The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy : The Great Courses: History of Science

  • by The Great Courses, Edward J. Larson
  • Narrated by Professor Edward J. Larson
  • Series: The Great Courses: History of Science
  • 6 hrs and 10 mins
  • Lecture

Publisher's Summary

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? These 12 eye-opening lectures are an examination of the varied elements that so often make this science the object of strong sentiments and heated debate.
Professor 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. Here, you'll 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. You'll follow the life and work of Charles Darwin, and the impact of his 1859 masterpiece, On the Origin of Species (the first printing of Origin of Species sold out on the first day).
You'll examine the history of evolutionary science after Darwin-including the "rediscovery" of Gregor Mendel's work on genetic variation and the discovery of Piltdown Man, a fake evolutionary "missing link," in 1912. And you'll 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. Richly detailed yet accessible to any curious mind, these lectures offer an invaluable perspective on the volatile history of what is arguably the single most significant idea of modern times.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Emphasis on history based account of evolution

Great listen, I was expecting a account of Darwin and the steps we took before arrival at evolution and it presented all those and more wonderfully
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- William H.

Little mistakes here and there

Great overall, but makes a few mistakes here and there. Two instances:

1. Aristotle wasn't an atheist. Now, true, Aristotle's theology is not Christian and his divine being is self-contained and doesn't interact with world via revaluation, miracles, and the like. But he's still not an atheist. (And I am an atheist, so I'm not trying to argue "because Aristotle wasn't an atheist, atheism must be wrong.";)

2. Herbert Spencer was not really a social Darwinist or a conservative. Nor was he an imperialist. In fact, Spencer was an anti-imperialist and for things like the equality between the sexes. (That's right! Spencer was an early feminist.;) Much of our views of Spencer today come from not actually reading his works, but those of his critics -- critics who've read him selectively and apply a double standard to his writings.

Anyhow, these mistakes detract from some of Larson's story, but they're not fatal and there's much to learn, especially regarding the milieu Darwinian theory evolved from and the meandering path it's taken over its now near 160 year history.
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- Daniel

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-08-2013
  • Publisher: The Great Courses