The centerpiece of this course is Darwin and his book On the Origin of Species. Like all revolutionary ideas, Darwin's theory did not appear out of nowhere and did not settle matters once and for all; therefore the course will explore the scientific context in which this work appeared and Darwin's own intellectual background. It will then consider the great book itself to see what exactly Darwin had to say and how he went about saying it. Pigeons will come up. Then extracts from the writings from Darwin's contemporaries will be used to look at the scientific, social, and theological responses to Darwin's theory. Finally, a few of the major issues that still reverberate today will be considered.
The course on Darwin's theory will be taught as a seminar--we will all read something, then gather together and try to figure out what exactly it was that we read. The reading itself will be challenging, sometimes because the ideas are subtle, sometimes because the sentences are long, sometimes both, and discussion will be necessary to figure out what happened in the readings. There will be many writing assignments, many of them short. Common assignment will be to summarize and explain an argument, or to imagine the response of one point of view to an argument from a different point of view.
The following books are available for purchase at the Amherst Bookshop. Multiple copies of these books are also available in the reserve room at Merrill Science Library.
Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea, 4th ed. (University of California Press, 2009) Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, ed. Joseph Carroll (Broadview Press, 2003) Stephen Jay Gould Wonderful Life (Norton, 1989)