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Summary

Charles Darwin's theory of organic evolution - the idea that life on earth is the product of purely natural causes, not the hand of God - set off shock waves that continue to reverberate through Western society, and especially the United States. What makes evolution such a profoundly provocative concept, so convincing to most scientists, yet so socially and politically divisive? These 12 eye-opening lectures are an examination of the varied elements that so often make this science the object of strong sentiments and heated debate.

Professor Larson leads you through the "evolution" of evolution, with an eye toward enhancing your understanding of the development of the theory itself and the roots of the controversies that surround it. Here, you'll explore pre-Darwinian theories of the origins of life, from Genesis and the ancient Greeks to such 18th- and 19th-century scientists as Georges Cuvier. You'll follow the life and work of Charles Darwin, and the impact of his 1859 masterpiece, On the Origin of Species (the first printing of Origin of Species sold out on the first day).

You'll examine the history of evolutionary science after Darwin-including the "rediscovery" of Gregor Mendel's work on genetic variation and the discovery of Piltdown Man, a fake evolutionary "missing link," in 1912. And you'll trace the history of religious objections to evolution, from those of Darwin's own time to contemporary efforts to teach creation science in American schools. Richly detailed yet accessible to any curious mind, these lectures offer an invaluable perspective on the volatile history of what is arguably the single most significant idea of modern times.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2002 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2002 The Great Courses

What listeners say about The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy

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Quite superb.

Where does The Theory of Evolution: A History of Controversy rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

One of the best audiobooks I have listened to so far.

What did you like best about this story?

This is a superb introduction to the subject.

Which scene did you most enjoy?

The discussion on genetics was particularly good.

2 people found this helpful

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Good

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Good overview of how evolution theory came to slowly dominate the scientific thought & the different conflicts with christian thought. I thought he was even handed, tracing some of the problems with the theory in the fossil record & concluding with short quotes from R Dawkins on one hand & P Johnson (ID proponent) on the other and suggesting there is more to come in this debate.

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Good but very US focused

Essentially a good lecturer and materials, sometime a little sketchy in dealing with some important early geologists.
However the focus of much of the material is on the USA, covering the antagonism of the (US) Christian fundamentalist movements to evolution, making a lot of the material irrelevant for anyone not wishing to delve deeply into this. While globally important enough to justify some discussion, the depth is disproportionate and at the expense of omitting some far more interesting debates and controversies still unresolved from a scientific perspective.
Really needs a warning for non-US listeners that it is angled toward the enduring US education crisis.

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Good overall for those who like to learn

These lectures are about history rather than deep dive into the concept. Very simply presented and thus can be heard in the background without any thinking skills involved.

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Very well written

Amazing book, simple and very well written
The theory of intelligent Design was not given much mention or credit

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  • Daniel
  • 21-06-16

Little mistakes here and there

Great overall, but makes a few mistakes here and there. Two instances:

1. Aristotle wasn't an atheist. Now, true, Aristotle's theology is not Christian and his divine being is self-contained and doesn't interact with world via revaluation, miracles, and the like. But he's still not an atheist. (And I am an atheist, so I'm not trying to argue "because Aristotle wasn't an atheist, atheism must be wrong.";)

2. Herbert Spencer was not really a social Darwinist or a conservative. Nor was he an imperialist. In fact, Spencer was an anti-imperialist and for things like the equality between the sexes. (That's right! Spencer was an early feminist.;) Much of our views of Spencer today come from not actually reading his works, but those of his critics -- critics who've read him selectively and apply a double standard to his writings.

Anyhow, these mistakes detract from some of Larson's story, but they're not fatal and there's much to learn, especially regarding the milieu Darwinian theory evolved from and the meandering path it's taken over its now near 160 year history.

31 people found this helpful

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  • Chad
  • 25-05-20

The history of the theory of evolution

Not bad. Not particularly exciting, either, but a decent overview. Note that this is less of a biology textbook explaining evolution and more of a history textbook talking about the theory of evolution. What came before it, about Darwin's creation of it, competing theories at the time, and the ebb and flow of waves of opposition over the time since then.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 11-01-20

interesting and developing

both performance and story are hard to evaluate for series of courses. However it was fascinating and understandable for any person, so don't be afraid that it's out of your level if you are interested in this topic

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  • William H.
  • 25-08-16

Emphasis on history based account of evolution

Great listen, I was expecting a account of Darwin and the steps we took before arrival at evolution and it presented all those and more wonderfully

2 people found this helpful

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  • matt
  • 14-07-17

"Pee pants"

I enjoyed this immensely. But more than once, while referring to Mendel's pea plants. He said "pee pants". Being the way that I am, I found this very funny. This ended up distracting me so much so, I had to cycle back more than once to listen and take in what he was saying.

10 people found this helpful

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  • CA
  • 15-05-21

Great Courses Lectures have tacit religious claims

This guy appears to be an Intelligent Designer which became obvious at the beginning when he calls Aristotle an atheist and then brings up Timaeus. There are two red flags. Clearly philosophy is not his area. After lecture 5 he begins arguing that scientific evidence for evolution is all subject to cognitive bias. Yeah. I've noticed that a lot of Great Courses speakers have an implied religious bent that is usually not very well hid. I usually try and ignore this and despite it this is a good lecture.

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  • mathew thompson
  • 29-09-19

What is the controversy?

From the publication of "On the Origin of Species" to Kitzmiller vs Dover, the history of the Evolution "Controversy" has a longer history than most people realize. In this book you will learn the ever changing public opinion of the Theory of Evolution.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 31-05-16

Delivers

I quite enjoyed listening to this lecture. It helped me construct a big picture of the evolution of evolutionary idea (the sentence writes itself!). Prof Larson gives a concise account of the controversy and to some extent, investigates its roots, without ever assuming a judgemental tone which I appreciated very much. I study evolution for a living and it just boggles my mind that there are a number of people in the world who would dispute evolution. However the name calling that passes for discussion on the web on this or any other topic, gets on my nerves. I found it very useful to understand the roots of this controversy from a non-passionate viewpoint.

I did not realise until after listening to the course that I have also read a book by Prof Larson on the same theme. I can recommend the book as a complement to this course for interested readers.

I would love it TGC could arrange for someone to extend this theme to a worldwide context, that is if evolution is controversial outside of the US.

6 people found this helpful

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  • James Bitondo
  • 29-06-22

A Thinking Theory of Evolving

This lecture is a breath of fresh air in the room of misinformation. The speaker gives us his lecture in a candid calm approach so the listener can listen. He approached our misunderstandings without stepping on our feelings. The author in each of us will apploud this. The best is yet to come as the last chapter carefully points out. I enjoyed this series and I assure that you will also. JB

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  • Dmitry Serdiuk
  • 20-10-21

Bad reading, constant misreads and weird pauses

Very hard to follow, because the lecturer makes weird illogical pauses at random places and constantly corrects himself when pronouncing something wrong.