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What happens when biology, in the form of Darwin’s theory of evolution, is applied to politics, philosophy, theology or society in general? We know some of the answers: they range from disasters like eugenics and NAZI genocide, through to an ongoing war between science and religion. Some radical followers of Darwin have even insisted that evolutionary theory can explain everything about human existence. Darwin’s theory of evolution through natural selection (with its corollary of descent from a common ancestor) is a foundational pillar of modern biology and has, for good and ill, been widely adopted, adapted and applied outside of scientific circles. In looking at this, we follow Darwin as he develops his dangerous idea and then explore how people tried to apply it to society. Weekly themes include: whether Darwin killed God; Darwinism, social Darwinism and Eugenics; the connections between evolutionary theory and the NAZIs; the shaping of our understanding of sex and gender through Darwinism; and how Darwin transformed our conception of human nature, especially our relationship with other animals. A critical aspect of the subject will be participation in the Reacting to the Past game, Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal and the Rise of Scientific Naturalism, where students will be allocated specific roles, which they will research and perform over the first half of semester. Students taking this subject will come away with a profound understanding of the Darwinian inheritance, forged through the game and other activities; it is an inheritance which has not only allowed the human species to prise open the secrets of nature, but has also transformed the world itself.
Intended learning outcomes
Upon successful completion of this subject, students will:
- demonstrate a wide knowledge of Darwin and Darwinism, including the scientific, social and cultural reach of evolutionary ideas;
- synthesise, analyse and assess academic and other arguments about Darwin and Darwinism, and contextualise these arguments within the broader realms of the history and philosophy of science;
- create effective arguments, backed up by convincing evidence, about the impact of Darwin and Darwinism upon science, society and culture;
- develop high level research skills, including the ability to extend you knowledge-base beyond subject materials using web-based search tools;
- express effective arguments about the importance of Darwin and Darwinism both to experts and interested non-experts;
- develop effective communication and presentation skills (written and oral), and the ability to collaborate constructively within the classroom;
- demonstrate ethical integrity in written work and classroom activities, including a deep ethical engagement with evolutionary ideas and their impact.
Last updated: 21 April 2021