sufficient detail as far as I am concerned) but a history of the concept of evolution and its repercussions in society. I particularly appreciated Professor Gregory’s exposition of the pre-Darwinian developments where he clearly demonstrates that the idea of evolution did not come out of the blue with Darwin but was well established, albeit as a minority view, by the time Darwin and Wallace presented their papers. In discussing these pre-Darwinian ideas Professor Gregory does an excellent job of putting them into their historical context and giving the listener an appreciation for their protagonists’ intellectual achievements thus rescuing them from the all-too-easy ridicule fueled by two or three centuries’ worth of hindsight (including Bishop Ussher whose dating down to the hour of the day of creation may seem fanciful to us but was probably based upon the best available evidence of his time). If there is one criticism of this excellent course it is that the course guidebook is on the slim side.
Date published: 2010-07-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The evolution of Darwinsim Evolutionary biology is a big interest of mine, so I awaited this course with a great deal of enthusiasm. I was a psychobiology major in college (neurobiology) and took a zoology course and two evolutionary biology courses. Consequently, while I found the subject matter of this course very interesting, I think it is a little too basic for those with much of a biology background. I definitely learned some key points of interest that I had not known. One example is how Darwin did NOT exclude the possibility of some Lamarckian evolution (inheritance of acquired charecteristics) but rather he deemphasized the importance of this in favor of natural selection. This course gives you some glimpses of Darwin the man, but it is not heavy in biographical content. This is an intellectual history course first and foremost which follows the roots of evolutionary theory including its proponents and critics then traces the scientific concensus in regards to evolution and natural selection since Darwin. The biggest surprise is the great amount of this course devoted to religious reactions to Darwinsim in particular and evolution in general. The course covers both sympathetic religious interpreters and staunch opponents. Several lectures are devoted to exploring different paradigms from the strict naturalistic scientists to those more open to accepting evolution as scientific fact while still believing in religious interpretations of the universe too. Intelligent design, the Scopes trial, and Supreme Court verdicts regarding the teaching of evolution in the context of church and state separation are all covered. In regards to the actual mechanisms of evolution, the treatment is very clear but again rather brief and simple. However, also covered was the influence of paleontology, genetics, and molecular biology in regards to developing and changing appreciation of the mechansims of how evolution works. Overall, this is an interesting course, but deals less with the biographical details of Darwin's life and the actual mechanisms of evolution and natural selection than it does the changing societal, religious, and scientific attitudes toward evolution and natural selection. This course is especially worth completing for those who are interested in the "big picture" paradigm questions regarding how evolution fits into a religious belief system. The course is still interesting but less in depth when dealing with the actual scientific mechanisms of evolution.
Date published: 2010-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of the best yet I have listened to a number of Teaching Company lectures, and came into this one by accident, but it has turned out to be one of the finest yet. I was leery at first, half expecting the good professor to launch into some sort of polemic which often characterize any discussion of Darwin or natural selection. Instead, I found the course engaging, even-handed (something I have NEVER experienced before on this subject matter), and far more complex than I ever thought -- though the course takes you through the many layers and complexities of the subject without losing sight of its purpose.
Date published: 2010-02-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent If you want a thorough and well-presented course on the history and science of evolution, this is one for you. I am weak in the sciences and it takes quite an effective presentation to hold my attention. The professor did hold my attention, with a few exceptions (he sometimes offered more details than I really cared to hear--again, that reflects my own peculiar problem with science). So, if someone like me can give this course 5 stars, you will have some indication of just how well this course is structured and presented. (I listened on CD and see no reason to have it on DVD.)
Date published: 2010-01-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from History of Evolution Professor Gregory is an engaging speaker. I enjoyed listening to him. This course traces the history of evolution including Darwin's grandfather's ideas on the subject. It emphasizes that Darwin did not invent "evolution," but rather the mechanism of "natural selection." Darwin himself was not as committed to his theory as science is today. He had the disadvantage of not knowing genetics and so didn't have a good answer for how an advantageous variation wouldn't get diluted over subsequent generations of "mixing." In fact, Darwin believed that there was at least some effect due to inheritance of acquired characteristics (which was surprising). After initial success, the theory lost acceptance until the early 1900's when science caught up with it (genetics explained away the areas where Darwin was not as comfortable).
Date published: 2009-12-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Evolution in Context I was very pleased with this introduction to evolution - especially on the historical sequence of the development of evolutionary thought. Contrary to the simplified "sound bite" view of evolution, it did not start with Darwin, and Darwin did not "invent" it. In this course, Professor Gregory carefully covers the pre-Darwinian evolutionary thought, then covers the tortured road from the first publication of The Origin of Species through its low point early in the 20th century and on to the neo-Darwinian synthesis generally accepted by scientists today. If I did not already "know" the current state of scientific thought in this area, I would have been wondering throughout the lectures how it was going to turn out. The emphasis of the course is on the development of the scientific thinking about evolution and less about the actual mechanisms and biological details behind it (though there is some.) Keep in mind that the Professor's advanced degrees are in the History of science rather than in any of the fields of science that one see for a practicing researcher in the field. In that context, he delivers an articulate overview ofthe topic.
Date published: 2009-12-29
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