The Legacy of Darwin's Great Idea
Legacy - HNRS 1120

Instructor(s): Jason Moore

Course Description

Arguably the most important scientific discovery of the last 200 years was that of evolution, the credit for which most often falls squarely on the shoulders of Charles Darwin. After 150 years of dedicated research evolution is now one of the, if not the most thoroughly tested and reliably demonstrated of scientific facts. The insights provided by the development of this discovery have not only revolutionised our understanding of biology and medicine, but have also transformed many other subject areas, including linguistics, computer science, information science, music and art. And we should all be frustratingly familiar with its influence on diseases from the appearance of new variants during the pandemic. 

In this course we will learn what evolution is, the historical context behind the development of the idea (and the preceding ideas on which Darwin built his work), and how our understanding of evolution has developed since the first edition of the "Origin." We will then take this background of evolution and examine the history of some of the advances that have come about courtesy of evolutionary principles, how these ideas that developed in biology have been so successfully co-opted into other disciplines, and the causes behind the controversies that evolutionary thinking has sometimes provoked. Finally, we will look at some of the most recent developments of evolutionary biology and how they have impacted, and will continue to impact modern society. More broadly, we will use the history of evolution as a vehicle through which to understand one of the most transformative (and arguably most beneficial) human enterprises: science and the scientific method. 


This course has a required text from which many of the readings will derive: “From so simple a beginning: The four great books of Charles Darwin” W. W. Norton and Company, New York. ISBN: 0- 393-06134-5.All other readings for this class will be provided on Learn. 


Aside from keeping up with the reading for in-class discussions, there are four major assignments for this class: two essays (Darwin’s scientific method, and Nonbiological evolution) each of which will be submitted as a draft and final version; and two presentations given to the class (Pre-Darwinian concepts of evolution, and Communicating Darwin). 

About the Instructor(s): Jason Moore

Dr. Moore received his Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, where he studied palaeontology. He studies how vertebrate ecosystems change through time in response to climate, disaster, or biological perturbation. He is fascinated by the power and simplicity of the evolutionary process that underpins not only his research, but also everything that we can observe about living systems on Earth and beyond!