TTC Darwinian Revolution
by Frederick Gregory
(24 lectures, 30 minutes/lecture mp3)
The Darwinian Revolution — 24 absorbing lectures by award-winning Professor Frederick Gregory of the University of Florida—introduces you to the remarkable story of Darwin's ideas, how scientists and religious leaders reacted to them, and the sea of change in human thought that resulted.
Perhaps more than any other idea in science, Darwin's theory of natural selection shows how a strikingly original concept can break the bounds of its discipline to influence society at large—in religion, politics, philosophy, and other spheres.
Natural selection is the elegantly simple idea that those members of a species that happen to be most well adapted to their surroundings and are best equipped to survive will tend to outlast others; and that over time, species change as a result.
How did Darwin arrive at this theory? Professor Gregory shows that he did so slowly and cautiously, since he was well aware that natural selection was intellectual dynamite, implying that no divine intervention was needed to populate the Earth with a rich diversity of life forms.
In working out the details of the theory, Darwin built on his own observations and on the insights of others, but he also made amazing leaps in the face of apparently contrary evidence.
These are some of the steps to natural selection that you investigate in The Darwinian Revolution:
- Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology argued that the forces that shaped Earth's surface were slow-acting over eons, rather than operating quickly through planet-wide catastrophes, in accord with biblical views. Lyell's theories suggested that the Earth was much older than commonly believed at the time. Darwin took Lyell's book on his exploring voyage aboard HMS Beagle.
- Darwin's five-year expedition around the world on the Beagle was the most important event in his life, introducing him to a diverse panorama of flora and fauna that far surpassed his expectations, and which he spent years trying to understand.
- Darwin was well acquainted with the ability of breeders to promote desirable traits in animals and plants. He took the next crucial step of asking whether this process did not also occur in the wild, under the pressure of the struggle for survival.
The theory that eventually emerged from these reflections was rushed to publication when Darwin got a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, a British naturalist in Indonesia who had reached similar conclusions. But, despite the hurry, Darwin's resulting work, On the Origin of Species, was a meticulously argued case that led to one of the greatest paradigm shifts in the history of science.
The Darwin Debate
Professor Gregory recounts the vigorous scientific criticisms that met Origin, including these objections:
- On the basis of the rate at which the Earth was cooling, physicist William Thomson calculated that the planet could not possibly be old enough to harbor life forms that evolved by natural selection.
- Engineer Fleeming Jenkin argued that, contrary to Darwin's theory, favorable characteristics in an individual would have no chance of spreading through a much larger population.
- Philosopher Ludwig Bьchner praised Darwin's commitment to the concept of evolution but saw a fatal flaw in natural selection due to its purposelessness—its failure to account for progress in nature.
You learn how each of these arguments was eventually answered, including the deep mystery that puzzled Darwin himself: What are the actual "atoms" of inheritance that are passed from generation to generation and that initiate evolutionary change? The answer would come long after Darwin's death with the discovery of DNA as the genetic blueprint.
But the scientific controversies that Darwin encountered were overshadowed by the firestorm of criticism that he faced from religious thinkers, a reaction that has scarcely subsided to this day. Religious attacks on Darwin were inspired by a wide range of theological perspectives. However, most critics agreed with Darwin's contemporary, the theologian Charles Hodge, that what was original with Darwin was a mechanism that resulted from unintelligent causes; that was the core of Darwin's theory of natural selection, and that was what was unacceptable.
Ironically, the notorious Scopes "monkey" trial in 1925 focused on evolution in general, an idea that was widely accepted by many Christian thinkers. Natural selection, the radical theory that implied atheism in the eyes of many, hardly came up during the proceedings.
Professor Gregory points out that the trial was a publicity stunt designed to promote the town of Dayton, Tennessee—not the persecution of a brave teacher for freely speaking out. In The Darwinian Revolution, he brings the controversy up to date by carefully examining the claims of intelligent design, which is the latest and most sophisticated attempt to challenge Darwin on religious grounds.
Course Lecture Titles
- 1. The Meaning of Evolution
- 2. The Way It Used to Be
- 3. Theories of Evolution in the 18th Century
- 4. Fossils and Catastrophism
- 5. Theories of Evolution Just before Darwin
- 6. Why Evolution Was Rejected before Darwin
- 7. Darwin's Conversion to Evolution
- 8. What's in On the Origin of Species?
- 9. How Origin Fared among Scientists
- 10. The Religious Reaction to Darwinism
- 11. The Social Implications of Evolution
- 12. Evolution and Heredity
- 13. A Nadir for Natural Selection
- 14. Groundwork for Recovery
- 15. Human Evolution
- 16. The Scopes Trial
- 17. Lamarckian Inheritance on Stage
- 18. Forging an Evolutionary Synthesis
- 19. Evolution and Molecular Biology
- 20. The Rise of Biblical Creationism
- 21. Tinkering with Evolutionary Theory
- 22. The Heritage of Eugenics
- 23. Intelligent Design
- 24. Adding Things Up