Graduate Liberal Studies Program

Course Description

GLS 592: Evolution in Contemporary Culture

Instructor: Rod Hagley

In this multidisciplinary course, we will consider the historical impact that Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution has had upon our scientific and cultural development, as well as explore how the ensuing controversy continues to this day.� In many ways, our failure to embrace the remarkable insights of this nineteenth-century naturalist has led to such wide-ranging contemporary problems as the present epidemic of antibiotic resistant bacteria, the rapid development of crop-pest resistance to insecticides, the emergence of new and more deadly human pathogens, and the prolific and deadly evolution of the AIDS virus to name but a few.� To better understand the significance that the Theory of Evolution has for us today and the world in which we live will require an analysis from the perspective of several academic disciplines.� Therefore, we shall examine the scientific, paleontological, philosophical, and anthropological evidence that supports the theory and investigate the historical and contemporary implication of the resulting ideas.

We shall set the stage for our discussions of evolution with an introduction to the basic precepts of the scientific discipline of Genetics.� This will be accomplished by first reviewing the remarkable insights gleaned by the Augustinian monk, Gregor Mendel, who by studying the pea plants in his abbey's vegetable garden in the mid-nineteenth century established the two basic Laws of Genetics.� We will next review the historical events surrounding the life and work of young Charles Darwin to understand how he came to the theory which was to reshape our understanding of the world.� We will subsequently discuss the early controversies surrounding Darwin 's theory and compare those with the modern day debate over the teaching of evolution versus creationism in public schools.

In addition, we will learn about a newly emerging academic discipline called Darwinian Medicine, which represents a union of modern day Clinical Medicine and the biological discipline of Evolutionary Biology.� This extraordinary approach to the understanding of human diseases offers practical applications of evolutionary theory in the maintenance of health and new strategies in the treatment of disease.� An evolutionary perspective of the co-evolution of the human species and our pathogens will give us fresh insights into the prevention and treatment of infectious disease.� An exploration of the evolution of infectious disease will reveal how our behavior both individually and as a society can actually lead to an increase in the virulence of a pathogen and ultimately in the occurrence of epidemics.� But even more importantly, we will discuss how we can influence our pathogens to evolve toward a more benign state.� In particular, we will discuss the evolution of the human immunodeficiency virus, the emergence of the deadly hemorrhagic viruses such as Ebola, Lassa, and Marburg , and the re-emergence of old killers such as TB.

The importance evolution plays in the production of food for the human population on this planet will also be considered.� Especially important is awareness that the leading threat to contemporary food production is the rapid emergence of food pests who are resistant to the insecticides we use to control them.� Much of the mismanagement of the control of such pest organisms stems from our ignorance of basic evolutionary principles.

Finally, special review of the evolutionary history of modern human beings will be undertaken.� We will address important questions such as "What does the fossil record tell us about our own evolution?" and "What does evolutionary theory have to say about the long-term survival of the human species on this planet?"

Potential Textbooks (Check with instructor before purchasing books.)

Darwin, Charles

The Origin of Species (available on-line for free!)

Morris, Robert

The Evolutionist: The Struggle for Darwin's Soul

Nesse, Randolph and

Williams, George

Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine

Palumbi, Stephen

The Evolution Explosion: How Humans Cause Rapid Evolutionary Change

Volpe, E. Peter

An Introduction to Evolution

Last Update: Feb 10, 2008