Math and Science In Your Life

Science, Math and Technology Resources at Empire State College

*Evolution – One Long Argument

Featured Course: Evolution – One Long Argument


Evolution: One Long Argument; You might guess that the title of this course refers to the intense controversy that has surrounded the theory of evolution by natural selection since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. But Darwin wrote those words in the introduction to his book for a different purpose, saying; “As this whole volume is one long argument, it may be convenient to the reader to have the leading facts and inferences briefly recapitulated.” Darwin was acknowledging that the argument he presents in The Origin of Species is long and detailed. He knew his Ideas would be controversial and he had spent decades building his case. The ideas and argument that Darwin presented in The Origin of Species have withstood countless challenges from both inside and outside of science and Darwin’s book stands among the great works of science writing. Today, the theory of evolution is the central principle around which all of modern biological science is organized.

This course traces the history of evolutionary science starting with Lamarck and other early thinkers on the topic. Students examine the evidence that has accumulated in support of the theory of evolution and they read some of Darwin’s own writings. You’ll explore evolutionary science using interactive activities ranging from biological simulations to an interactive mapping application that traces the Voyage of the Beagle. That famous voyage not only launched Darwin’s career as a scientist, it also forced upon him evidence that could not be reconciled with the accepted scientific thinking of his time. Students in this course will come away with a deeper understanding of how how scientific theories are created, supported, and applied.

The Voyage of the Beagle

In December of 1831 Charles Darwin left England aboard the H.M.S. Beagle bound for Tierra del Fuego and points beyond. The Beagle had embarked on a voyage to survey South America and to then continue around the world. Darwin signed on as ship’s naturalist and for the five years of the voyage he would gather specimens, see the wonders of the world, and ponder how what he was seeing could be reconciled with the accepted science of the day.

Throughout the voyage Darwin kept a detailed journal that was later published as his first book, The Voyage of the Beagle. (available online at

In this activity from the course you can follow along, tracking the voyage of the Beagle and seeing the places that Darwin visited. In his writings Darwin pondered the age of the earth, the amazing diversity of the species he encountered, and the evidence that many creatures had become extinct, all topics would greatly influence his later work.

The Voyage of the Beagle – An interactive map-based application