Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution

Charles Darwin from 1859 until 1872 completely altered the biological understanding of life on earth.

The power of his metaphors, including evolution by means of natural selection and the descent of man, scandalized his Victorian contemporaries and created a polarized legacy of far reaching proportions. By changing the conceptual focus of thought about nature, he introduced the principles of modern thinking in the social, behavioral and life sciences.

We examine selected works of Darwin and the recent codification of biological thought by Ernst Mayr, in this masterwork’s course. These readings and our discussions introduce participants to one of the greatest debates of our time. Can the Origin of Species and the Biblical account in Genesis be reconciled together in a new rendition of humanity’s place in nature? That question is a primary pursuit of our inquiry in this course.


What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr, New York: Basic Books, 2001.

The late (2005) Ernst Mayr, was emeritus professor of zoology at Harvard University, and my personal friend. He had long been one of the world's foremost researchers in genetic and evolutionary theory. In this overview of past and current scientific thought, he discusses key concepts and terms, among them the origin of species, the (somewhat metaphorical) "struggle for existence," and agents of micro- and macro evolution. Somewhat against the grain, he argues against reduction and for the study of evolution at the phenotypic, not genetic, level. In his concluding pages, Mayr offers a careful overview of human evolution, adding his view that humankind is indeed unique--though "it has not yet completed the transition from quadrupedal to bipedal life in all of its structures."

Class related web pages

The Complete works of Darwin on the internet

Notes from the Origin of Species.

related pages: primary sources

plate tectonics

Text-based assignments

  1. Short Essay, two pages; What is evolution?
  2. Short Essay, three pages; How was Darwin misunderstood by scientists or social scientists?
  3. Term Essay, five pages; Topic of you choice (with approval) drawn from Mayr, Darwin, Scientific American and other Journal sources.


Popular misconceptions
DarwinismErnst Mayr  | Consequences of Darwin's Revolutions

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