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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Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy is rated 4.2 out of 5 by 93.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Light Not Heat This course is recommended for anyone interested in the controversy swirling about evolution, particularly between evangelical Christians and secular scientists. To rephrase that, it is valuable for any such person regardless of which side the listener takes. Dr. Larson begins the short course (only 12 lectures) with the roots of evolution theory well before Charles Darwin. He then focuses on Darwin’s contribution to the theory: natural selection. (Evolution and natural selection are distinct subjects.) The theory was controversial from the day Origins of the Species was published. Interestingly, it received generally favorable reviews from Christians. For example, the person responsible for acceptance of Darwinism in the United States was Harvard botanist Asa Gray; Gray was an ardent Christian. Further, the two primary opponents of Darwinism in the first few decades were Harvard naturalist Louis Agassiz and Richard Owen in Britain. They objected on scientific grounds that complex structures such as the eye or symbiosis of plants and insects could not have evolved. Darwin himself acknowledged the force of this argument. Neither Agassiz nor Owen was particularly religious. Dr. Larson claims that the objections were not answered and Darwin, acknowledging issues raised, called for more research. Rather, the opponents simply died out and the students of the opponents became Darwinists. [To me, that sounds like natural selection at work.] Based on problems raised by scientific experiments that explored how traits might change across successive generations, Darwinism had generally been dismissed by the scientific community by around 1900. However, it was resurrected (excuse the expression) with the nascent science of genetics. Thus, by the early 20th century, a Neo-Darwinism emerged with more solid scientific footing. Dr. Larson addresses the re-entrance of the conservative religious community into the area of evolution in the second half of the 20th century. Dr. Larson is an interesting choice for a course on evolution. He is not a scientist; he is a lawyer. However, he teaches the history of science and he does it well. His presentation skills are clear and well-organized but somewhat lacking emotion. (Perhaps it is necessary to be conscientiously even-keeled on so controversial a subject.) Personally, I think those reviewers who consider one of the best lecturers are overstating the case. His most important trait is that he is factual and even-handed. I could never tell what his personal opinions were. Thus, I consider this to be a very important presentation on a very emotional and controversial subject. I came to appreciate both sides of this debate (without necessarily agreeing) as a result of this even-handed treatment. I used the audio version and it was perfectly fine.
Date published: 2018-03-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from The Darwinian controversy I have heard the two courses TGC has to offer regarding Darwinian theory of evolution through natural selection – this one and “Darwinian Revolution”. I liked them both. The current one, as the name implies is more focused on the non-scientific aspects of the theory – the social and religious controversies it caused. Darwin’s theory was a direct blow to the biblical creation story as it basically disposes of a need for a supernatural creator, and it was (still is) hard for many to swallow. A substantial part of the lectures is devoted to getting acquainted with Darwin himself, and I found these to be particularly well done and worthwhile. The narrative of the theory becoming widely accepted continues, however, long after his death. It includes some very interesting and unexpected twists and turns. One of them was manipulation of his theory to serve as a foundation for racist theories such as social Darwinism and Eugenics. Professor Larson discusses these aspects at some length, including their manifestation in the USA which included quite massive, legally sanctioned, sterilization of so-called “feeble minded” people. A central theme was the dramatic public, peculiarly American battle between the secular, scientifically-based public which thought that evolution should be taught as a topic in school, and biblical fundamentalists which though that it is biased and runs opposite of their beliefs. Naturally, the Scopes trial was central in this discussion but there was much more content discussed that was new to me. Overall, I enjoyed the course and found it to give very good insight. The Professor was balanced and fair in his discussion, but it was clear that he was arguing the case from a scientific-historical perspective that is a-priori opposed to the religious one. The course was easily worth time and effort to hear it.
Date published: 2017-11-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Better than I expected! I am not finished yet but have been pleased with the professor. He has been even-handed in explaining the history of evolution and has a very pleasant voice and demeanor.
Date published: 2017-08-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Thought-Provoking I selected this course to learn about evolution. However, I did not realize that it also covered creationism and intelligent design. In the future, I will read course synopses more carefully. In any event, I do not regret choosing this course. I learned about evolution through the professor's discussions of genes, inbreeding leading to new species, beak sizes of Galapagos finches, missing links, etc. In addition, I learned other subjects such as social Darwininism, social biology, eugenics, and selfish genes. As you can see, the range of topics is very wide. The lecturer was obviously very intelligent and knowledgeable - he was impressive. I did find his delivery a little clumsy at times and hard to follow. I had to refer to the glossary frequently and caught up to his ideas by replaying portions of the lectures. In summary - a good course that will inform you and make you think.
Date published: 2017-08-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A History of Controversy A the course title and many reviewers point out, this course is not a detailed examination of the Theory of Evolution, but rather a course on the controversies caused by various theories of evolution not only between evolutionists and non-evolutionists, but also among various ideas about evolution. The course begins with ideas of how the earth became populated with the diverse plants and animals over time and the changing views of the earth’s geological formation and some pre-Darwinian ideas about evolution. Then the course shifts to Darwin, his theory and its acceptance. And then the lectures consider various ideas about how evolution happened, many of them not at all accepting “natural selection”. I particularly enjoyed the lecture about the anti-evolution movement in America centering the Scopes Trial. Professor Larson did an excellent job on fleshing out Williams Jennings Bryan as a whole person and as a progressive, not just the fundamentalist Christian often portrayed today. Dr. Larson also gives balanced views of other proponents of creationism and intelligent design throughout the course, presenting their views fairly, as well as pointing out the flaws many scientists have found in some of Darwin’s arguments. Although Neo-Darwinists hold the bulk of the scientific day, Professor Larson concludes that the popular opinion remains (at least in the US) deeply divided. I watched this on a video download, but the course is well suited for audio, with only limited items of visual interest. Professor Larson is not a skilled presenter, often pausing to gather his thoughts or to make sure that he has not lost his way (I did not find this particularly distracting, but some might differ). This is not a course for those interested in the details of the various evolution theories, but for those who are interested in the history, it is recommended.
Date published: 2017-04-18
Rated 4 out of 5 by from It's history of science, not science itself My wife is a former genetics lab tech and I a physician-researcher with years of experience in human inherited tumor disorders. While we knew a lot of the history of evolution, it had not been a major focus of our training. We enjoyed the course; while some complain of the professor's pacing back and forth, I thought it made the sessions feel as if I were in the classroom. We learned a good deal about the early history of evolutionary theory, esp. about people involved. The flow was good, but in places, the lecturer stumbled over the science and made some confusing or incorrect statements. Again, this is a history course, not one in the molecular mechanisms of evolution. The course is best for persons having some familiarity with the theory and history of evolution, probably for kids as young as 14-15 if they've had some science in school. Note that the video version contains very little illustrative material, mostly portraits of important characters in development or opposition to evolutionary theory. If we'd known this, we might have saved some money and opted for the audio-only version.
Date published: 2017-04-10
Rated 2 out of 5 by from I am disappionted there is no "close caption" on this course. I am hard of hearing and live in a noisy house. That should be a standard feature. Bob J
Date published: 2017-03-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The professor covered a lot of info and presented it well. I enjoyed learning the history of evolutionary ideas. I can't wait to watch the rest of my purchases.
Date published: 2017-03-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Informative but delivery disappointing I am a little disappointed in the style of the lecturer. I feel like it is a bit tense, not relaxed, so not as enjoyable to listen.
Date published: 2017-03-18
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It is just OK I just finished listening to this course and although very interesting material the floe leaves a lot to be desired by having to many quotes from different people
Date published: 2017-03-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from What It Is and What It's Not I start by stating that I am reviewing the audio version of this course. While I cannot say how significant this is, I note that some have gone on about how difficult Professor Larson is to follow as he ambles across the stage. I would find that an unnecessary quibble, but no matter. Clearly, what this course is, as I am not the first to note, is history, not science (at least not at more than the level minimally necessary to keep this narrative moving. As history, then, I believe it succeeds. Also, as history, I saw no need to make this course as long as that of Professor Gregory (which, I make clear, I have not taken). I found Professor Larson to be a literate and reasonably well-organized presenter, although not at the top rank of Great Courses teachers. There is a very simple test here, and I recommend it to those who have given this course unflattering reviews. That test is whether you come away from it better able to understand and converse about the subject's history than you could going in. If so, the experience is a net gain. It makes no difference that there is another longer course out there that may have done the job better and/or more comprehensively. This is precisely why my highest marks are for overall value.
Date published: 2016-12-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evolution theories There are many evolution theories and more data is being discovered everyday to challenge those theories. This course is rather basic, but does give a good back ground into the current theories.
Date published: 2016-08-29
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing The lecturer for this course has such amazing credentials that I was completely dumbfounded by the low quality of his first lecture. Imprecise and somewhat stilted speech, imprecise information (did I hear him call Aristotle an atheist?!?!?!). very little in the way of interesting historical details and anecdotes to keep the lecture lively. I thought that maybe the problem was that the first lecture covered earlier historical periods outside of his area of expertise, but lecture 2 was not much better. To make matters worse, I started listening to this course just after finishing Frederick Gregory's excellent course, The History of Science: 1700–1900 so that Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy seemed all the worse by comparison.
Date published: 2016-08-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from More to evolution than Mendelian genetics I took this course in audio. I found it very engaging. The historical approach provided a solid backbone to hang nuanced ideas on, making it a robust learning experience. What is more, learning of all the missteps taken by the early scientists fleshed out my understanding of evolution and the evolution of scientific theories. I found the course to be both informative and pleasant to listen to.
Date published: 2015-10-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Heart Felt Social Divide It should not be a surprise that the conflict over the theory of evolution has evolved since it originally formed with the release of Darwin's work in 1858. The technical details of the mechanism have been explained and are now better understood, the opponents involved have encompassed new social groups, and the arguments put forth by the proponents on each side have become more sophisticated and subtle. Professor Larson does a masterful job of presenting the conflict. You tend to get wrapped in the personalities and the narrative, and the technical details merely form the background. At first, this seems a little counterintuitive to the student, until you remember that this is a history course and when that happens, intuition kicks in again. Among the salient points the professor makes is that genetics, as a field of study, was just beginning. Inheritance, the relationship of the attributes of the child to those of the parents was not understood by scientists, let alone the general population, and the concept of genes was unknown. The fact that, at that stage, the concept of evolution was not universally accepted is perfectly understandable. This question is more controversial in the United States than in any other modern nation. Honest feelings on both sides mask the fact that both sides spend more time preaching to their own faithful than to presenting their arguments to the other side. Both sides have advocated for their position long enough that most people believe they understand the issues. Even those who side with the nonbelievers have to recognize that evolution is an obvious strategy for a stressed system to relieve the stresses. I recommend this course. If you recognize the conflict at all, you should be familiar with the arguments put forth by both sides.
Date published: 2015-08-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Bare Bones Audio download. Dr Larson is an historian, writing and speaking about the thought and philosophy of science and scientific advancement...he is not a scientist. Well then, that's perfect since these lectures are not about the science behind Darwin Theory of Evolution, but rather about the history of the theory's intelligent design (do you see what I did there?). Larson lays the groundwork for Darwin's work, examines his process and concludes with the controversy that rages even today. In my opinion this historical review resembles a CliffNotes version, probably appropriate for sophomore high school, and lacks the historic depth surrounding possibly the most important contribution to science in more than 150 years. Twelve lectures does not allow for any significant background for those scientist (and philosophers) that served as the foundation for Darwin's work, nor does it give voice to opposing viewpoints. I do, however, recommend the lectures as a warm-up for lectures by Gregory ('The Darwinian Revolution'), and a reread of Darwin's own work, "On The Origin of Species". Like other reviewers, my rating should be 3.5...or good, but could be better. On sale, with a coupon, as always.
Date published: 2015-07-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intellectual Gem It is astonishing how conceptually rich these 12 lectures proved to be. Professor Larson is thorough and clear not just on controversies over evolutionary theory, but also on the underlying science. A first-rate overview of this philosophically profound topic. I took full advantage of the outline for each lecture, the DVD and, as a finishing/reinforcing touch, the transcript. A superb learning experience.
Date published: 2015-06-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent overview This is an excellent short course, with some of the science, and a bit more of the scientific and social controversies, that make up the subject of evolution. Professor Larson is a very knowledgeable and articulate presenter. He is not as polished as some other TLC presenters: he makes a few minor verbal slips and stumbles, but he gets his points across, and delivers a lot of content. He has written the Pulitzer Prize-winning book Summer For The Gods, about the Scopes trial, and when he gets to this subject near the end of the course, I thought his style became noticeably more fluid. I really enjoyed these lectures. I'll probably order another course that promises more evolutionary science, but I think Professor Larson's course will be hard to beat as a short-format presentation of the evolution of evolution, and of its controversies.
Date published: 2015-03-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy Very interesting viewpoints on how humanity evolved! If you want to obtain a better understanding on topics of interest to you, it would definitely be an absolute benefit to check out the offerings of The Great Courses, Each course is clearly presented by a master of the topic, is cost-effective and once obtained is always available for review and a more in-depth understanding of the subject.
Date published: 2015-01-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good combo of history and science First, let me say I opted for the CD version and that was a bad decision as I have tried to listen to it in the car and the combination of road noise and the dropping of the lecturer's voice on multiple occasions has caused me to miss a lot and guess what the disappearing word or phrase was. So if you choose to go the CD route, listen to it inside a quiet building with the course guidebook at your side. I was expecting that the evolution controversy would start with Darwin, but Dr. Larson began well before that and his going back in time was helpful in understanding Darwin and Wallace. I also have enjoyed his references to theology and how Christians perceived these scientific developments. Another reviewer felt there was too much on the Christian reaction, but I felt it was appropriate because the controversies surrounding evolution and natural selection have not just been within the scientific community, but among those in the pews as well, especially those with fundamental leanings. Full disclosure: I was raised in a conservative Baptist church and heard the diatribes against Darwin with sneers about the missing links. And even though I am far from those early rants against "Evil-lution" I remain interested in how the Christian community reacted over the years to this scientific exploration. I also enjoyed his comments on how Darwin and others had their own thinking evolve over time. The overall three stars I gave this related more to the CD audio quality than the presentation. Had the CD audio been better, the overall would have been a four.
Date published: 2015-01-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Theory of Evolution: AHistory of Controversy Very thought provoking and interesting. The professor is very detailed and keeps my interest.
Date published: 2015-01-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from This Series Caused me to Learn A Lot This is not a bad course, and Prof. Larson is an excellent lecturer, one of the better ones that I've listened to. I bought this series because the reviews were pretty good, and I generally have enjoyed the science oriented lectures that I've purchased. I also have steered away from lectures dealing with evolution because I'm pretty sure I'll disagree with them, but I did buy the series Biology: The Science of Life, which I quite enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. There was a lot of hand waving in the parts where it talked about evolution but when it talked about the current trends in Biology it was fascinating. In fact I would suggest Prof. Larson might benefit from listening to it. One good thing did happen from this series was for myself. Prof. Larsen talked about the "red eyed fruit fly" and that's something that I'd never heard of. A little background checking to see what he was talking about and it appears that Prof. Larsen made a mistake and meant the white eyed fruit fly. That's OK we all make mistakes but I'm somewhat surprised that this wasn't found and edited out some how. It seems that I've noticed things that sound like edits on other series (when the sound quality changes somewhat from the surrounding lecture). Well I'd heard of the white eyed fruit fly before, but didn't know very much about it and while I was checking on it I read a lot more about it. That was very interesting. Then Prof. Larsen talked about the peppered moth in England and I said to myself; "What the heck, that study's been discredited and he's using it?" Now the funny thing is, that I'm nearly 100% sure that the first time I'd heard about the discrediting of that study was on another Great Courses series because that pretty much all I listen to anymore and it's not something that I remember reading. It was most probably in Science Wars: What Scientists Know and How They Know It by Prof. Steven Goldman or Philosophy of Science by Jeffery Kasser. If I had to guess it is probably the first series, Science Wars, one of my favorite series. He also talked about the fossil record of the horse as being proof of evolution, and I knew that had been discredited as well. This caused me to look around for more information about the peppered moth studies and that caused me to finally read The Icons of Evolution by Jonathan Wells. I'd pretty much decided I wasn't going to read that book, because from the reviews I'd read I thought it was going to be a strident discourse about how evil evolution is and why it shouldn't be taught in schools. I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't that. All it was was a critique of the way evolution is taught as dogma in schools, and how all the examples taught as dogma have been discredited. This course by Prof. Larsen proves Prof Wells case perfectly as far as I'm concerned. After reading the book by Prof. Wells I went back and listened to the lectures again just to make sure that I'd heard everything correctly and it was just my imagination. I found that Prof. Larsen used even more icons of evolution in his lectures and I hadn't known they'd been discredited so I had heard correctly, it was just worse than I thought. Obviously I'm a person who finds the way evolution is taught is a travesty, so why would I buy this course? Well first the title was Theory of Evolution: A History of a Controversy and I was hoping that the course might actually explain why there is still a controversy about evolution. However, the only thing that I got from the series is that the only reason there is a controversy is because of benighted fundamentalist Christians don't accept evolution. That may be a little polemical but that's how I felt. However, I do have to give Prof. Larson points for admitting that Julian Huxley pushed a humanist atheist religion that was based on evolution. Probably because Julian Huxley was honest enough to admit that that was what he was doing as opposed to Richard Dawkins who teaches the dogma just as strongly but doesn't claim to be doing that, he claims he's doing science. Also, I have to give Prof. Larsen credit that when he talked about Intelligent Design (ID) he was honest enough to, seemingly grudgingly, admit that those who support ID are "mostly" Christian. Most people who don't agree with ID just say that it's a bunch of Christian Creationist's and that it is only "Creationism in a tuxedo". At least Dr. Larson's statement allows those who might be interested to know that there are atheists, agnostics, Indian Hindi's and people of other philosophical beliefs involved with it, who often don't like to be described as Christian Creationists. Phillip Johnson may have started the Discovery Institute and came up with the idea of using ID as a wedge, but there are many others who find the ID arguments compelling and the Discovery Institute is practically the only place people can do ID research because everywhere else they are censored by the establishment. The discovery Institute accepts fellow travelers even if they're not Christians. The other reason I bought the series was because it was on sale and I had a coupon code that made it even cheaper. Over all listening was a good experience and I learned a lot, not so much from the content of the lectures, but just from the fact that the lectures prove a point. This has actually decided me on buying the other course on evolution that others reviewers have recommended as being more in depth just to see if it confirms my suspicions on college level teaching of evolution.
Date published: 2014-12-02
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Evolution From an Historical Perspective Professor Edward Larson does a creditable job covering the history of the theory of evolution in this short twelve-lecture course. The story is told from an historical perspective in a roughly chronological order and covers important material from about 1800 to the present time. Professor Larson demonstrates no clear bias in relating this historical chronology. Some aspects of the science that relates to evolution and natural selection are provided, but the primary focus is historical. If you are looking for a scientific treatment of this topic you will not find it here. The Teaching Company course entitled “Darwinian Revolution” taught by Professor Frederick Gregory covers very similar material from a similar perspective and is more detailed (24 total lectures). If time allows I would suggest the course by Professor Gregory as the better of the two. However, this course is suitable if you prefer to invest only six hours on the topic. A review of the bibliography of Professor Larson reveals that he is a distinguished author on historical aspects of evolution and has received a Pulitzer Prize for his book on the 1925 Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee. Given this expertise I think a longer, more detailed course, would have been well within the ability of Professor Larson and would have strengthened the quality of this course. Maybe he will get a chance to expand his treatment of the topic in a second edition.
Date published: 2014-06-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good overview on why laymen don't accept Evolution I purchased the video download of this course which was good, but you would also be fine with audio only. Course Content (4/5): The professor presents a broad variety of information on Evolution and even though he does cover a little bit of science, this definitely needs to be thought of as a history course (as per the title). The course is about the right length considering the information covered so you should not get bored partway through. He also addresses several things that Creationists try to use to discredit Evolution. Professor Presentation (4/5): The professor speaks in an acceptable manner and at an adequate pace. He does make a few mistakes while talking and corrects himself and also wanders around a little bit, but it's not too distracting (as mentioned by another reviewer). Course Value (3/5): If you get this on sale, it is a great value; if you pay full price, you might be disappointed with the total content provided. Bottom line- If its on sale, buy it! I highly recommend supplementing this with a science-based course on Evolution because it is something everyone can benefit from knowing, especially those, like me, who grew up having never really studied it from an unbiased perspective. This course will help you to understand why so many laymen are stilling questioning what 97-99.9% of scientists accept as true (based on Pew Research and NIH Record). Overall, this is a course worth getting and you will walk away with a better understanding of the controversy of Evolution.
Date published: 2014-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent and Insightful Overview The recent (often vitriolic) controversy about Darwin's Theory of Evolution masks profound subtleties about the development and implications of Darwin's ideas. Professor Larson provides a tightly argued and very clear summary of whole Darwinian Revolution. His ability to do this in just 12 lectures is superb. The Professor summarises the development of the theory and the reaction to it including some of the very dark consequences that arguably flowed from it including the rise of eugenics and justification of oppression of many peoples. The course mentions, for example, that the subtitle to Darwin's 1859 "Origin of the Species" is actually "...or the preservation of favoured races in the Struggle for Life". Frankly this was something entirely new to me and not a fact that is often if ever mentioned in contemporary discussions about Darwin. The course Guidebook is also very good and provides detailed summaries of each lecture. Invaluable as many of the lectures covered a lot of ground. The course covers #with sensitivity and appropriate balance#the perceived conflict between traditional Christian worldviews and the implications of Darwin. This is not a straightforward "us versus them" conflict. There are many nuances which the Professor skilfully highlights. There were highly respected scientists# such as Asa Gray in the 19th century and Francis Collins in the late 20th century#who saw Darwin's ideas as capable of being construed as a Theistic Evolutionary theory. Furthermore the Scopes trial is very artfully covered. Often represented as a resounding failure for "fundamentalists" it was in fact decided on technical arguments. In addition William Jennings Bryan was challenging human evolution rather than evolution in general. The course ends with reference to very recent Intelligent Design arguments and again these are presented in a balanced nuanced way. This is a highly elegant course and an excellent introduction to the importance of and controversies arising from Darwin's theory. It has inspired me to undertake the other #longer/24 lecture#course on this subject offered by the Teaching Company by Professor Frederick Gregory.
Date published: 2014-01-27
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Best buried I purchased two courses that I discovered were very alike in content. This course and another called Darwinian Revolution by Gregory. The course by Gregory is indisputably the better of the two. I watched this Larson presentation in video format. If you do opt to buy this course, go with the audio version. Larson moves so much while talking you could experience vertigo while the camera tries to follow him. I do not recommend this course but you can cover the same material in more detail if you choose the other course by Gregory.
Date published: 2014-01-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Evolution of evolution Interesting from start to finish. I thought the course content and presentation were an excellent historical summary of all of the important and relevant facts regarding the science of evolution. I felt the presentation was fair minded, not biasing the content, but presenting relevant positions and facts. I particularly enjoyed the discussion of the Scopes Trial and the more recent scientific developments in the development of evolution as a science. An A+++ course.
Date published: 2013-09-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Red Face Its shameful that a society as advanced as ours still has flat earth debates and the flat earthers are taking control of our science education by stifling and injecting pseudo science throughout our society. Very informative. Yes - the "flat earth" description is a shot at how silly evolution deniers look considering biological evolution is probably the most proven knowledge in human history.
Date published: 2013-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great overview of how an idea evolved If you're looking for a scientific explanation of Darwin's ideas, look elsewhere. This is about how the idea of evolution developed in history - how Darwin's predecessors imagined biology and the development of life to how Darwin's ideas were later manipulated and used in political and social context. This is a course in the history of science, so it's about people, societies, debates and controversies. There is some explanation of the different, often competing, ideas both before and after Darwin, but mostly to set the stage to understand how Darwin arrived at his conclusions and why his proved the right one. It's a great course and well worth hearing again. It made me want a second series on how the idea has been presented and used (and abused) in the 21st century.
Date published: 2013-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent Discussion In this course, Prof. Larson discusses the history of theory of evolution. To be clear, as discussed by TTC's review, this is a history course -- not a science course. Prof. Larson does an admirable job discussing the history of evolution. He certainly seems more comfortable with the historical aspects, as he uses unusual pronounciations for several scientific terms and stumbles over others. In addition, his discussions of the scientific theories sometimes lack clarity. He did select his topics well and provided a nice course guide. I particularly enjoyed his discussions regarding the Scopes Trial and of "scientific" creationism. Prof. Larson also does a nice job presenting the controversies in a fair and dispassionate manner. Although I found TTC's course, History of Science: 1700-1900, to provide a better discussion of the pre-Darwinian evolutionary theories, Prof. Larson did an excellent job discussing what happened to the theory of evolution after Darwin.
Date published: 2012-10-21
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