Understanding Evolution: Theory, Evidence, Implications & Controversy

Course Description

Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous quote, “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” is utilized by countless biology professors to introduce the topic of evolution. Evolution has produced the vast diversity of life on our planet today. While the evolutionary theory has been overwhelmingly supported by empirical evidence, in public discourse evolution is controversial, divisive, and hotly debated. We will cultivate a nuanced and scientific understanding of the theory of evolution, and then critically examine how evolution is often misunderstood and inaccurately portrayed in media.

In this course, we will delve into the disconnect between the theory of evolution itself and how it is discussed among the general public. To engage in this critical study, we will first cultivate a nuanced understanding of evolution, which also requires uncovering and deconstructing any prior misconceptions or misunderstandings. We will then apply our nuanced definition of evolution to critiquing portrayals of the theory in popular culture. Finally, we will explore contexts in which evolution is considered controversial, such as debates over whether evolution can be taught in secondary public schools, and deconstruct alternative theories, such as intelligent design.

The course will include interactive lectures, readings and discussions of primary literature, class debates, and creative assignments. In the final project, you will synthesize what you have learned through the creation of an evidence-based opinion piece on the controversy surrounding evolution.

By the end of this course, you will be able to:
• Explain how evolution by natural selection works
• Critically read and evaluate scientific literature
• Analyze and provide counter-arguments for inaccurate or misleading depictions of evolution in popular culture/media
• Identify, evaluate and critique pseudoscientific arguments
• Critique the media’s role in evolutionary literacy among the general public
• Utilize scientific evidence to formulate an argument

This course will provide foundational knowledge for students with interest in biology, ecology, neuroscience, psychology, science education, or journalism.


High-school or AP level biology (or similar) is strongly recommended but not required.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: M-F 3:30P-6:20P
Status: Closed
Format: On-Campus
Instructor(s): Kristina Cohen
Course Number: 10423