Darwinism (Science 3)

Subject HPSC30004 (2010)

Note: This is an archived Handbook entry from 2010.

Credit Points: 12.50
Level: 3 (Undergraduate)
Dates & Locations:

This subject has the following teaching availabilities in 2010:

Semester 1, Parkville - Taught on campus.
Pre-teaching Period Start not applicable
Teaching Period not applicable
Assessment Period End not applicable
Last date to Self-Enrol not applicable
Census Date not applicable
Last date to Withdraw without fail not applicable


Timetable can be viewed here. For information about these dates, click here.
Time Commitment: Contact Hours: Between 10-12 weekly tutorials and between 20-24 lectures, normally two per week
Total Time Commitment: An average of 8.5 hours each week
Prerequisites: Two second year HPS subjects
Corequisites: None
Recommended Background Knowledge: No specific background knowledge is required.
Non Allowed Subjects:

Formerly available as 136-102 and as a 3rd year subject with the code 672-315. Students who have completed

136-102 or 672-315 Darwinism are not eligible to enrol in this subject

Core Participation Requirements:

For the purposes of considering requests for Reasonable Adjustments under the Disability Standards for Education (Cwth 2005), and Students Experiencing Academic Disadvantage Policy, academic requirements for this subject are articulated in the Subject Description, Subject Objectives, Generic Skills and Assessment Requirements of this entry.

The University is dedicated to provide support to those with special requirements. Further details on the disability support scheme can be found at the Disability Liaison Unit website : http://www.services.unimelb.edu.au/disability/


Dr James Bradley


Dr James Bradley


Subject Overview:

This subject will provide students with an exciting and stimulating introduction to the origins and implications of Charles Darwin's revolutionary theory of evolution by means of natural selection.

We begin by exploring the pre-Darwinian cosmos, a place where an omnipotent God designed and ordained the natural world, and where nature was viewed through the lens of the Bible. But during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries this view was challenged by scientists and philosophers. We explore the impact of these ideas, particularly: the new geology that challenged the Biblical stories of Creation and the Great Flood; the observations of plants and animals that began to suggest common descent; the evolutionary theories that preceded Darwin's own; and the fraught socio-economic context that arguably helped inspire Darwin's vision of a natural world steeped in struggle.

Particular emphasis is placed upon Darwin's life, and the influence of society and culture upon his worldview. Here we explore the voyage of the Beagle as a watershed in Darwin's life and thinking. For five years he crisscrossed the oceans and circumnavigated the world, collecting specimens and observing nature. His experiences upon the voyage led him to question contemporary approaches to the origins of species, and to develop his own theory of evolution. But for many years he not make his views public, only admitting them to a close circle of friends, until a letter from Alfred Wallace prompted him hurriedly to publish Origin of Species in 1859. Why did Darwin delay? We discuss this issue in detail.

The appearance of Origin caused a sensation, and we explore the impact of his work and the vigorous debates that surrounded it as a case study in the creation of scientific legitimacy and authority. We then chart how his theory was challenged and refined by generations of biologists, particularly Mendelian genetics. But equally important to the course is the application of evolutionary theory to the huge questions of religion, politics, warfare, colonialism, economics, as well as race, class and gender, from the late nineteenth until our own day. Explorations of Social Darwinism and Eugenics are fundamental aspects of this course, as is the issue of Darwinism’s difficult relationship with god.

We conclude with a discussion of Darwin's legacy both in terms of the relationship between science and religion, and the emergence of evolutionary approaches to understanding the human mind and behaviour.

Objectives: Upon successful completion of this subject, students are expected to possess:

  • an effective grasp of the history and historiography (i.e. how historians have written about over time) of Darwin and evolutionary theory;
  • a sound critical ability, enabling the effective analysis and synthesis of the historiography;
  • the ability to express a clear and sophisticated opinion about Darwin and Darwinism both to experts and to interested outsiders; and,
  • the ability to undertake independent research and reading within the field, including the use of library resources (e.g. finding a book in the open stacks, or using Supersearch), and other online resources.
Assessment: A tutorial assignment of 1500 words 25% (due mid-semester), a long essay of 3000 words 50% and a 1500-word project on an advanced topic related to the subject but not covered in classroom teaching 25% (both due at the end of semester).
Prescribed Texts:
  • Janet Browne, Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography (New York: Grove Press, 2008)
Breadth Options:

This subject is not available as a breadth subject.

Fees Information: Subject EFTSL, Level, Discipline & Census Date
Generic Skills:
  • develop skills in written and oral communication.
  • conduct independent research.
  • make appropriate use of primary and secondary sources in mounting an argument.
  • form defensible judgements based on a critical evaluation of conflicting arguments.
Links to further information: http://www.pasi.unimelb.edu.au/hps/
Notes: For second year, see 136-029 (Darwinism) 136-029 is available for 2nd year science credit for students enrolled in the BSc (pre-2008 degree only), or a combined BSc course (except for the BA/BSc).
Related Majors/Minors/Specialisations: History and Philosophy of Science

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