Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Course Outline

Darwinism has been at the centre of Western intellectual culture since the publication of The Origin of Species in the mid-nineteenth century. Indeed, for Darwinian polemicists such as E.O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, to critique Darwin is declare yourself unintellectual. Yet there is nonetheless a potent tradition of significant literary intellectuals who critique Darwinism directly and, in the main, are as yet unanswered. We begin our study of the counter-Darwinian tradition with On the Origin of Species itself, it being Darwin’s literary treatise on his doctrines. We next ground ourselves in the broader literary critique of the Enlightenment project with the third book of Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. We then read critiques of Darwin from a variety of directions: intellectual, in Samuel Butler’s Essays on Life, Art & Science; creative, with playwright Bernard Shaw’s Back to Methuselah; historical and aesthetic, by G.K Chesterton’s Orthodoxy; and cultural, in George Gissing’s late-period novel Our Friend the Charlatan. These challenges to Darwin are not motivated by religion or opposition to evolution. (Atheist intellectuals of the stature of Nietzsche and Freud wrote critically of natural selection, and evolution generally considered is quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.) Our course will work to understand this tradition, and is equally congenial to—certainly beneficial for—anyone’s present position on the matters in question. As the course progresses, we will develop a compendium of the various points of view under study that, published on the Web at the conclusion, can add light to
the heat that too often accompanies public engagement with the Darwinian problem.

Darwin, Charles On the Origin of Species Penguin
Swift, Jonathan Gulliver’s Travels Oxford
Butler, Samuel Essays on Life, Art & Science Online
Shaw, Bernard Back to Methuselah CourseWare
Chesterton, G.K. Orthodoxy Wilder
Gissing, George Our Friend the Charlatan CourseWare


Productive Participation: 10%
Individual on-line evaluative response 10%
Mid-term creative evaluation essay (4-5 pages) 15%
Class Compendium Project (in-class) 25%
Final paper (8-10 pages) 40%

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