The Darwinian Revolution

The Meaning of Evolution
1: The Meaning of Evolution

Why was Darwin so revolutionary and why does he remain so? His breakthrough was not in introducing the idea of evolution, which had long been debated, but in proposing how evolution occurs. In this lecture, you survey these and other themes that are developed in the course.

33 min
The Way It Used to Be
2: The Way It Used to Be

This lecture examines the traditional worldview in the West, which was based on the biblical account of creation, fixed by one 17th-century scholar at 4004 B.C. An allied idea was the Great Chain of Being, pictured as an immutable scale of life forms from the most primitive to God himself.

30 min
Theories of Evolution in the 18th Century
3: Theories of Evolution in the 18th Century

You study three 18th-century thinkers: Benoît de Maillet, who estimated the cosmos to be billions of years old; Georges Buffon, who believed that living things descended from more primal forms; and Pierre Simon Laplace, who proposed a developmental theory for the formation of the solar system.

30 min
Fossils and Catastrophism
4: Fossils and Catastrophism

At the end of the 18th century, fossils were not necessarily regarded as actual remains of living things. You learn that they became central to the work of Georges Cuvier, who connected fossils to extinct species, which he believed had died out in violent catastrophes.

31 min
Theories of Evolution Just before Darwin
5: Theories of Evolution Just before Darwin

The idea of evolution was in the air by the early 19th century. This lecture looks at precursors to Darwin, including Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, who wrote a systematic account of the evolution of species over time and proposed that acquired characteristics can be inherited.

30 min
Why Evolution Was Rejected before Darwin
6: Why Evolution Was Rejected before Darwin

You investigate the dubious status of evolutionary ideas in the years before Darwin's book. Among the objections: Evolution challenged the Bible and lacked convincing empirical support. Some critics even classed evolution with fringe ideas such as Mesmerism and phrenology.

31 min
Darwin's Conversion to Evolution
7: Darwin's Conversion to Evolution

The young Darwin's intention to join the ministry was interrupted by an offer to travel around the world as a naturalist aboard HMSBeagle. The experience changed his life, giving him a growing conviction that species had altered over time, a conclusion he kept largely to himself.

31 min
What's in On the Origin of Species?
8: What's in On the Origin of Species?

Darwin spent two decades developing his theory of evolution through natural selection. You learn how he was rushed to publish prematurely by the independent discovery of the same principle by Alfred Russel Wallace. Yet Darwin's book On the Origin of Speciesis a masterful statement of his idea.

30 min
How Origin Fared among Scientists
9: How Origin Fared among Scientists

Even as Darwin's book stimulated greater acceptance of the idea of evolution, scientists criticized his specific mechanism, natural selection. This separation of the general notion of evolution from the means by which it occurs has permitted Darwinism to mean different things to different people ever since.

30 min
The Religious Reaction to Darwinism
10: The Religious Reaction to Darwinism

This lecture explores the religious response to Darwin's theory. Some argued that natural selection was tantamount to atheism, raising an issue that endures to the present day. Others reinterpreted natural selection to make it compatible with a belief in God. Still others completely separated science from religion.

30 min
The Social Implications of Evolution
11: The Social Implications of Evolution

Those who accepted evolution in the 19th century generally considered it a purposeful or goal-directed process, rejecting the random variation of natural selection. You explore how such an understanding influenced Herbert Spencer's social philosophy of the survival of the fittest.

31 min
Evolution and Heredity
12: Evolution and Heredity

You examine the difficulty that evolutionary theory faced in showing its compatibility with a theory of heredity. Darwin proposed a particulate theory of heredity, called pangenesis. Meanwhile, Gregor Mendel, an obscure Austrian monk, developed a powerful hereditary theory based on his experiments with pea plants.

30 min
A Nadir for Natural Selection
13: A Nadir for Natural Selection

In the early 1900s, Darwin's theory was in eclipse as its two fundamental tenets—selection and small variations—were rejected by a majority of scientists. You also see how Mendel's rediscovered work was interpreted as further evidence against natural selection.

31 min
Groundwork for Recovery
14: Groundwork for Recovery

This lecture discusses how developments in cell biology in the early 20th century clarified the process of heredity, showing that small changes in chromosomes were responsible for determining larger characteristics of organisms. This hinted that Darwin had been correct to focus on small continuous variations.

30 min
Human Evolution
15: Human Evolution

Darwin did not deal with the explosive issue of human evolution in Origin, but others were quick to see the implications of natural selection for the question of human origins. You learn how the discovery of Neanderthal remains and other humanlike fossils fed the controversy.

30 min
The Scopes Trial
16: The Scopes Trial

This lecture investigates fact and fiction in the famous Scopes antievolution trial in 1925. Supposedly, teacher John Scopes was persecuted, attorney Clarence Darrow rose to Scopes's defense and defeated prosecutor William Jennings Bryan, and the antievolution movement was discredited. There are problems with all three statements.

30 min
Lamarckian Inheritance on Stage
17: Lamarckian Inheritance on Stage

Two controversies in the 20th century show the staying power of Lamarck's theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics. In Austria, biologist Paul Kammerer claimed that bodily changes in amphibians were heritable. In the Soviet Union, agronomist T. D. Lysenko made a similar claim about food crops.

30 min
Forging an Evolutionary Synthesis
18: Forging an Evolutionary Synthesis

You learn how the work of population geneticists, field naturalists, and paleontologists in the early 20th century led to an evolutionary synthesis that recognized Darwin's theory of natural selection as the major agent of evolution. Factors such as Lamarckian inheritance were rejected.

30 min
Evolution and Molecular Biology
19: Evolution and Molecular Biology

The new science of molecular biology added stunning evidence for Darwin's theory with the discovery of DNA as the carrier of genetic information. The decoding of DNA's double-helical structure by Francis Crick and James Watson shed new light on the origin of the minute variations responsible for natural selection.

30 min
The Rise of Biblical Creationism
20: The Rise of Biblical Creationism

This lecture examines the backlash against evolution by American evangelicals, who came up with increasingly sophisticated attacks on Darwinism to defend the biblical account of creation. Their tactics led to an alternative explanation of the origin of life, called "scientific creationism."

31 min
Tinkering with Evolutionary Theory
21: Tinkering with Evolutionary Theory

Altruistic behavior poses a problem for natural selection at the level of individuals. Therefore some scientists have theorized that selection acts on groups or even on individual genes. You investigate these proposals and also the field of sociobiology, which sees a Darwinian component to human social behavior.

30 min
The Heritage of Eugenics
22: The Heritage of Eugenics

You learn how evolution has inspired controversial ideas such as eugenics—the study of improving human heredity through controlled selective breeding. Eugenics led to restrictive marriage laws and forced sterilization in the United States and to mass euthanasia in Nazi Germany.

30 min
Intelligent Design
23: Intelligent Design

You see how the classical philosophical argument from design has been restyled "intelligent design" to attack natural selection, leading to a 2005 court case in Dover, Pennsylvania. The trial ended in an adverse ruling against a school that sought to teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution.

30 min
Adding Things Up
24: Adding Things Up

In this final lecture, you take stock of the Darwinian revolution and some of the scientific, philosophical, and religious reactions to it. An analysis of these issues illuminates the difference between metaphysical beliefs and scientific explanations, and how they are inextricably linked when it comes to interpreting Darwin.

30 min
Frederick Gregory

History of science has taught me that scientists remain very human as they strive to be objective. Overcoming personal differences, so vital to our ultimate survival, is as much a challenge for them as it is in politics or religion.

ALMA MATER

Harvard University

INSTITUTION

University of Florida

About Frederick Gregory

Dr. Frederick Gregory is Professor of History of Science at the University of Florida, where he has taught for 30 years. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Wheaton College in Illinois, a B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, an M.A. in the History of Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and a Ph.D. in the History of Science from Harvard University. Professor Gregory has received numerous grants for research in his field, including an Alexander von Humboldt grant from the German government and a fellowship from the Dibner Institute for the History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was awarded the 2009 Joseph H. Hazen Education Prize for excellence in education from the History of Science Society. He also won the University of Florida's John Mahon Teaching Award for excellence in undergraduate teaching, as well as the Norman Wilensky Graduate Teaching Award. He has provided commentary for the American production of the television series The Day the Universe Changed. Professor Gregory's research interests have focused on German science in the 18th and 19th centuries, particularly as it reflects the larger cultural setting in which it is embedded. His two-volume undergraduate textbook, Natural Science in Western History, was published in 2008.

Also By This Professor