Implications of Evolution

Nov 10 to Dec. 8th 9:30-11AM OLLI GSC Concord --  short URL:

Darwin's "great idea" outraged many, like Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, at the Scopes Monkey Trial and even in today's legislative bodies and curriculum planners.
But, what is the science involved?
This course will use labs, discussion, videos, and our imaginations as we look toward the future.
Some considerations will be genetics, DNA, what is a species, factors in natural selection, and Darwinian vs Lamarckian evolution.

Leonora: 22 years delighting kids with programs at Hollis's Beaver Brook nature area. BS in Natural Science, MS in Science Education
Jim: ex-computer geek and current futurist, Recent RISE/OLLI courses listed at

Course Outline
  1. The nature of Science and people

    1. What is science? Class definitions; The "scientific method"
    2. The nature of people to organize things and tell stories
      1. Linnaeus, sorting and taxonomy, a Lab
    3. Darwin's finches and clipbirds, Labs
    4. What is specie? Class definitions
    5. What is evolution? Class definition and the definitions of others, incl. Lamarck (Blackmore)
    6. Darwin: what makes him special?
  2. What Darwin had to assume

    1. Age of the earth: time to evolve, dating, Usher (Sunday, 23 Oct. 4004 BC)
      1. Lyle: Stratigraphy( rock layers)
      2. Lord Kelvin and geothermal dating
      3. Wegener and Plate tectonics, -- "Music Video" or explainatory video
      4. Radiometric dating techniques
    2. The stuff of life: Primordial soup
    3. What is a fossil: rocks imitating life; missing links; -------------- 100 ft timeline Lab
    4. Extinctions and new species - heretical ideas; catastrophism;
      Clipbirds 2, calories & reproduction lab and history chart
  3. What is life? Genetics

    1. Mendel defines genes and how traits get passed to new generations: dominate, recessive, and quantitative.
      Karotype: species genetic makeup; You as a "specie",
      a simple phenotypes lab; Dinosaur game=evolution
    2. DNA, Crick and Watson, bases, alleles, genes, regulators,; Duplication, innovation(mutations) selection; DNA as digital information yields-accuracy of reproduction;
      Base pairs mutation and Chimp-human DNA comparison Labs
    3. Climbing Mt. Improbable (Dawkins): intermediate forms and independently evolved forms
    4. Punctuated Equilibrium vs gradual change
    5. 2% advantage in a population of 500 becomes ubiquitous over time (gradualism)
    6. What is the diagnostic distinction between species? Example: Greenish Warblers

  4. Epigenetics 

    1. Beyond the genome Histones and Tags (link to University of Utah vido)
    2. Intro info
    3. Methyl groups and diet
    4. PBS "Ghost in Our Genes" -- Nova NOW segment
    5. and the Hank Green video (goes deeper, with different style)
    6. Try Folding your own RNA: EteRNA a "game" at CMU

  5. So What?
    1. What would you like? What would you like for your grand kids?
      Garrison Keilor's Lake Woebegone (where all the kids are above average); eugenics historicaly and looking forward
      2012 stem cells into germ cells opens the door for clones, "non-traditional" genetic offspring
    2. Lamarck (revisited), epigenesis, conscious control
    3. Is there a "direction" -- is Progress part of the Darwinian story?
    4. Is evolution still happening? Drug resistant diseases (TB, HIV, MRSA); Pesticide resistant insects;
    5. Adam and Eve and the family of man.(Y-Chromosome, mitochondrial mutations)
    6. Will our children be different? TED video.
      23andMe awarded patent on gamete cell selection  (Sept. 2013)
    7. Evolution of non-biological things: memes, temes, universe, stars 
    8. Vernor Vinge suggests "corporations" as evolutionary entities, compares to bacteria

Some resources you may want to consider can get the thinking cap operational even before we start classes

The Original Books & pointers

PBS/BBC Documentaries and related educational  materials:
YouTube, TED, Kahn Academy, Great Courses and other information sources
The Controversy - Evolution vs Creationism -- (Not covered in this course)
  • Darwin himself was hesitant in releasing his document, being aware of the controversy that would ensue from the implicit evolution of humans, and required time frame.
  • In 1860 this emerged as the Wilburforce/Huxley debate see: 
  • This surfaced in the U.S in the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial - which is fictionalized in the play/movie Inherit the Wind
    Note that Scopes was found guilty of teaching evolution -- the trial being created for "show" more than practical constitutional/legal analysis
    The US Supreme court ruled in 1968,  in Epperson v. Arkansas that Evolution could not be prohibited, and against "Creation Science" in 1987,  in Edwards v. Aguilard
    and more recently (2005) the district court found the same objections to the teaching of Intelligent Design in Dover PA
  • Pope John Paul Paul II  told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996 that “new scientific knowledge has led us to the conclusion that the theory of evolution is no longer a mere hypothesis.” per Father George V. Coyne, director of the Vatican Observatory
  • "In the Beginning": The Creationist Controversy", a two-part documentary on the creation-evolution debate, was first broadcast over PBS in May 1995. Randall Balmer, Professor, Barnard College,Department of Religion Faculty, Columbia University
  • Bill Nye's message "Creationism is not Suitable for Children" (2.31 min) -- Or the 2 hour 45 minute debate with Ken Ham at the Creation Museum