Peter Sachs Collopy
The Evolution Debates
As the evolution of life generally and humanity in particular became scientific orthodoxy in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, scientists and other intellectuals debated what this meant. Some conceptions of God were compatible with evolution and others were not, for example, but the inverse was also true: certain conceptions of evolution were compatible with God and others were not. And at the same time, some conceptions of evolution emphasized cooperation and suggested humans would achieve the happiest lives through socialism, while others emphasized the roles of competition and “survival of the fittest” and suggested that capitalism was a better system for human achievement. Some theories of human evolution justified white supremacy, while others suggested racial equality. As a result, debates about biology were often also debates about religion and politics, and the three fields were repeatedly re-formed together.
This is a syllabus for The Evolution Debates, a course offered for four units of credit in spring 2017 as HIST 255g at the University of Southern California. This course will explore the history of ideas about evolution and human origins from about 1800 to the present. We’ll focus on debates and controversies, both within biology and geology and at intersections of science, religion, and politics, as well as famous incidents like Charles Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle and the Scopes Monkey Trial. More broadly, we’ll study the development of evolutionary theory, the histories of creationism and theistic evolutionism, and the roles of debates about human evolution’s political consequences in the histories of eugenics and scientific racism.
This is a General Education course in the category of Humanistic Inquiry. We’ll use the history of evolutionary thought to understand how scientists, theologians, and others have thought about what it means to be human and to live together in organized societies—and about how we became such social animals. In the process, we’ll interpret not only scientific texts for both professional and popular audiences, but also novels, visual art, film, and works of philosophy and theology. We’ll read carefully in order both to understand how arguments work and how the ideas of evolutionary thinkers have been shaped by the particular times, places, and experiences in which they lived, as well as by changing media and systems of publishing and scientific communication.
The course will meet for lectures on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, 9 to 9:50, from January 9 to April 28, in Von Kleinsmid Center room 102. I will be available for office hours on Mondays from 10:00 to 12:00 in Social Sciences Building room 281, and encourage you to come by and talk.
This course is organized around substantial reading assignments of primary sources, which is to say texts written by biologists, geologists, philosophers, theologians, and other participants in the evolution debates. We’ll discuss readings during every class, so please read everything assigned before the class meeting it’s listed under. Each week I will expect you post a short reaction to the reading by Sunday (or by Tuesday on weeks when the class doesn’t meet on Monday) using Blackboard’s blog feature. You can use this as an opportunity to raise questions, to comment on arguments you found particularly surprising or compelling, or to suggest ways the reading might relate to previous readings or forthcoming assignments.
You are required to buy two books, both of which are also available at the USC Bookstore. Please buy these specific editions, so we can refer to the same page numbers and editor’s notes:
All other required readings for the course will be available online; for the first half of the semester, we’ll mostly be reading texts available through the web repository HathiTrust (and linked to below). When we get to more recent texts, I’ll make scanned copies of the excerpts we’re reading available to you.
My lectures will provide historical context for these readings, introduce you to debates between historians about their significance, and describe the roles of historical figures beyond those whose work you’re reading. You’re therefore not required to read a textbook for the course, but if you’d like one to refer to or to follow along in for an additional perspective on this history, I’ve included page numbers below for relevant sections of Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea, third edition (2003), which is available from the USC Bookstore and on reserve at Leavey Library’s circulation desk, and listed with them some other books for further reading or as sources for writing papers. Two other useful reference sources will be the Dictionary of Scientific Biography and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, each of which is useful for finding introductory information on particular scientists and philosophers and citations for books and articles that provide more detailed information.
Your first substantial writing assignment, due February 10, will be a paper approximately five pages long in which you develop your own analysis of a review of The Origin of Species, contextualizing it in the life of its author, with attention to their other scientific, religious, political, and philosophical interests and commitments, and in the editorial agenda of the publication in which it appears. We’ll spend some time in class looking at different ways you might find such reviews and research their authors and publications.
Your second writing assignment, due April 7, will be an online exhibit on a particular book in the evolution debates as a material text. In this exhibit, you’ll demonstrate what you can learn from looking at a physical book about its intended audience and how it was meant to be read. We’ll spend some time in class in advance of this assignment thinking about books in precisely this way, and will visit the USC Libraries’ Special Collections to look at original editions of books on evolution including some of those we’ve read ourselves. You’ll also have an opportunity to present the book you’re thinking about to the class on March 3.
Your last essay assignment, of approximately five pages and due April 28, will be to analyze what was at stake in a particular controversy about evolution. What did the people involved care about? What did they want to persuade others of? How did they use the idea of evolution to do so?
Additionally, there will be a midterm exam during class on March 10 and a final exam on May 5. These exams may involve short answer questions, longer essay questions, or a combination. In any case, the purpose will be more to evaluate your understanding of how ideas about evolution and its scientific, social, and religious consequences have changed over time, and less to test your memory of specific names or dates.
Your grade for the course will be based 15% on each of the two essays, 15% on the online exhibit, 15% on each of the two exams, 10% on reading responses, and 15% on your engaged and insightful participation in class.
Schedule of Class Topics and Readings
Monday, January 9: What Are the Evolution Debates?
- Reference: Peter J. Bowler, Evolution: The History of an Idea, third edition (2003), 1–26.
Is Nature Stable or Changing?
Wednesday, January 11: The Great Chain of Being and the System of Nature
- Charles Bonnet, The Contemplation of Nature (1764), translated and abridged in John Wesley, A Survey of the Wisdom of God in the Creation (1777), volume 4, 49–51, 58–62, 87–96.
- Carl Linnaeus, A General System of Nature (1735–1768), revised by Johann Friedrich Gmelin (1788–1793) and translated by William Turton (1800), volume 1, 1–11.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 48–71; Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea (1936); Michel Foucault, The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences (1966; 1970); Londa Schiebinger, “Why Mammals Are Called Mammals: Gender Politics in Eighteenth-Century Natural History” (1993).
Friday, January 13: Evolution in an Age of Revolutions
- Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy (1809), translated by Hugh Elliot (1914), 1–8, 35–46, 68–70, 106–114.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 71–95; Adrian Desmond, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London (1989).
Monday, January 16: No class for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Wednesday, January 18: No class
Friday, January 20: Natural Theology
- Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), 11–17, 356–371.
- William Paley, Natural Theology (1802), 1–21, 454–459, 467–469, 473–481.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 96–106.
Monday, January 23: Catastrophe and Uniformity
- Georges Cuvier, Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813), translated by Robert Kerr (1815), 5–17.
- Charles Lyell, Principles of Geology, volume 1 (1830), 1–4; volume 2 (1832), 18–32; volume 3 (1833), 1–7.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 106–134; Charles Coulston Gillespie, Genesis and Geology: A Study in the Relations of Scientific Thought, Natural Theology, and Social Opinion in Great Britain, 1790–1850 (1951); Martin S. Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution (2005) and Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform (2008).
Wednesday, January 25: Popular Evolutionism
- Robert Chambers, The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), 113–119, 145–147, 153–161, 174–178, and 268–291.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 134–140; James Secord, Victorian Sensation: The Extraordinary Publication, Reception, and Secret Authorship of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (2000).
Darwin and Wallace’s Answers
Friday, January 27: The Voyages of Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace
- Charles Darwin, Journal and Remarks (1839), 453–457, 461–465.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 141–155; Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: Voyaging (1995).
Monday, January 30: “One Long Argument”
- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), edited by Nicholas Maistrellis, Green Cat Books edition (2009), 5–7, 13–26, 31–42, 47–65, 71–77, 83–94, 99–105.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 155–176; Piers Hale, Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism, and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England (2014), 1–65; Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (2002).
Wednesday, February 1: The Reception of Darwinism
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 177–202; Alvar Ellegård, Darwin and the General Reader: The Reception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution in the British Periodical Press, 1859–1972 (1958); David L. Hull, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community (1973); The Comparative Reception of Darwinism, edited by Thomas F. Glick (1974); Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender, edited by Ronald L. Numbers and John Stenhouse (1999); The Reception of Charles Darwin in Europe, edited by Eve-Marie Engels and Thomas F. Glick (2008).
Friday, February 3: Introduction to Special Collections
Is Darwinism Atheistic?
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 202–207; James Moore, The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870–1900 (1979); Jon H. Roberts, Darwinism and the Divine in America: Protestant Intellectuals and Organic Evolution, 1859–1900 (1988).
Monday, February 6: Anti-Evolutionism
Wednesday, February 8: Christian Darwinism
Friday, February 10: The Evolution Debates in Special Collections
How Did Humans Evolve?
Monday, February 13: Monogenism and Polygenism
- Louis Agassiz, “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Races,” Christian Examiner 49 (1850): 110–113, 126–128, 136–138, 141–145.
- Frederick Douglass, The Claims of the Negro, Ethnologically Considered (1854), 9–10, 12–18, 34–35.
- Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), volume 1, 9–10, 220–227.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 207–216, 292–297.
Wednesday, February 15: Sexual Selection
- Darwin, Descent of Man, volume 1, 245–251, 263–266; volume 2, 301–302, 310–314.
- Eliza Burt Gamble, The Evolution of Woman (1894), 19–31.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 313–315; Hale, Political Descent, 106–154; Cynthia Eagle Russett, Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood (1989); Kimberly A. Hamlin, From Eve to Evolution: Darwin, Science, and Women’s Rights in Gilded Age America (2014).
Friday, February 17: Herbert Spencer’s Universal Evolutionism
Monday, February 20: No class for Presidents Day
The Politics of Evolution: Competitive or Cooperative?
Wednesday, February 22: Individualism
- Herbert Spencer, Social Statics (1851), 16–38.
- Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Biology (1864), volume 1, 443–445.
- Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Sociology, volume 3 (1896), 608–611.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 274–277, 298–302; Hale, Political Descent, 66–105.
Friday, February 24: Liberalism
Monday, February 27: Socialism
- Peter Kropotkin, “Mutual Aid Among Animals,” Nineteenth Century, September 1890, 337–349, 354; November 1890, 709–719.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 305–307, 315–317; Hale, Political Descent, 222–251; Daniel Todes, Darwin Without Malthus: The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought (1989).
Wednesday, March 1: Communism
- Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society (1877), 3–18, 551–554.
- Frederick Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), translated by Ernest Untermann (1902), 102–103, 116–119.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 284–292.
Friday, March 3: Presentations on Special Collections
- Meet in USC Special Collections.
The Eclipse of Darwinism: What Are the Mechanisms of Evolution?
Monday, March 6: Neo-Darwinism and Neo-Lamarckism
- Ernst Haeckel, The History of Creation (1868), translated by Edwin Ray Lankester (1876), volume 1, 280–292.
- Edwin Ray Lankester, Degeneration: A Chapter in Darwinism (1880), excerpted in H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (1895), edited by Stephen Arata, Norton Critical Edition (2008), 160–163.
- H.G. Wells, “Zoological Retrogression” (1891), excerpted in Wells, Time Machine, 133–135.
- August Weismann, The Germ-Plasm: A Theory of Heredity (1892), translated by W. Newton Parker and Harriet Rönnfeldt (1893), ix–xv.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 224–256; Hale, Political Descent, 252–353; Peter J. Bowler, The Eclipse of Darwinism: Anti-Darwinian Evolution Theories in the Decades around 1900 (1983).
Wednesday, March 8: “The Deathbed of Darwinism”?
- Alexander Patterson, The Other Side of Evolution (1903), vii–xix, 120–136.
- Vernon Kellogg, Darwinism To-Day (1907), 1–7.
- Reference: Ronald L. Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (1992; 2006).
Friday, March 10: Midterm exam
March 12–19: No class for spring break
Monday, March 20: Evolutionary Fiction
- H.G. Wells, Time Machine (1895), 1–71.
Wednesday, March 22: Genetics and Eugenics
- Francis Galton, “Hereditary Talent and Character,” Macmillan’s Magazine, June 1865, 157–166.
- William Bateson, “Problems of Heredity as a Subject for Horticultural Investigation,” Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society 25 (1900): 54–61.
- Charles Davenport, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1911), iii–vi, 1–5.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 256–273, 307–313; Diane Paul, Controlling Human Heredity, 1865 to the Present (1995).
Friday, March 24: No class
Monday, March 27: Creative Evolution
- Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution (1907), translated by Arthur Mitchell (1911), ix–xv, 84–97, 163–165, 176–185, 251–271.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 317–322; R. C. Grogin, The Bergsonian Controversy in France, 1900–1914 (1988).
Wednesday, March 29: The Scopes Monkey Trial and the Revival of Creationism
- William Jennings Bryan, In His Image (1922), 86–94, 102–109, 122–127, 132–135.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 375–381; Numbers, Creationists; Edward J. Larson, Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate over Science and Religion (1997); Adam R. Shapiro, Trying Biology: The Scopes Trial, Textbooks, and the Antievolution Movement in American Schools (2013).
The Evolutionary Synthesis: Is Evolution Progressive?
Friday, March 31: Population Genetics and the Modern Synthesis
Monday, April 3: Evolutionary Progress
- Julian Huxley, Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (1942), 556–569, 576–578.
- George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution (1949), 240–246.
- George Gaylord Simpson, “The Concept of Progress in Organic Evolution,” Social Research 41 (1974): 46–51.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 340–346; Michael Ruse, Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology (1996).
Wednesday, April 5: The Teilhardian Synthesis
- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Phenomenon of Man (1938/1955), translated by Bernard Wall (1959), 11–14, 27–28, 180–184, 237–245, 257–272, 291–299.
- Peter Medawar, review of The Phenomenon of Man, Mind 70 (1961): 99–106.
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, The Biology of Ultimate Concern (1967), 114–122, 133–137.
Friday, April 7: No class
Monday, April 10: Scientific Creationism
Wednesday, April 12: The Evolution of Human Race
- Carleton Putnam, Race and Reason: A Yankee View (1961), vii–viii, 1, 36–37, 40–41.
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, “A Bogus ‘Science’ of Race Prejudice,” Journal of Heredity 52 (1961): 189–190.
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, Mankind Evolving: The Evolution of the Human Species (1962), 253–257, 266–271, 285–286.
- Theodosius Dobzhansky, “A Debatable Account of the Origin of Races,” Scientific American, February 1963, 169–170, 172.
- Richard Lewontin, “The Apportionment of Human Diversity,” Evolutionary Biology 6 (1972): 381–387, 396–397.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 278–284, 302–305, 353–356; Lee D. Baker, From Savage to Negro: Anthropology and the Construction of Race, 1896–1954 (1998); John P. Jackson, Jr., Science for Segregation: Race, Law, and the Case against Brown v. Board of Education (2005).
Friday, April 14: Periodic Extinctions and Punctuated Equilibria
- Niles Eldridge, “‘A Battle of Words,’” in The Third Culture, edited by John Brockman (1995), 120–125.
- Niles Eldridge and Stephen Jay Gould, “Punctuated Equilibria: An Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism,” in Models in Paleobiology, edited by Thomas J.M. Schopf (1972), 83–98, 108–115.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 347–353; David Sepkoski, Rereading the Fossil Record: The Growth of Paleobiology as an Evolutionary Discipline (2012).
Adaptationism: Does Natural Selection Explain All Traits?
Monday, April 17: Biology as an Information Science
- George C. Williams, “‘A Package of Information,’” in Brockman, Third Culture, 39–47.
- Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene (1976), 1–11.
- Richard Dawkins, “‘A Survival Machine,’” in Brockman, Third Culture, 75–86.
- Reference: Bowler, Evolution, 356–361.
Wednesday, April 19: Sociobiology
Friday, April 21: The Descent of Woman
- Elaine Morgan, The Descent of Woman (1972), 1–13, 26–33.
- Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, The Woman That Never Evolved (1981), 1–15, 189–191.
- Reference: Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (1989); Erika Lorraine Milam, Looking for a Few Good Males: Female Choice in Evolutionary Biology (2010).
Monday, April 24: Critiques of Adaptationism
Wednesday, April 26: The Revival of Natural Theology
- Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (1986), 1–9.
- William A. Dembski, “The Logical Underpinnings of Intelligent Design,” in Debating Design: From Darwin to DNA, edited by William A. Dembski and Michael Ruse (2004), 311–329.
- Michael J. Behe, “Irreducible Complexity: Obstacle to Darwinian Evolution,” in Dembski and Ruse, Debating Design, 352–355.
- Kenneth R. Miller, “The Flagellum Unspun: The Collapse of ‘Irreducible Complexity,’” in Dembski and Ruse, Debating Design, 81–95.
- Reference: Numbers, Creationists.
Friday, April 28: Symbiogenesis
Friday, May 5: Final exam from 8:00 to 10:00