Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy

Course No. 174
Professor Edward J. Larson, Ph.D., J.D.
Pepperdine University
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Course No. 174
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Course Overview

Charles Darwin's theory of organic evolution—the idea that life on earth is the product of purely natural causes, not the hand of God—set off shock waves that continue to reverberate through Western society, and especially the United States. What makes evolution such a profoundly provocative concept, so convincing to most scientists, yet so socially and politically divisive? The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy is an examination of the varied elements that so often make this science the object of strong sentiments and heated debate.

Professor Edward J. Larson leads you through the "evolution" of evolution, with an eye toward enhancing your understanding of the development of the theory itself and the roots of the controversies that surround it. In these lectures you will:

  • Explore pre-Darwinian theories of the origins of life, from Genesis and the ancient Greeks to such 18th- and 19th-century scientists as Georges Cuvier and Chevalier de Lamarck
  • Follow the life and work of Charles Darwin, and the impact of his 1859 masterpiece, On the Origin of Species. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection was immediately recognized as a threat to traditional religion, but was quickly accepted (the first printing of Origin of Species sold out on the first day)
  • Examine the history of evolutionary science after Darwin—a fascinating story that includes the "rediscovery," after 35 years, of Gregor Mendel's work on genetic variation; the unearthing of prehominid, or early human, fossils by Raymond Dart in 1925 and the Leakey family in the 1950s; and the confusion created by the sensational, but later discredited, discovery of Piltdown Man—a fake evolutionary "missing link"—in 1912
  • Trace the history of religious objections to evolution, from those of Darwin's own time to contemporary efforts to teach creation science in American schools. This includes a detailed discussion of the famous Scopes "monkey trial," which in fact was a staged media event, designed to create publicity for the town of Dayton, Tennessee.

Are Our Genes more Important than We Are?

This course makes it clear that the history of controversy surrounding evolution is not limited to a dispute between science and religion. Even within the scientific community, the fine details of the theory of evolution have long been a matter of passionate dispute.

In fact, in the last third of the 19th century, the principal objections were scientific, not religious. Although the fossil record was a key piece of evidence for evolution, it had gaps that could be used to argue against the theory. And both proponents and critics wondered how altruistic human qualities such as love and generosity could possibly have evolved through the competitive, often harsh, processes that Darwin described.

From Professor Larson's presentation, you will learn that new ideas in evolution science have often created new controversies. For example, is it truly possible, as some scientists now maintain, that humans exist merely to ensure the survival of their genes? Such research has created disagreement among scientists about the degree to which evolution drives human behavior, and has further alienated many segments of the public.

Evolution's "Dark Side": Social Darwinism

In these lectures, you will review perhaps the most sinister controversy associated with the theory of evolution: social Darwinism. From the beginning, the Darwinian theory of evolution has been linked to economic and political views. Thomas Malthus's theories of population growth and competition for limited resources even inspired Darwin's thinking on natural selection.

Unfortunately, later supporters of evolution carried this line of thinking too far. Beginning with Herbert Spencer, who coined the term "survival of the fittest," Darwin's ideas were used as evidence for a wide range of social beliefs, from laissez-faire capitalism to racism, colonialism, and, in perhaps the worst application, Nazism. In the United States, social Darwinism has served as a basis for the creation of IQ tests and for eugenics programs that resulted in the forced sterilization of thousands of mentally ill or retarded Americans.

Unsettling Implications: The Growing Gulf Between Science and Religion

During the late 19th century, largely through the efforts of scientists who sought to integrate evolutionary science with spiritual belief, evolution was widely accepted by the religious community in the United States. Today, this is hardly the case.

In his last four lectures, Professor Larson examines the trends that have, since 1920, widened the gulf between science and religion. These include an increase in fundamentalist Protestantism, the weakening of liberal Protestantism as a counteracting force, and the growing power of a firmly conservative South.

In the 1960s, federally funded neo-Darwinian textbooks provoked a conservative backlash. Beginning with the publication of Henry M. Morris's The Genesis Flood, efforts to gain equal time for the teaching of creation science, based on biblical teachings, gathered strength. Rebuffed by the courts, creationism continues to thrive through the increasing numbers of private Christian schools and through home schooling.

The growing gulf between science and religion has unsettling implications for our society. Large segments of the American population reject the naturalism of current evolutionary thinking. Nine of 10 Americans believe in spiritual causes for life, with only 10 percent accepting the purely naturalistic explanations espoused by evolution. Strikingly, these statistics are almost exactly the opposite among the scientific community.

A Pulitzer Prize-Winning Teacher

As both a historian of science and a professor of law, Professor Edward J. Larson brings exceptional qualifications to this subject. His book, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize in History. His analysis provides an invaluable perspective on the volatile history of what is arguably the single most significant idea of modern times.

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12 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Before Darwin
    By 1800, biblical and other ancient accounts of origins dissatisfied many scientifically sophisticated Europeans. French naturalist Georges Cuvier concluded that history was punctuated by epochs of life-destroying catastrophes, with distinctive species populating each epoch. This was the leading scientific theory of origins during Charles Darwin's youth. x
  • 2
    Evolution in the Air
    The idea that species evolve from pre-existing species gained currency early in the 19th century. The emerging fossil record and developments in geology laid a foundation for evolution theory. A new notion of geological formation, Charles Lyell's gradualist theory, was the springboard for Darwin's thinking about evolution. x
  • 3
    Darwin's Inspiration
    Charles Darwin set sail aboard the H. M. S. Beagle in 1831 as the ship's naturalist. Inspired by Lyell's Principles of Geology, which he read on the voyage, Darwin was persuaded by his observations on the Galapagos Islands that existing species evolved from pre-existing ones. He struggled to refine his theory until 1858, when he learned that Alfred Wallace had hit on the same idea. x
  • 4
    An Intellectual Revolution
    On the Origin of Species spawned an ongoing revolution in human thought. Although Darwin's theory did not preclude belief in God, it dispensed with the need to believe in a supernatural creator. As extended in Descent of Man, Darwin's thinking excluded God as the creator of humans. The study of man and nature became an investigation of natural, not supernatural, causes. x
  • 5
    Debates over Mechanism
    By 1875 virtually all biologists in Europe and America adopted an evolutionary perspective. Yet, even as they accepted the basic idea that species evolve, biologists doubted the sufficiency of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Alternative theories flourished, cushioning the impact of evolutionary science for traditional social and religious beliefs. x
  • 6
    Missing Links
    By 1900 technical arguments on evolution that appealed to scientists failed to persuade the public, particularly the notion that humans evolved from apes. Beginning late in the 19th century, those intent on proving evolution hunted for "missing links" in the fossil record. Any such missing links became front-page news and boosted popular acceptance of evolution. x
  • 7
    Genetics Enters the Picture
    At the dawn of the 20th century, biologists still believed that evolution happened, but there was no consensus on how it operated. As often happens in science, answers came from an unexpected source: the 35-year-old work of Gregor Mendel. x
  • 8
    Social Darwinism and Eugenics
    Even before Darwin published his theory in 1859, Herbert Spencer proposed that a survival-of-the-fittest process drove social progress. With the rise of Darwinian biology, such thinking gained credence under the banner of "social Darwinism." One result was the eugenics movement, a social crusade advocating more children from genetically fit parents and fewer children from genetically unfit ones. x
  • 9
    America's Anti-Evolution Crusade
    Decades of popular concern erupted during the 1920s into a crusade by conservative American Protestants against teaching evolution in public schools. The issue reached a public climax in 1925, when a schoolteacher named John Scopes challenged Tennessee's new law against teaching evolution. x
  • 10
    The Neo-Darwinian Synthesis
    By the 1940s biologists reached a consensus on how the evolutionary process worked. Evolution was a purely materialistic process driven by the natural selection of random variation at the genetic level. This so-called modern or neo-Darwinian synthesis was more fully Darwinian than Darwin's own conclusions. x
  • 11
    Scientific Creationism
    Commemorating the centennial of On the Origin of Species in 1959, scientists hailed the triumph of a consensus theory of evolution. They largely ignored the anti-evolutionism that marked conservative Christianity in America. If anything, however, the rise of neo-Darwinism heightened tensions between traditional religious beliefs and modern scientific thought. x
  • 12
    Selfish Genes and Intelligent Design
    Americans remain divided by the origins debate. The God-less theory of origins dominates science. But the public believes overwhelmingly in a supernatural source of life and individual species. The debate over origins remains as intense as ever. x

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Your professor

Edward J. Larson

About Your Professor

Edward J. Larson, Ph.D., J.D.
Pepperdine University
Dr. Edward J. Larson is University Professor and Hugh & Hazel Darling Chair in Law at Pepperdine University. He earned a B.A. from Williams College and a J.D. from Harvard University. He also holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin- Madison. He previously taught at the University of Georgia and served as Associate Counsel for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on...
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Reviews

Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 91.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Captivating narrative! This was my first TTC lecture, and I am hugely impressed how masterfully the lecturer guides you trough 24 lectures without making you bored. It is real joy to watch the battle of evolutionism and creationism, where every new finding utterly changes the balance of forces and spirals both theories to a new level. In my view, the lecturer did a very good job of refraining from expressing his own opinion on the topic and presenting creationism arguments in quite objective light. All in all, great experience!
Date published: 2012-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from GOOD HISTORICAL OVERVIEW Professor Larson provides a good historical overview of evolution with a tacit conclusion that evolution is the only viable framework for explaining life with only the minor details left to be worked out. He offers a superb background on the pre-Darwinian scientists wrestling with explanations for the existence of life in multifarious forms and the post-Darwinian synthesis of the theory into Neo-Darwinism. Although he mentions Intelligent Design and Creationism with their contemporary contrarian advocates such as Behe, Johnson, and Morris, I sensed his agreement with the conventional response by many scientists of marginalizing anyone who challenges macro evolution. He presents these contrarians as a small number of intelligent, well meaning, articulate individuals who are blinded by their religious ideology and continue to rehash old arguments that have been thoroughly refuted. Professor Larson should have better revealed their concerns as well as offering the rebuttals rather than just dismissing them as just regurgitating obsolete contentions. Several years ago, a local high school teacher taught one of my daughters that macro evolution was a fact that explained everything about life; yet, he held that no mass extinctions existed. So as to be able to properly discuss his unusual perspective with him, I read publications by Dawkins, Gould, Eldridge, Darwin, Patterson and others as well as the contrarians mentioned above. The book that most impacted me was "Evolution: A Theory in Crisis" by Michael Denton who believes that life cannot be completely explained by Neo Darwinian evolution but makes no claims that life was specially created. Perhaps it is only minor details that need to be worked out relative to the Neo Darwinian theory; however, these minor details vary from the Cambrian explosion of life to the irreducible complexity that Darwin probably never fathomed and which Professor Larson has failed to address adequately.
Date published: 2012-05-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A helpful course While I found this a helpful and informative course, I felt that there was not enough actual evolution evidence given. If it were possible to give half-stars, I would put this course at three-and-a-half rather than 4.
Date published: 2012-03-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Scientific and Social Overview This is a good scientific and social overview of Darwin's theory of evolution. It begins with some historical background that starts in the late 1700's, and continues to issues that are still relevent today. You get what you expect in this course.
Date published: 2012-03-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than I had hoped This course was better than I had hoped, and possibly as good as I think possible. Like most courses, I was annoyed by the first lecture which is always vague as a preview of what's to come. But the following lectures went through the history of the controversy quite systematically. Note that it's a series on the "history of controversy," not on the theory itself or the facts pro & con. Prof. Larson does make an effort to explain the facts of particular issues along the way, but I wouldn't say he completely explains either theory, especially as they are understood today. For instance, he talks a lot about microevolution issues that have come up along the way, starting with Darwin's finches, but that is a "historical" issue and not a current issue of debate, at least in my mind. These details of historical debate make an interesting platform for understanding the current evolution debate. You see the whole "readiness" for a "scientific" (and often Godless) explanation of life, the welcoming of the Darwinian explanation, the continuing fervor to keep up the search for evolution even when theory after theory was proven wrong. In my eyes, it was good the prof. stayed away from the "most current" theories, because they may well become dated just as quickly as the others have (on both sides). Finding what's right isn't the purpose of the course. Even if that does sneak in once in a while, clearly the lectures show *me* that historically the "answer" to the debate has not been established. He kind of leaves us with the idea that today, most of society says they believe in a creator and most scientists say they do not. Whether or not he intended it to be so, it leaves some clear messages in my mind about evolutionary science as a self-fulfilling belief system. Prof. Larson, himself, seemed pleasant enough although he seemed to me like a "first timer" without the kind of polished lectures that some of the TTC lecturers have. However, Prof. Larson has the knowledge and when he gets going on a topic, he delivers. In the end, I suspect he is on the evolutionary side of the debate, perhaps the theistic evolution side, but he tried very hard to always say "they think" rather than "it is" - and usually corrected himself when he slipped :o) I decided not to use the course with my 10th grade homeschooler because it just seemed beyond his interest level, but it added some helpful details for me as a teacher. (And I smiled when Prof. Larson actually mentioned homeschooling as a modern reaction to evolutionism. Evolution is not the reason we began homeschooling at our house, but teaching science from a broader perspective is a lovely freedom that comes with the territory.)
Date published: 2012-02-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Comments on History of Controversy The history presented in this course was informational and educational on the controversy over basically Evolution and Religion. However I was disappointed that the Dover Monkey Trial was not mentioned in this course. It was a case that showed Intelligent design not as a scientific concept, but another way of getting religion back into the science class. Nova gave a good documentary called "Judgment Day: I.D. on trial. I recommend that future lectures on the History of Evolution should include this case. Ricky
Date published: 2012-02-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice Historical Account of Evolution This is a great course if you are interested in the history of evolutionary science and competing "faith based" theories. Dr. Larson is an excellent presenter and I enjoyed his natural style of presentation. The course presents theories of evolution prior to Darwin which provided an excellent base for understanding Darwin's approach to evolution and natural selection. As it progressed through time, you can witness one by one biblical faith based theories being challenged and discounted by sound science. You can then see the modification of faith based accounts of creationism in an attempt to hold on to those non-scientific views. It is quite enlightening to witness the journey through time of this controversial topic culminating with the current neo-Darwinistic account of evolution. This integration of genetics and natural selection and the science and research behind it is a very compelling argument. The course ends with a discussion of the attempts to hold on to creationism through relabeling it as "scientific creationism" and "intelligent design". Yet, there is nothing new in this relabeling. It mostly relies on non-scientific arguments such as the complexity of organisms or any discontinuities in the fossil record for implying intelligent design. If you are interested in the history of evolutionary thought and science you will enjoy this course. Dr. Larson did a great job of remaining unbiased and just presented the historical facts of the topic. While it would have been nice to see more of the scientific details, this is not a science course. It is presented as more of a historical perspective of evolution. With that understanding in mind, I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2011-12-09
Rated 2 out of 5 by from No science in this course I frankly was disappointed. I was expecting to learn about the science of evolution and the details of the mechanisms presiding over it. Instead I was treated to a discussion on who believed what when. I would have been interested in a scientific discussion in regard to the merit of the evolution hypothesis. Instead I had to go through what I believe are the inability of some to separate science from religion, to distinguish emotions from reason, to desperately hang on to the "known" and comfortable rather than to open themselves to possible alternatives. A telltale of this absurdity is the refusal to accept evolution for man while accepting it for the rest of all living creatures. If this concept is not purely emotional, then what is? At the end of the day the idea is to strive to arrive at some real knowledge, away from the dark ages in which Galileo had to die for chosing the rational over outdated beliefs. This is what was missing in this course.
Date published: 2011-11-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Should Be A Required Course In today's world, knowledge is what separates the educated leaders from the uneducated followers. As the old saying goes, Knowledge is Power. To understand the basics of science and, hence, your place in the universe, you must understand evolution. The only people that don't want to understand evolution are those people who have a fixed view of how they were told things are vs. how things really are. One reviewer complained that this course only casually mentions creationism. This course doesn't mention voodoo either. If you are interested in science, this is a very good introduction. There are plenty of religion courses offered; but, this isn't one of them.
Date published: 2011-11-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I liked this course Audio download. I liked the course and I liked the professor. He has a pleasant voice, he does not sound as if he is just reading his notes, and his delivery is very good so it is a pleasure to listen to him. I found the content very interesting, but please be aware that this is not a course that discusses the theory of evolution in details. Rather it is a historical overview of how it came to be, how it developed, and its fate in the modern world. I studied the theory of evolution in high school and in college. I firmly believed that it explained the origin of life and the origin of species and of men. After all, it was always presented as the scientific truth, the same as the law of gravity and the laws of thermodynamics. It is only when I started studying biology and medicine that I began to doubt the validity of this theory for the simple reason that living cells are so very complex and complicated that it is hard to believe that they have originated by random interaction of inorganic molecules in the primordial ocean. Now, the theory of evolution proper, as presented by Darwin, does not deal with the origin of life. It only tries to explain how the multitude of different animal and plant species has evolved from the most simple to the very complicated. The origin of life was added to the evolution theory as a prequel. But I learned it, just like I imagine most people have, as part of the course of the theory of evolution, so in my mind they were firmly tied together. Thanks to this course, I have learned for the first time that the theory of evolution has a history that precedes Darwin. His contribution was to provide the mechanism by which it takes place, namely natural selection through the survival of the fittest. I have heard for the first time the theory of evolution being discussed together with creationism, the idea that species (including humans) were created, rather than evolved from more simple organisms. I have learned about many problems with the theory and why it remains only a theory and not a law of nature 160 years after its original introduction. Darwin has predicted that fossil record would demonstrate intermediate species, the in-between plants and animals that would connect one type with another. Like something between reptiles and birds. Or between birds and mammals. Yet, no such species were ever found, despite the persistent attempts by a multitude of researchers all over the world. As the professor pointed out, the species appear suddenly in the fossil record, fully formed and without any intermediate creatures preceding them. Obviously, animals change and evolve, developing some features that benefit them in the struggle for survival, So they may develop a different beak, like the finches on the Galapagos Islands. Or the giraffe with the longer neck getting more food, thus having an advantage over other giraffes and transmitting this trait to its descendants. This is no different from breeding domestic animals to develop a particular trait, such as cows that produce more milk or horses that run faster. But no matter how much they change, they remain the same species. A finch with a different beak is still a finch. A giraffe with a longer neck is still a giraffe. It does not turn into an elephant or a whale. Because there is no proof, the theory of evolution has to be accepted on faith. As the professor pointed out, the theory was eventually accepted not because it was proven, like other laws of nature, but because the older generation of scientists who opposed it eventually died and the newer generation just adopted it because they wanted to believe that it was true. I am thankful to the professor, who obviously is pro-evolution, for presenting an unbiased view of the subject, which would make it possible for people to start questioning the theory of evolution as it is presented in today’s textbooks. Personally, after many years of studying biology and medicine, intelligent design makes more sense to me. If, like me, you were only exposed to one side of the debate, I highly recommend this course for a more complete view of the subject.
Date published: 2011-10-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Presentation good but information questionable This is based on the audio version. I enjoyed the professors presentation and did pick up some new information regarding the theory of evolution but the examples he provides as proof of the theory are very suspect. For example, Kettelwells spotted moths. It has been known for some time now that this research was flawed and not as depicted. The moths were placed on the trunks (in some cases glued) where they normally would not appear as they typically rest underneath the branches during the day. It's not hard to find information about the flaws in this research. The horse fossils have also been found to be specious and even evolutionist scientists question its validity. Also his description of Darwin's Origin of the Species as beautifully written appears over the top. I have listened to the book and found it to be full of circular reasoning and repetition and way too wordy. Would not exactly describe it as beautiful but rather as a bit taxing to get through. I think this course barely touched upon the controversy contained within the theory of evolution. It seems like there is much more that could be covered in this area. Still the professors presentation was good and I do not regret having listened to the course although I must admit for all the evolutionists claims of proof, this theory seems in reality to have very little, if any which is quite likely why there has been a history of controversy surrounding it and still a large number of doubters. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the overview but it certainly could have covered the more controversial issues more effectively. One other thing, his treatment of the intelligent design group was exceptionally brief. I have studied some of their literature most notably "Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design" by Stephen Meyer and have found it to be very well laid out and quite broad in its scope of the evolutionary issue. I would be interested in seeing a course on this topic at some point. I think there is more here than a five minute cursory treatment would lend itself to and it could be quite thought provoking and informative if done with objectivity rather than bias.
Date published: 2011-10-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent historical overview This subject is essential for living in today’s society if you want to be able to calmly and intelligently discuss the issues surrounding evolution, regardless of which side of the fence you stand. I found myself engrossed in the course and I learned quite a bit. Sure, who’s not familiar with Darwin and his Origin of Species? But this course covers Darwin—doesn’t even start with Darwin actually— and comes to a screeching halt at recent debates surrounding intelligent design and Dawkin’s Self Gene. I’m giving the course 4 stars though because it is only 12 lectures. While most 12-lecture courses cover a topic with sufficient depth, this one is way too short to do justice and at the end you’re left with an uneasy feeling--it just didn’t seem complete. Dr. Larson does do his best with rapid fire speech to squeeze in as much in as possible in 30 only minutes (you get used to it though) and each course ends with what seems like a new topic that really ought to have been expanded. The result is that you’re left begging for more. There’s ample opportunity to get acquainted with the likes of Cuvier, Lyell, Darwin, Wallace, Huxley, Dubois, Lamarck, Mendel, and so on. The Questions to Consider at each lecture’s end were a very good exercise in critical thinking. They definitely helped to consolidate the material. Regardless of whether or not you believe in creationism or evolution, this is a good course to survey the topic. I wasn’t offended one way or the other--it's a historical overview.
Date published: 2011-05-19
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Selling Carrots to Rabbits What's so controversial here is his attempt to reconcile faith and reason. I know truth when I see it. I don't need a history lesson that is apologetic. I need one that is apodictic.
Date published: 2011-03-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done History of Science short course [Audio]. Other reviews have addressed that this is not a Biology course. There is some Biology, and some Geology as well, but it is the history of the theory of evolution from the standpoint of an historian of science. I went to an engineering school, so our social science and liberal arts courses tended to be infused with science and engineering. Evolution makes for a great History of Science case study. I was pleased with the length, the pace, and the coverage. It surprised me, for instance, that Darwin didn’t make his full appearance in the narrative until a couple of lectures into the series. I was expecting the lectures to begin with ‘The Origin of Species’. The story begins much earlier, and the course is better for it. Perhaps the most surprising story was that the details of Darwin’s theory were doubted by many scientists, including Darwin himself, and that resolution and empirical verification had to wait for the “modern synthesis” nearly one hundred years later after ‘The Origin of Species’. Darwin published a dozen or more editions of the book changing details as he went, making me want to seek out both an early and late edition. Interestingly, the changes he made were less consistent with our modern understanding than his first edition! There is one lecture on the Scopes Trial, which is the event that first came to mind when I heard the title. Prof. Larson seems a little more spirited for this one - it is a subject about which he has written a book. One lecture was just right for this topic, and listening to it made me want to read the book. Any course, that makes me seek out more courses or to seek out books in the bibliography gets my recommendation. This course succeeded on both counts. In particular, his lecture on conflicts regarding doctrine that arouse within American protestantism in the 1930s made me curious about the history of religion in America. Also, the concluding lectures made me want to read contemporary authors like Gould, Dawkins and E. O. Wilson. Recommended.
Date published: 2010-10-19
Rated 1 out of 5 by from B o o o o ring... Snooz alert The Professor's content and delivery are boring. He tries to teach that there are enough controversies in the fact of evolution that one should only think of evolution as a tentative speculation. While this is not explicitly stated, it can quite easily be inferred. We have come a long way since Darwin first introduced the concept of evolution and the theory of natural selection, having gathered overwhelming evidence in the last 150 years. The Professor seems stuck in the early years of the development of this scientific field.
Date published: 2010-10-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Material, Could Be Presented Better This is the first TC course that I haven't been able to give an enthusiastic review and, frankly, I'm surprised at the reviews that others have given. On the positive side, the course content is quite good. As others note, this isn't a science course, it's a sociology course and in that respect it succeeds quite well. The development of the theory of evolution and the continuing controversy over it is an area worthy of learning, and that goal is achieved with this class. Unfortunately, Dr, Larson is a less than stellar speaker. Brilliant, obviously so. But smooth in his presentation, no. He trips over his words and his volume fluctuates significantly. He's better, of course, than 99% of the college professors out there, but comes up short when compared to the truly magnificent lecturers that TC is known for.
Date published: 2010-09-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Solid, well delivered, inspiring Thank you Dr. Larson for such a deeply researched series of lectures, delivered with such clarity and a humanistic historical approach. It made me want to read the whole "Origin of Species" and "the voyage of the Beagle", support ever more firmly the environmentalist cause and... travel to Galapagos!
Date published: 2010-08-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Excellent course. Good content Enthusiastic presenter. Recommend this course Only minor complaint is that the presenter sometimes dropped his voice or moved away from the mike at the end of sentences. I found myself having to go back and listen to the sentence again to get the meaning.
Date published: 2010-05-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Historical Perspective on the Topic This is a history course; not a biology course. Keep that in mind when you consider purchasing. You'll learn more about people and politics than about evolution. After your listen to this course, you will never want to watch "Inherit the Wind" again. The discussion of its false portrayal of Willam Jennings Bryan and the history of the trial are very enlightening. I found the course very stimulating and was motivated to read more about the controversies Dr. Larson introduces.
Date published: 2010-01-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Insightful discussion on Evolution's history For those looking for a lecture on the science of evolution, this isn't it - there's a different 24-lecture set on that. This, on the other hand, is a great lecture on how the Theory of Evolution came to be, how it has moved through the last 150 years, evolving and unevolving over time, and how it's proponents and opponents have used or misused it. It's a highly fascenating look at the history of the theory. Wonderful insight as to why it's still contriversial today and the reasons for that. I wasn't sure how it would really work but was pleasantly suprised. I'd recommend this to anyone who likes history and/or likes to understand the how and whys of today's issues.
Date published: 2010-01-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Different Aspect of Evolution This course covers the the legal and social backdrops to the evolution controversy. It does not really cover much in the way of actual scientific information, and at first that was a disappointment for me. However, that was more because the course was a gift and I had not read the description. It does deliver a perspective that many people do not get. I found the information covering William Jennings Bryan to be very enlightening. I have much more sympathy for him than I previously had. Whenever popular myths about a person or event seem to fit too neatly into a current ideology, it is probably oversimplified. The professor does an especially good job of shedding light on Bryan. I even have much more sympathy for Henry Morris than I previously did - not from any conversion to his beliefs, but rather because I can now see him as a real person with sincere beliefs rather than as a cartoon figure worthy of only derision. An entirely different perspective on the evolution issue.
Date published: 2009-12-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Introduction to Evolution Being relatively unfamilar with evolution beyond what I learned in high school ten years ago, I picked up this course on sale. I was immensely impressed with Professor Larson. He laid out the complexities of evolution, the theory's evolution (if you will), and the controversy it sparked and contiues to fight against today, including an outstanding depiction of the Scopes trial. Professor Larson is an excellent lecturer and I found myself sitting in the parking lot more than once waiting for a lecture to end before going into work or my apartment, something that very few courses have driven me to do. I highly recommend this course.
Date published: 2009-10-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Normally, I like TTC's 12 lecture courses, but this course felt too short. As a "History of Controversy", this course sounded enticing to me. I'd read Larson's Pulitzer Prize winning book on the subject, "Summer of the Gods", in which he shows that he's a wonderful storyteller. But to understand the controversy, one needs to learn the basics of the science of evolution. In spending the required time to teach this, Larson doesn't have enough left over to do what he does best, namely, dig in to the interplay between the scientific and religious concerns that drive the controversy. It's not until the seventh lecture of the course that Larson gets going, where you can immediately tell he's in his element. I wouldn't recommend this course if you've learned the basics of evolutionary theory and want to learn more about the controversy (as was the case with me). If you're in this category, I recommend instead TTC's Darwinian Revolution by Frederick Gregory. That course seems to have exactly the same goals as this one, but its 24 lectures are enough to not only teach the basic science but also to dig into the interesting controversy. I would recommend this short format course to those with little familiarity with the basic science that want a brief introduction to the broader issues of evolution. I'd like to see more of Edward Larson, but in a course on evolution focusing on contemporary issues surrounding the interplay between science and religion.
Date published: 2009-10-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Balanced Discussion of Evolutionary Theory Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy Taught by Edward J. Larson 12 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture Edward J. Larson is Professor of History and Law at the University of Georgia. Dr. Larson recieved the Pulitzer Prize for History for his book,"Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion" He previously served the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor as Associate Counsel. His unique background makes him idealy suited to a lecture series on the History of the Theory of Evolution, because of its social implications which go beyond the purely scientific. The twelve lectures in this course are roughly devided into three sections. The first three lectures provide an overview of Pre-Darwinian theories of the origin of life from the accounts in Genesis and the Ancient Greeks to the 19th century thinkers like Cuvier, Lamark and Darwin's own grandfather Erasmus Darwin.The listener will come to appreciate how these thinkers paved the way for the acceptance of evolutionary thinking. The next lectures deal with a discription of Darwin's life and experiences that resulted in the development of his theory of evolution as described in his classic "Origin of Species ". The latter portion of the course discusses both new interpretations and revisions to Darwin's original model. Lecture eight discusses social Darwinism and eugenetics with respect to its implications in society such as imperialism and racism. Aspects of the Neo-Darwinian revolution is described which resulted from more recient scientific advancements such as molecular biology and modern paleontology. The last four lectures discuss the social changes and influences which have created an antagonism between science and religion, especialy in the United States since the 1920s. Dr. Larsen provides a superb lecture on the Scopes Trial which is one of the highlights of the course. The rising influence of religious fundamentalism is also examined. Dr. Larson has provided a clear and carefuly constructed course on the history of the theory of evolution and the controversy surrounding it. The speaker is factual and unbiased in his preesentations. The only reservation with this excellent course might be that those well familiar with the subject might not find enough new material in the limitations of a course of twelve 30 minute lectures. However Dr.Larsen's presentation is so well organized, and his historical pesentation so unbiased that the course should appeal to all interrested in the subject.
Date published: 2009-08-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Evolution of Evolution Whatever you know and think about 'evolution' this course will expand your knowledge and inform your thinking. As many reviewers have noted this is not a science course and it doesn't claim to be. Dr Larson entitled his course "A History of Controversay" which he delivers dispassionately and lucidly. He is a knowledgeable guide through the intellectual, social, religious, and political fall out of Darwin's theory. Professor Larson details how eugenics arose and the surprising historical figures that believed in this theory - they weren't Nazis. He is thorough and respectful in presenting both the theory's proponents and its critics. Whether you believe life arose from a primordial pool of stuff, began as told in the first chapter of Genesis or somehow between the two - even if you do not know what to think - this course will educate you about the impact of Darwin's thought. Dr Larson does an excellent job of presenting a highly polarized subject quite fairly. This course will enhance your knowledge of the Theory of Evolution and, also, its detractors and partisans. In short, this professor outlines how the theory itself has evolved. This course is a solid companion to the TC's other course on Evolution - The Darwinian Revolution. If you are not interested in more about evolution this course will add to your appreciation of both modern history and thought - these lectures will cannot but help your thinking about a current controversy to evolve.
Date published: 2009-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Sweeping in Scope Despite its short length, this course is sweeping in scope. Did you know that ancient Greeks proposed the idea of evolution? That Plato and Aristotle rejected and consequently "nixed" the idea? That Charles Darwin was powerfully led in the direction of his theory of natural selection by his predecessors and contemporaries, Lamark, Lyell and Malthus? How about the fact that Darwin gravitated away from his original idea over time, producing essentially inferior versions of his most famous book? This brief course is jam packed with intriguing information such as this! Q: What do these famous men all have in common: Teddy Rosevelt, Winston Churchill, Oliver Wendell Holmes? A: They were all Eugenics proponents! Shocking. Did you know that the Catholic Church - the same one behind The Inquisition and "witch" burnings - fought *against* Eugenics practices like sterilization of the feeble-minded, epilectics, criminals and the mentally ill? At the same time, names that many if not most now hold in highest esteem, were gung ho in the same direction as the (despised) Nazis-- that is, until the movement was discredited near the end of WWII. The last few lectures deal heavily with the battle between science and religious fundamentalism which still rages in America today, and the shifting balance of power and ever-increasing divide between them. This is NOT merely about history, but rather, it describes an ongoing American civil war... . Liberal use of technical jargon (Lamarkianism, neo-Darwinism, Malthusian Cycles, etc.) during the lectures sometimes made me wish I had taken notes in earlier lectures, but on the whole, this was fairly easy to comprehend. The professor committed a couple of bizarre errors, such as insisting that primates (unlike humans) don't have opposing thumbs! Perhaps he needs to watch Professor King's Teaching Company course on Anthropology, as I have. I highly recommend this course, but I must admit that I have not yet seen the "other" Teaching Co. course on Evolution, which is very highly rated.
Date published: 2009-06-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Nice historical perspective I found it refreshing that this was not a debate about evolution. This course focuses on the scientific and historical aspects of evolution rather than dwelling on 'intelligent design' (which is neither) or religious views. Evolution is a fact. We should be beyond the point of debate here in the 21st century. This course shows how Darwin carefully and painstakingly worked to establish his facts before presenting his theory to a world full of social and religious pressures that he knew would be eager to oppose him .
Date published: 2009-03-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Not the Science, Just Some History AUDIO: As noted by previous reviewers, this course does not detail the science and arguments for and against evolutionary theory. Rather, Prof. Larson focuses on the history of the controversy. Perhaps the course would have been better as a course in 24 lectures that included the science and opposing arguments. Still, the course description is clear and accurate, so before ordering this one, be sure it's what you want.
Date published: 2009-02-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Short and sweet I watched this a few years ago. I just finished watching The Darwinian Revolution which is similar. I will try to compare the two. They both tell Darwin's story and they are both told by history professors. The other course is twice as long. Maybe that is why I liked this one better, I was happy to get the short version with fewer details. Both are history courses and not science courses. TTC's biology course contains lots of evolution science and it is one of my very favorite TTC courses but it is very long and contains lots of other material. TTC should make an introductory course on just evolution. Professor Larson tells the story calmly and factually. If you are a fundamentalist wanting to know more about Darwin and the controversy then this is the one to watch. Professor Larson doesn't take sides, he just tells the story of the people on both sides of the controversy. If you want more details, more characters who were involved, then watch the other course. If you want a quick overview then watch this one.
Date published: 2009-01-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Still My Best TTC Purchase I still vividly remember how abt 1.5 years ago, Dr. Larson introduced me to the amazing theory of Evolution. I have since read 6 or 7 books on the topic which (hopefully) means that I have strengthened my grasp of the concept, but every once in a while, I return to the densly-packed, well-presented, multi-layered lectures for some reason. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say that Dr. Larson creates the perfect balance: a) between the historical, social, biological and philosophical premises and consequences of the theory of evolution and b) when it comes to painting a sketch of the Darwin wars in late 20th century. Trust me, when it comes to explaining the biggest theories of science, no one does it better than a historian of science. And when the theory is evolution, who would you rather do that? I would give my highest possible recommendation to anyone at a beginner or intermediate level of prior knowledge, interested in the beautiful theory of evolution.
Date published: 2009-01-29
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