Southeastern Section–56th Annual Meeting (29–30 March 2007)

Paper No. 10
Presentation Time: 11:00 AM


NOVACK-GOTTSHALL, Philip M., Department of Geosciences, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, GA 30118-3100, BARTLEY, Julie K., Geology Department, Gustavus Adolphus College, 800 W. College Ave, St. Peter, MN 56082 and WATERS, Johnny A., Geology Department, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC 28608,

The concept of evolution by natural selection is fundamental to both geology and biology, but it also interfaces significantly with Western history, social sciences, law, and religion. Although students are exposed to natural selection as a fundamental scientific concept in introductory geology and biology courses, specifically Historical Geology and Principles of Biology, the development of these ideas is brief and does not address their greater cultural impact. In order to emphasize the centrality and power of the concept in many aspects of modern thought, the Geosciences Department introduced an interdisciplinary core curriculum course entitled “What Do You Really Know about Darwinian Evolution.”

This 2-unit course, co-taught by members of the Geosciences Department since the fall semester of 2000, exposes students to the nature of scientific inquiry, the scientific underpinnings of natural selection, as well as the historical, political, and social implications of the theory of evolution. In addition, the course provides a forum for discussion of the interrelationships between scientific inquiry and society.

The course, broadly, is divided into three segments: 1) The history of science as it applies to Darwin's development of the theory of natural selection; 2) Modern understanding of natural selection, including applications of evolutionary hypotheses in everyday life; and 3) Societal implications of, and society's response to, the science of evolution. The course is structured to include lecture, discussion, and in-class activities. Students also participate in group discussions using an electronic bulletin board.

Students enter the course with a diversity of ideas about the nature of evolution, the strength of the evidence for natural selection, and the social and ethical implications of evolutionary biology. During the course, students refine their understanding of these topics and participate in discussions about science, evidence, religion, law, and ethics surrounding evolution. We have met with some resistance toward course material, but in the main, students are curious about evolution and demonstrate significant gains in understanding of course material during the semester.