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This page last updated: November 29, 2007


The anthropologist Ashley Montagu argued that “next to the Bible, no work has been quite as influential, in virtually every aspect of human thought, as The Origin of Species.” This course provides historical background to the development of, and reaction to, Charles Darwin's ideas in Origin (and his other writings) while examining the influence of Darwin(ism) on political thought, philosophy, social policy, and intellectual history. We end with examining the question, “Was there a Darwinian revolution?”


Instructor: Dr. John M. Lynch, (john dot lynch at asu dot edu), Irish A 219, Tuesday 9:00 - 10:30 & Wednesday 12:00 - 1:30.

Teaching Assistant: Jennifer Minneci, (jennifer dot minneci at asu dot edu), LSC 276, Wednesday 9:00 - 11:00.

Required Texts

You will need a copy of the first or second edition of Origin of Species. These editions have fourteen (rather than fifteen) chapters and are measurably clearer than later editions. The recommended edition is the Oxford World Classics edition of 1998. The Harvard University Press facsimile edition edited by Ernst Mayr is also appropriate. The first edition is also available online (though I prefer you utilze a printed copy as that allows you to annotate your edition).

Any other required readings will be made available online on this page.


Schedule of Classes


Aug 20th

Introduction and viewing of Darwin's Dangerous Idea (PBS, 2001)

A copy of the syllabus is here. Week 2 Handout, PDF, 10M


Aug 27th

Defining the Problem: Death & Design

Week 2 Handout, PDF, 10M

We're going to be examining two major ideas - the argument that the natural world provides evidence for the actions of a Designer God (and thus no naturalistic mechanism can explain the diversity of life) and development of ideas regarding the fossil record.

Key People: David Hume, William Paley, William Buckland, Charles Lyell

Key Ideas: Evidentialism, Fideism, Natural Theology, The Design Argument, The Problem of Evil, Stratigraphy, Neptunism, Plutonism, Actualism, Uniformitarianism

[Full version of slides, 6.2M, PDF]


Sep 3rd

No class – Labor Day


Sep 10th

"Those Frenchified Ideas"

Week 2 Handout, PDF, 10MTo offer some background as to the development of Darwin's ideas we need to examine some Continental ideas - speciafically French ideas about materialism and transmutation. This will lead to a discussion of a major transmutationary work that appeared in 1844, Robert Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.

Key People: Buffon, Cuvier, Lamarck, Chambers, Sedgwick,

Key Ideas: Materialism, Naturalism, The "Escaltor of Life", Use and Disuse, Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics,

As I mentioned, I have written two documents that will provide information on Chambers and Vestiges. The first in a biographical entry on Chambers while the second is a general introduction to the reception of Vestiges. Lastly, here is more information of Adam Sedgwick. You will be expected to be familiar with all three of these documents.

[Full version of slides, 16.3M, PDF]


Sep 17th

Darwin’s Life

 PDF, 22MWe will be examining Darwin's life with particular reference to his educational experiences in Edinburgh & Cambridge and his voyage on the HMS Beagle. We will reserve discussion of his major scientific works (Origin of Species and Descent of Man) for next week.

Key People: Charles Darwin :) John Stevens Henslow; Robert Fitzroy

Key Ideas: No major concepts arose from the class. Pay attention to the story of Darwin's life and the major events and places.

[Full version of slides, 18.3M, PDF]


Sep 24th

PDF, 12MDarwin’s Solution: Natural & Sexual Selection

Summary of Origin due.

We will be examining Darwin's central idea - natural selection - as well as the arguments he mounts in Origin, Descent of Man, and Expression of Emotions. The aim overall will be to get a clear idea of what "Darwinism" actually means.

Key People: Patrick Matthew; Edward Blyth; William Wells; Herbert Spencer;

Key Ideas: The logic of natural selection; Evolution as fact, pathway & mechanism; Analysis of selection events in Galapagoes finches; Analysis of selection in peppered moths; Types of selection; Sexual selection; Darwinism.

[Full version of slides, 20.8M, PDF]


Oct 1st

Class cancelled due to instructor illness.


Oct 8th

PDF, 12MResponses (1)

We will start our examination of the varied responses to Darwin with two individuals who opposed his ideas - Richard Owen and Louis Aggasiz - both of whom were inculcated with a Romantic 18th century view of organismal form and function.

Key People:Richard Owen; Louis Agassiz; Adam Sedgwick; George Campbell; H.C. Fleeming Jenkin; Charles Hodge; Gideon Mantell; Thomas Henry Huxley;

Key Ideas: Functionalism; Idealist morphology; Homology; Vertebrate archaetype; Agassiz' legacy

[Full version of slides, 17.7M, PDF]


Oct 15th

PDF, 12MResponses (2)

Continuing our examination of responses to Darwin's ideas, we will look at Thomas Henry Huxley (referred to as "Darwin's Bulldog), Alfred Russel Wallace (the co-discoverer of natural selection), and a relatively unknown anatomist by the name of St George Jackson Mivart. The contrasts between the three nicely illustrate how various individuals understood "Darwinism" in light of their religious and secular viewpoints.

Key People:Thomas Henry Huxley; John Tyndall; Alfred Russel Wallace; St George Jackson Mivart;

Key Ideas: Man's Place in Nature; Linear Trends; Huxley and changes in science; Power of natural selection; Spiritualism; On the Genesis of Species;

[Full version of slides, 20.5M, PDF]


Oct 22nd

PDF, 12MEugenics in America

The modern eugenic movement arose in the late nineteenth century with the writings of Francis Galton. For various reasons, the movement failed in Britain but became very popular in this country, resulting in legislation that restricted immigration and allowed forced sterilization.

Key ideas: Positive & negative eugenics; Anthropometry; IQ testing; Immigration Restriction Act of 1924;

Key People: Francis Galton; Charles Davenport; Carrie Buck; Harry Laughlin

[Full version of slides, 14M, PDF]


Oct 29th

PDF, 12MDarwinising Politics: Right, Left, or Neither?

Last week we saw that American supporters of eugenics held political views that would be most likely classified as "Far-Right" today. Yet today acceptance of evolution and Darwinism is strongest on the Left. We will examine how various political groups have used Darwin's ideas (and name) to justify their ideas, and question whether Darwinism can support any political system.

Key Ideas: Conservative beliefs; Creationists & Haeckel; Social Darwinism;

Key People: Karl Marx; Friedrich Nietzsche; Peter Singer; Ernst Haeckel; Herbert Spencer; Larry Arnhart

[Full version of slides, 25M, PDF]


Nov 5th

PDF, 12MContemporary Opposition to “Darwinism”

Second assignment due. Please remember that electronic copy (as a Word, RTF, or text file) is required via SafeAssignment by 3:00pm. A printed copy is due by 3:15pm sharp in class. No late assignments will be accepted.

This week we will be finishing off our examination of political aspects of Darwinism by looking at American opposition to evolution. We will briefly examine attacks by biblical literalists before concentrating on the modern Intelligent Design (ID) movement. We will not have sufficient time to examine many of the claims made by these opponents of evolution: interested students are invited to take my Spring course HPS 311/BIO 344: Origins, Evolution & Creation to full explore the history of these ideas (and why mainstream science rejects them). The course fulfills learning goals 1, 2, 3 & 'A' of Track 2 ("History and Philosophy of Science") of the CLAS Science & Society requirement.

Key Ideas: Young Earth Creationism; Scientific Creationism; McLean v. Arkansas; Edwards v. Aguillard; Kitzmiller v. Dover; Three Prongs of ID; Icons of Evolution; The Wedge (Document);

Key People: Phillip E. Johnson; William Dembski; Michael Behe;

[Full version of slides, 15M, PDF]


Nov 12th

No class – Veterans Day


Nov 19th

PDF, 12MDarwinizing Philosophy: Ethics & Epistemology

Apologies for not getting the notes up online before class.

Key Ideas: Pragmatism; Epistemology; Evolutionary Epistemology; General Selection Theory; EEM/EET; Meme; Evolutionary Ethics; EMM/EMT; Altruism; Inclusive Fitness Altruism; Reciprocal Altruism; Hamilton's Rule; Haplodiploidy; Prisoner's Dilemma;

Key People: William James; Charles Pierce; John Dewey; Richard Rorty; Karl Popper; Thomas H. Huxley;

[Full version of slides, 8.3M, PDF]


Nov 26th

PDF, 12MWas there a Darwinian Revolution?

Class this week is our last real class session (as the exam will be the following week). We have three things on the agenda:

  1. The ever popular evaluations.
  2. A discussion of whether there was a "Darwinian Revolution." I certainly have ideas about whether there was, but I'd like to hear what *you* have to say. Spend some time (after gorging on turkey perhaps) pondering whether Darwin's ideas have changed anything both in science and in our culture. Have these changes been "good" for us as humans? I'll have some slides to share, but I'd really like this to be an open discussion and for that to work, you'll need to do a little thinking before hand. To aid the discussion, I'd like people to sit at the front of the class and will be asking people to move forward before we get started.
  3. The last portion of the class will be an open session where you can ask me questions to clarify any material you found confusing etc. This - I hope - will help you with the final examination, so please come prepared with questions. It's your chance to clarify things and help yourself.

[Full version of slides]


Dec 3rd

Final Examination

  • This is a closed-book examination worth 40% of your final grade. Anyone caught cheating will recieve a zero for the course.
  • The examination will start at 3:15 sharp and run until 4:45.
  • You will not be given an exam script after 3:15 so do not be late.
  • You will be allowed leave the examination upon completion.
  • You will need a #2 pencil. I cannot provide pencils.
  • As this is a regular class period, no make-up examinations are allowed.