Scholarly article on topic 'Darwinism in Context: An interdisciplinary, highly contextualized course on nature of science'

Darwinism in Context: An interdisciplinary, highly contextualized course on nature of science Academic research paper on "History and archaeology"

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Perspectives in Science
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{Darwin / Darwinism / "Social influences" / "Cultural influences" / "Historical influences" / "Nature of Science"}

Abstract of research paper on History and archaeology, author of scientific article — Kostas Kampourakis, Christos Gripiotis

Summary In this article, we describe a course, titled Darwinism in Context, which focuses on the social, cultural and scientific influences on the development of Darwin's theory. This was an interdisciplinary, highly contextualized nature of science course that aimed to help students learn about a core nature of science aspect: that there are historical, cultural and social influences on the practice and directions of science. For this purpose, the course was based on a well-documented historical case study: the development of Darwin's theory. The course consisted of five classes that focused on: (a) Victorian society, (b) the views and beliefs of scholars that had an impact on Darwin's thinking (historical influences), (c) aspects of Darwin's personal and social life that influenced the publication of his theory (social influences), (d) the reception of Darwin's theory and the relationship between religion and science (cultural influences) and (e) the relationship between science and literature. In all cases, teaching included presentations of the historical events but was mostly based on the analysis and discussion of excerpts from the respective original writings. During the classes only a few examples were presented; students were motivated to study further the original writings and identify some key concepts and ideas after the classes. It is concluded that this kind of highly contextualized nature of science instruction can provide students with a more authentic view of science.

Academic research paper on topic "Darwinism in Context: An interdisciplinary, highly contextualized course on nature of science"

Perspectives in Science (2015) 5, 25—35

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Darwinism in Context: An interdisciplinary, m** highly contextualized course on nature of science^

Kostas Kampourakis3 *, Christos Gripiotisb

a University of Geneva, Section of Biology and IUFE, Pavillon Mail, 40 Boulevard du Pont-d'Arve, 1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland

b Geitonas School, P.O. Box 74128, Vari Attikis, 16602, Greece

Received 11 March 2015; received in revised form 21 May 2015; accepted 21 May 2015 Available online 24 June 2015


Darwin; Darwinism; Social influences; Cultural influences; Historical influences; Nature of Science

Summary In this article, we describe a course, titled Darwinism in Context, which focuses on the social, cultural and scientific influences on the development of Darwin's theory. This was an interdisciplinary, highly contextualized nature of science course that aimed to help students learn about a core nature of science aspect: that there are historical, cultural and social influences on the practice and directions of science. For this purpose, the course was based on a well-documented historical case study: the development of Darwin's theory. The course consisted of five classes that focused on: (a) Victorian society, (b) the views and beliefs of scholars that had an impact on Darwin's thinking (historical influences), (c) aspects of Darwin's personal and social life that influenced the publication of his theory (social influences), (d) the reception of Darwin's theory and the relationship between religion and science (cultural influences) and (e) the relationship between science and literature. In all cases, teaching included presentations of the historical events but was mostly based on the analysis and discussion of excerpts from the respective original writings. During the classes only a few examples were presented; students were motivated to study further the original writings and identify some key concepts and ideas after the classes. It is concluded that this kind of highly contextualized nature of science instruction can provide students with a more authentic view of science. © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier GmbH. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (


* This article is part of a special issue entitled "Progress in Science Education 2015''.

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +41 (0) 22 379 07 22. E-mail address:

(K. Kampourakis).

In contemporary science education literature it is widely accepted that students should be taught about nature of science (hereafter NOS): how scientific knowledge is produced and what its characteristics are. Students often hold preconceptions about these (Lederman, 1992; McComas et al.,

2213-0209/© 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier GmbH. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

1998), which form the basis for an incorrect perception of what science can achieve. Therefore, teaching about NOS involves a process of conceptual change from initial preconceptions (see Clough, 2006), such as that science gives definitive answers or that scientists are always objective, to more informed views that counter these preconceptions and help debunk the relevant myths about science (see McComas et al., 1998; Numbers and Kampourakis, 2015). In order to achieve this, it is important to develop appropriate NOS courses that challenge students' preconceptions and provide them with a more authentic portrayal of how science is done. Research also suggests that NOS teaching is effective when it is explicit and reflective (Bell et al., 1998; Khishfe and Abd-El-Khalick, 2002).

In general, explicit/reflective NOS instruction can take three forms: (a) Decontextualized, (b) Moderately contex-tualized and (c) Highly contextualized NOS instruction. The latter is based on the presentation of historical and contemporary cases, explicitly connected to topics taught in particular science subjects (Clough, 2006). This can be achieved by using historical short stories in order to teach science content and draw students' attention to NOS. Such stories have been created for post-secondary introductory astronomy, biology, chemistry, geology, and physics courses (Clough, 2011). It has also been found that, despite institutional constraints, teachers can effectively teach about NOS alongside science content when they have the appropriate training (Clough and Olson, 2012). A first step to introducing students to NOS could be by emphasizing some NOS aspects during regular science instruction. Teachers might refer to historical figures, often mentioned in textbooks anyway, and refer to the details of their life and work in order to discuss some NOS aspects and challenge students' preconceptions about these (see McComas and Kampourakis, 2015, for more examples from the history of biology, chemistry, geology and physics). However, if there is available time one can go even further and develop specialized courses about NOS.

Several studies have drawn on the history of evolutionary thought in order to develop teaching sequences aiming at helping students understand evolutionary concepts or nature of science. For instance, Jensen and Finley (1997) drew on history of science to present to undergraduate students the views of Georges Cuvier, Jean Lamarck, William Paley and Charles Darwin. Students were involved in a series of instructional activities that included use of historical vignettes to introduce the historical figures and their views, as well as students' engagement in problem solving. A similar approach, developed for high school, presented simultaneously the views of Charles Darwin, Jean Lamarck, and William Paley. Students were asked to compare these and assess the explanatory power of each, by using them to explain phenomena other than those described in the original writings (Passmore and Stewart, 2002). Whereas the involvement of students in problem-solving and inquiry activities of this kind certainly has a pedagogical value, it should be made explicit to students that Paley and Lamarck did not develop evolutionary theories in the way Darwin did, as well as that their writings long preceded Darwin's and actually had an influence on him (Kampourakis and McComas, 2010).

This is why it is very important to obtain historical information form the original writings (see e.g. Largent, 2004), as

far as this is possible, or from books written by professional historians of science. If this is not the case, several ''myth conceptions'' may arise and alter the view that students (and teachers) may have for the actual course of events in the historical development of evolutionary theory. For instance, such ''myth-conceptions'' are that Darwin was the official naturalist of the Beagle, that he discovered natural selection while on the voyage of the Beagle, or that he even was the only one who came up with the idea of evolution by natural selection (McComas, 1997). In the cases of Paley and Lamarck discussed above, a careful and detailed study of history shows that presenting their views as alternative to Darwin's is problematic. On one hand, Paley's argument was a theological one as he tried to explain God through nature and not nature through God (Shapiro, 2015). On the other hand, Darwin did not reject the so-called ''Lamarckian'' mechanisms of use and disuse and of the inheritance of acquired characters, and was perhaps more ''Lamarckian'' than Lamarck himself in this respect (Burkhardt, 2015).

It is therefore crucial to draw on history and give an authentic portrayal of the development of evolutionary thought to students. For instance, what we often call ''the evidence for evolution'' (fossils, biodiversity, geographical distribution, comparative anatomy) are not just elements that support Darwin's theory, which were collected after the latter was conceived. On the contrary, these were related to questions naturalists of that time asked, to which Darwin's theory eventually provided satisfactory, natural explanations (Farber, 2003). Therefore, by presenting the development of science in its historical, social, cultural contexts, we can provide students with a more authentic view of nature of science. It is in this spirit in which the course presented here was developed. Darwinism in Context is an interdisciplinary course that focused on the interaction between science and society: how historical, social and cultures influences affected Charles Darwin's science and then how science influenced other aspects of culture such as literature. The novelty in this course is that an English literature teacher and a Biology teacher taught classes together, both continuously emphasizing the interaction between science and society. The rationale for this kind of highly contextual-ized NOS instruction, based on analyses of original writings, has been described elsewhere (Kampourakis and McComas, 2010).

Structure of the course

The writings of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Newton among others in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries brought natural phenomena into the realm of science, showing that they could be rationally explained. Thus, it was found that the earth was a small planet among others rotating around the sun, as well as that the motions of the planets could be explained by the same simple laws that accounted for the motion of physical objects on earth. This was a revolutionary conceptual shift that changed our conception of the universe. Until the mid-19th century the origin of the marvellous adaptations of organisms were either left unexplained or were attributed to design. The publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species (hereafter Origin) by Charles Darwin (1809—1882) provided another revolutionary conceptual

shift that changed our conception of life on Earth. Darwin, although not the first to conceive this idea, accumulated evidence that demonstrated that organisms had evolved, diverging from common ancestors, and also described the process by which they had evolved: natural selection. The adaptations and the diversity of organisms, the origin of novel and highly organized forms, even the origin of humanity itself could henceforth be explained by a natural process of change.

The primary aim of Darwinism in Context was to help secondary students learn about the nature of science through the development of Darwin's theory. In particular, it was considered that the study of Darwin's theory, as well as of the cultural, political, religious and scientific contexts in which it was developed might help students learn about a core NOS aspect: that ''scientific ideas are affected by their social and historical milieu'' (McComasetal., 1998) or that ''there are historical, cultural and social influences on the practice and direction of science'' (McComas, 2008). Darwinism in Context takes Darwin's life and times as a basis for the development of authentic nature of science learning experiences. The development, the reception and the impact of Darwin's theory in Victorian England in the late 19th century, form an important case study about the interaction between science and society.

The course consisted of five classes that focused on historical influences, social influences and cultural influences. Students were first introduced to Victorian society as it was described in literary texts of the first half of the 19th century (class 1). The study of historical influences included the views of scholars that had an impact on Charles Darwin's thinking, through the study of their writings (class 2). The study of social influences was an examination of the aspects of Darwin's personal and social life that delayed or catalyzed the publication of the Origin, such as Darwin's anxiety about the public reaction to his rather heretical views, his feelings and thoughts about life due to the loss of his beloved daughter and the fear to lose priority on the proposal of the theory of natural selection (class3). The study of cultural influences focused on the relationship between religion and science. In particular, emphasis was put on the Huxley-Wilberforce debate, in an attempt to show that it was not an instance of a wider conflict between science and religion (class 4). Finally, a brief description of Darwin's impact on literature was given in order to highlight this often-neglected relationship (class 5).

The course took place in Geitonas School in Athens, Greece. Each class was taught by one of the authors, a Biology teacher (first author) who taught classes 2, 3 and 4, and an English literature teacher (second author) who taught classes 1 and 5. Each of the five classes lasted for two 45-minutes sessions; the first session was devoted to a presentation by the teachers, and the second session to a class discussion of excerpts from the original writings. All classes were taught in English. A group of fifty 17-year-old students who knew enough of Biology, having been taught about evolution in previous grades, and who also had a satisfactory grasp of English to browse in the original texts attended this course. Students were asked to read excerpts from writings of many prominent scholars of Victorian era and identify concepts that were important for the discussion that took place after each class. For this purpose, a student

guide, containing biographical information and excerpts was distributed to students. The student guide was mostly a compilation of texts from a variety of sources. The selection was a careful one in order to achieve scientific and historical accuracy. The student guide was based on published print material, such as reprints of original texts, biographies and anthologies, which were considered as reliable sources.

Janet Browne's Darwin's Origin of Species: a Biography (2006) was also suggested to students as a required reading. This book provides a concise overview of the major historical facts, as well as detailed biographical information and historiography so that it was not necessary for students to go through more detailed biographies (Desmond and Moore, 1994; Browne, 2003a, 2003b). Another short book that might be used for this course has been written by all Darwin's major biographers (Desmond et al., 2007). Finally, The Victorian Web ( was suggested to students as a general supplementary source of further historical information.

Life and thoughts before The Origin

Class 1, entitled Life and Thoughts in Victorian Age, was a short introduction to Victorian London. Numerous everyday facts were mentioned to students; an attempt is made here to name but a few. Water at the time came from village pumps that got it from the village stream that in turn was likely to be full of sewage from the nearby town. Sugar was very expensive and known to rot teeth, so rotten teeth meant wealth; hence, women who could not afford such a luxury used to black their teeth out to appear richer than in reality. The aristocrats who lived in spacious houses with separate bedrooms had the nasty habit of hanging their clothes over sewage holes because they thought that lice were killed by the urine smell. Four — poster beds were invented out of necessity, as country people had to find a way of having an undisturbed night's sleep without bugs, rats, cats or dogs falling from the thatched roofs on their beds — hence the expression ''it is raining cats and dogs''. In most cases, poor people actually forced their children to work in mines or factories, as they needed the extra money, even though that meant longevity of only twenty-five years on average for them.

Students were encouraged to ask questions and comment on the points mentioned. An interesting discussion emerged on how ignorant of science people of Victorian Era were and how little they valued cleanliness. It was then brought into students' attention that the germ theory of disease, that microorganisms were responsible for infectious diseases, became widely acceptable later on. Louis Pasteur (1822—1896) and Robert Koch (1843—1910) were two influential proponents of this theory, established during the 1870s, who used it to explain infectious diseases. In 1879 Pasteur, having previously argued that diseases were caused by microorganisms, suggested that if they were identified it would be possible to develop vaccinations against these diseases, and provided experimental support for his views. It was in 1879 too, that Koch published his four postulates, setting out the experimental procedures for establishing a link between a particular disease and a particular microorganism (Bowler and Morus, 2005, pp. 448—449).

Students had the chance to find original descriptions of life in Victorian England in the literature of the time. Elizabeth Barrett Browning's (1806-1861) The Cry of Children (1843) is a powerful cry, as the title readily suggests, against her times: ''For oh, say the children, we are weary, and we can not run or leap; If we cared for any meadows, it were merely, to drop down in them and sleep. Our knees tremble sorely in the stooping, we fall upon our faces, trying to go; And underneath our heavy eyelids drooping, the reddest flower would look as pale as snow'' (quoted in Forster, 1988, p. 181). Charles Dickens' (1812-1870) Hard Times (1854) shows the difficulties of everyday life: ''In the hardest working part of Coketown; in the innermost fortifications of that ugly citadel, where Nature was as strongly bricked out as killing airs and gases were bricked in; at the heart of the labyrinth of narrow courts upon courts, and close streets upon streets, which had come into existence piecemeal, every piece in a violent hurry for some one man's purpose, and the whole an unnatural family, shouldering, and trampling, and pressing one another to death; in the last close nook of this great exhausted receiver, where the chimneys, for want of air to make a draught, were built in an immense variety of stunted and crooked shapes, as though every house put out a sign of the kind of people who might be expected to be born in it; among the multitude of Coke-town, generically called 'the Hands,' — a race who would have found more favour with some people, if Providence had seen fit to make them only hands, or, like the lower creatures of the seashore, only hands and stomachs — lived a certain Stephen Blackpool, forty years of age'' (Dickens, 1997/1854, p. 70).

In addition, students were given the chance to read excerpts from famous works that revealed details featuring evolutionary-relevant ideas. In Mary Shelley's (1797—1851) Frankenstein (1818), we read: ''Many and long were the conversations between Lord Byron and Shelley to which I was a devout but nearly silent listener. During one of these various philosophical doctrines were discussed and among others the nature of the principle of life and whether there was any probability of its ever being discovered and communicated'' (Shelley, 1985/1818, p. 58). Thomas Carlyle (1795—1881) in Sartor Resartus (1833—1834) claimed that: ''. .. Have any deepest scientific individuals yet dived down to the foundations of the Universe, and gauged everything there? Did the Maker take them into His counsel; that they read his ground plan of the incomprehensible All; [...] That Nature is more than some boundless Volume of such Recipes, or huge, well - nigh inexhaustible Domestic Cookery Book, of which the whole secret will in this manner one day evolve itself, the fewest dream'' (quoted in Greenblatt, 2005, p.1000). Alfred Tennyson (1809—1892) in In Memoriam (1844) stated his worry that change and instability were universal: ''So careful of the type?'' but no. From scarped cliff and quarried stone She cries, ''A thousand types are gone: I care for nothing, all shall go'' (Tennyson, 1861/1844, p. 125; Otis, 2002, p. 284).

In his Two Years Ago (1857) Charles Kingsley (1819—1875) came to regard human beings on the same basis as the animals, contrary to the then orthodox belief that humans are the divinely modelled product of a separate creation: ''He does but follow the analogy of all nature. Look at the Red Indian, in that blissful state of nature from which (so

philosophers inform those who choose to believe them) we all sprang. Which is the boaster, the strutter, the bedizener of his sinful carcase with feathers and beads, fox-tails and bears' claws,-the brave, or his poor little squaw?... Why not: Has he not the analogy of nature on his side? Have not the male birds and the male moths the fine feathers, while the females go soberly about in drab and brown?... If the grey hens will stand round in the mire clucking humble admiration, who can blame the old blackcock for dancing and drumming on the top of a moss hag, with outstretched tail, glorious and self-glorifying. He is a splendid fellow; and he was made splendid for some purpose surely? Why did Nature give him his steel-blue coat, and his crimson crest, but for the very same purpose that she gave Mr A*** his intellect-to be admired by the other sex?'' (quoted in Stevenson, 1960, p. 36). In the same work Kingsley also made explicit reference to evolution, however as a forecast of the future rather as an actuality of the past: "... that both for the bodies and the souls of men forms of life far nobler and fairer than those which we see now are possible; that they have appeared, in fragments at least, already on the earth; that they are destined, perhaps, to reappear and combine themselves in some ideal state, and in 'One far-off divine event towards which the whole creation moves''' (quoted in Stevenson, 1960, p. 37).

These are just some examples; several anthologies (Ousby, 1996; Ford, 1999; Otis, 2002; Greenblatt, 2005) are full of interesting literary evidence on authors or poets who felt disappointed with reality and thirstily asked for a different one. By the time the first class was finished, students were asked to search on their own for additional material in order to bring to light other literary excerpts that could show that Victorian people were wondering about life and its origins. An interesting remark made by many students was that they had realized that they had a wrong view of Victorian society before the class, as the life of aristocrats is most often depicted in films rather than that of the ''lower'' classes. Moreover, they seemed to have found interesting that questions about right and wrong, life and death were already in the air.

Historical influences on Darwin

Class 2, entitled Darwin's Intellectual Background, was an analysis of readings from major figures that had influenced Darwin. The central theme of this class was that the development of a scientific theory is not a matter of a single person; if one had studied what other scholars had suggested in earlier times, one would unavoidably be influenced. But being influenced does not only mean to adopt the idea of someone else and to advance it. A scientist may be influenced by the wrong ideas of others and eventually arrive at the correct conclusion.

Charles Darwin was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin (1731—1802), a nonconformist man. Erasmus died on 1802 and therefore Charles, having been born on 1809, never met him. It seems that at least at the beginning of his career Charles did not seem to have been influenced by his grandfather's writings (Darwin, 1995/1902, p. 166). Erasmus' evolutionary views were presented in two major works: Zoonomia (1794—1796) and The Temple of Nature (1802). In

Zoonomia, Erasmus made explicit reference to the possibility of common descent: ''Would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations; and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!'' (quoted in King-Hele, 1999, pp. 299—300). In his poem The Temple of Nature this idea was even more elegantly presented: ''First forms minute, unseen by spheric glass, Move on the mud, or pierce the watery mass; These, as successive generations bloom, New powers acquire, and larger limbs assume; Whence countless groups of vegetation spring, And breathing realms of fin, and feet, and wing'' (quoted in King-Hele, 1999, p. 347). However, nowhere do we find a direct influence of Erasmus' views on young Charles.

In contrast, while a student at Cambridge, Charles Darwin accepted William Paley's (1743—1805) ideas on the relation between adaptation and utility. Paley supported that design implied the existence of a designer: the existence of a watch was evidence of the existence of a watchmaker. For Paley apparently designed body structures were designed by God to serve the organisms' needs; thus, they existed because they were useful to organisms and were designed by Him for this purpose: ''This mechanism being observed [...] the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker — that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer, who comprehended its construction, and designed its use'' (Paley, 2006/1802, p. 8). For Paley the fact that several body structures existed because they were useful to their possessors, indicated the wisdom of God. Focusing on the study of adaptations (described as ''contrivances'' at the time) was a major influence that Paley had on Darwin, even though eventually Darwin underwent a conceptual shift and came to consider adaptations as the product of natural processes and not design. As already mentioned, Paley's argument was primarily a theological, not a scientific one (Shapiro, 2015).

The development of Darwin's theory was also influenced by the evolutionary theory of Jean Lamarck (1744—1829), who had suggested that changes in the environment produced needs that caused adaptational variation. Lamarck had carefully developed a causal chain starting from needs imposed by the environment, to efforts and eventually to the stimulation of growth and to the production of structures. This process was based on hydraulic action that involved the solid parts of organisms, and the fluids contained in living bodies. Lamarck believed that an animal's needs determined how it would use its body. Eventually, the most used body parts would attract more fluid and would increase in size, whereas the most disused ones would receive less fluid and would degenerate (Burkhardt, 1995). Although Darwin in his writings seems to publicly reject Lamarck's views, it was him who actually held that environmental changes, acting either on the reproductive organs or on the body, were

necessary to generate variation. As already mentioned, in some sense Darwin was more Lamarckian than Lamarck himself (see Burkhardt, 2013, 2015). The crucial point here is that Lamarck's idea of local adaptation eventually became central in Darwin's theory.

A crucial moment for the development of Darwin's theory was when he read the Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) by Thomas Malthus (1766—1834) and came across the idea of the ''struggle for existence''. Malthus had described the idea as follows: ''It is well known that a country in pasture cannot support so many inhabitants as a country in tillage, but what renders nations of shepherds so formidable is the power which they possess of moving all together and the necessity they frequently feel of exerting this power in search of fresh pasture for their herds. A tribe that was rich in cattle had an immediate plenty of food. Even the parent stock might be devoured in a case of absolute necessity. The women lived in greater ease than among nations of hunters. The men bold in their united strength and confiding in their power of procuring pasture for their cattle by change of place, felt, probably, but few fears about providing for a family. These combined causes soon produced their natural and invariable effect, an extended population. A more frequent and rapid change of place became then necessary. A wider and more extensive territory was successively occupied. A broader desolation extended all around them. Want pinched the less fortunate members of the society, and, at length, the impossibility of supporting such a number together became too evident to be resisted. Young scions were then pushed out from the parent-stock and instructed to explore fresh regions and to gain happier seats for themselves by their swords. 'The world was all before them where to choose.' Restless from present distress, flushed with the hope of fairer prospects, and animated with the spirit of hardy enterprise, these daring adventurers were likely to become formidable adversaries to all who opposed them. The peaceful inhabitants of the countries on which they rushed could not long withstand the energy of men acting under such powerful motives of exertion. And when they fell in with any tribes like their own, the contest was a struggle for existence, and they fought with a desperate courage, inspired by the rejection that death was the punishment of defeat and life the prize of victory'' (Malthus, 1798, p. 14). Darwin envisioned a similar struggle for existence taking place in nature, both among individuals of the same species and among individuals of different species.

Another key element in Darwin's theory was the analogy between artificial and natural selection. After reading the pamphlets written by animal breeders, such as John Sebright (1767—1846), who were explicit about the power of artificial selection, Darwin realized that selection for small changes could be taking place in nature. Sebright mentioned natural selection, although by another name, and discussed the analogy between that and artificial selection. ''A severe winter, or a scarcity of food, by destroying the weak and the unhealthy, has had all the good effects of the most skilful selection. In cold and barren countries no animals can live to the age of maturity, but those who have strong constitutions; the weak and the unhealthy do not live to propagate their infirmities ''(quoted in Desmond and Moore, 1994, p. 247). Darwin' s notes written on Sebright's pamphlet indicate that he paid special attention to it. He also joined several

pigeon-breeding clubs to see for himself how far selective breeding could go in producing new varieties. Thus, he realized that artificial selection could provide important insights about how species might change.

There is more than that in the development of Darwin's theory (see Ospovat, 1981; chapter 4 of Kampourakis, 2014). However, the aforementioned influences were enough to show the diversity of influences on a naturalist. A simple way to illustrate these influences to students was to use an excerpt from the Origin and provide links to specific ideas of some of the aforementioned scholars as shown below: ''Owing to this struggle for life (Malthus), any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature (Lamarck), will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection (Sebright). We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt (Paley) organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature'' (Darwin, 1859, p. 61). Students were actually surprised to realize that a naturalist was influenced not only by other naturalists, but also by a theologian, a political economist and an animal breeder.

Social influences on Darwin

Class 3, entitled The Origin of Species, was a description of how several aspects of Darwin's personal and social life influenced the publication of the Origin. Although Darwin had been considering the possibility of evolutionary change as early as 1839, he hesitated to proceed to publication in part because he feared the reaction of religious people. In 1839 Darwin was married to Emma Wedgwood (1808—1896), his first cousin on his mother's side, who was a deeply religious person, a fact that also made him hesitant to publish his evolutionary views. Emma was afraid that Darwin's conclusions would keep them apart in life after death. Another reason for not publishing his theory was the public reaction to the publication of the Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), anonymously published by Robert Chambers (1802—1871), that caused a scandal in Victorian England as it was the first time that a book brought a widespread discussion of evolutionary issues: ''There is, also, in this prejudice, an element of unkindliness towards the lower animals, which is utterly out of place. These creatures are all of them part products of the Almighty Conception, as well as ourselves. All of them display wondrous evidences of his wisdom and benevolence. All of them have had assigned to them by their Great Father a part in the drama of the organic world, as well as ourselves. Why should they be held in such contempt? Let us regard them in a proper spirit, as parts of the grand plan, instead of contemplating them in the light of frivolous

prejudices, and we shall be altogether at a loss to see how there should be any degradation in the idea of our race having been genealogically connected with them'' (Chambers, 1844, p. 235).

What followed made Darwin quite anxious and uncomfortable to the idea of publishing his own evolutionary views (Browne, 2006, pp. 45—53). Hence, in 1844 he wrote an essay, that itself was an enlarged version of a sketch he had written in 1842, which was a complete presentation of the arguments included in the Origin (see Glick and Kohn, 1996, pp. 87—117). Darwin gave Emma the essay and a letter in which he wrote: ''. .. I have just finished my sketch of my species theory. If, as I believe, my theory in time be accepted even by one competent judge, it will be a considerable step in science. I therefore write this, in case of my sudden death, as my most solemn and last request, which I am sure you will consider the same as if legally entered in my will, that you will devote £400 to its publication and further will yourself, or through Hensleigh, take trouble in promoting it. I wish that my sketch be given to some competent person, with this sum to induce him to take trouble in its improvement, and enlargement . . .'' (Darwin, 1995/1902, p. 171). Darwin also shared his views with Joseph Dalton Hooker (1817—1911) in a letter that he wrote in the same year: ''I have been now ever since my return engaged in a very presumptuous work, and I know no one individual who would not say a very foolish one. I was so struck with distribution of the Galapagos organisms &c. &c., and with the character of the American fossil mammifers, &c. &c., that I determined to collect blindly every sort of fact, which could bear any way on what are species. I have read heaps of agricultural and horticultural books, and have never ceased collecting facts. At last gleams of light have come, and I am almost convinced (quite contrary to the opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable'' (Darwin, 1995/1902, pp. 173—174).

It should be noted though that fear and anxiety were not alone the reasons for Darwin's delay in publishing. In fact, these were motivations for him to try and establish his theory on solid foundations in order to avoid criticisms, as he expected that his theory would be compared to the (largely speculative) theories of Lamarck and Chambers. Therefore, it is not accurate that Darwin delayed publication because of fear; Darwin also shared his ideas with several other people besides Hooker. Rather, he wanted to establish as a sold basis as possible for his theory in order to diminish criticisms, and this took him time to achieve. He thus worked hard for several years in order to empirically resolve problems and difficulties anticipated by his theory. Most importantly, a crucial component of the theory was added much later than 1844: the principle of divergence. Therefore, the development of Darwin's theory was a long process. From July 1837 he started taking notes on transmutation, and although he came up with the idea of natural selection within two years, it took him much longer — until November 1854 — to come up with the full theory (see chapter 4 of Kampourakis, 2014; Richards, 2015).

The incident that eventually made Darwin proceed to publication was the receipt of a letter from Alfred Rus-sel Wallace (1823—1913). Wallace was one of Darwin's numerous correspondents from around the world. He knew that Darwin was interested in the question of how species

originate, and trusted his opinion on the matter, so he sent him his essay in which he presented his own answer to this problem and asked him to review it (Wallace, 1858). Wallace wrote: ''The life of wild animals is a struggle for existence. The full exertion of all their faculties and all their energies is required to preserve their own existence and provide for that of their infant offspring. The possibility of procuring food during the least favourable seasons, and of escaping the attacks of their most dangerous enemies, are the primary conditions which determine the existence both of individuals and of entire species. These conditions will also determine the population of a species; and by a careful consideration of all the circumstances we may be enabled to comprehend, and in some degree to explain, what at first sight appears so inexplicable -the excessive abundance of some species, while others closely allied to them are very rare'' (quoted in Berry, 2003, p. 53). [...] ''Now, let some alteration of physical conditions occur in the district [...] it is evident that, of all the individuals composing the species, those forming the least numerous and most feebly organized variety would suffer first, and, were the pressure severe, must soon become extinct. The same causes continuing in action, the parent species would next suffer, would gradually diminish in numbers, and with a recurrence of similar unfavourable conditions might also become extinct. The superior variety would then alone remain, and on a return to favourable circumstances would rapidly increase in numbers and occupy the place of the extinct species and variety'' (p. 57). While Wallace's essay did not employ Darwin's term natural selection, it did describe a similar theory as the one that Darwin had worked on for twenty years, but had yet to publish. Darwin wrote in a letter to Charles Lyell: ''... if Wallace had my MS. sketch written out in 1842, he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters!'' (Darwin, 1995/1902, p. 185). However, this was not exactly the case as Wallace's views were significantly different in some important aspects from Darwin's (Ruse, 2015).

What was concluded at the end of this class was that science is a human activity and consequently scientists are influenced by their emotions, such as the fear for the reaction of a beloved wife, of esteemed colleagues and of the public, as well as the anxiety not to lose the priority of an idea developed in private for almost twenty years. Students started a very interesting discussion on the objectivity of scientists and on their motivations as soon as the presentation was over. The influence of social factors on publicizing science was something that most of them had never thought of.

Cultural influences on Darwin

Classe4, entitled The Huxley — Wilberforce debate, focused on the reception of Darwin's theory and more specifically on the encounter between Samuel Wilberforce (1805—1873), Bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Henry Huxley (1825—1895), known as ''Darwin's bulldog''. It is widely thought that Wilberforce attempted to ridicule Darwin and his theory at a meeting of the British Association in Oxford on 30 June 1860. There he faced Huxley, who is said to have succeeded in defeating the obscurantism of Wilberforce and

through that the pretension of the Church to dictate to scientists the conclusions they were allowed to reach. However, careful historical analysis has shown that the legend overlooks the fact that Wilberforce's speech, rather than reflecting prejudice and religious sentiment, encapsulated many of the scientific objections of Darwin's contemporaries, as well as that Joseph Dalton Hooker's contribution in defending Darwin was more successful than Huxley's. Rather than being an instance of a wider conflict between science and religion, the Huxley-Wilberforce debate reflects trends and developments in Victorian society that had to do with the formation of science as a profession, particular divisions within the Church, reactionary voices from inside the Church, the emergence of new scientific methodologies and the challenges that publications such as the Vestiges produced (Lucas, 1979; Brooke, 2001; Livingstone, 2009).

Huxley was an ardent supporter of Darwin. Soon after the publication of the Origin he expressed his support on Darwin's theory: ''That this most ingenious hypothesis enables us to give a reason for many apparent anomalies in the distribution of living beings in time and space, and that it is not contradicted by the main phenomena of life and organization appear to us to be unquestionable; and, so far, it must be admitted to have an immense advantage over any of its predecessors. But it is quite another matter to affirm absolutely either the truth or falsehood of Mr. Darwin's views at the present stage of the inquiry. Goethe has an excellent aphorism defining that state of mind which he calls ''Thatige Skepsis'' — active doubt. It is doubt which so loves truth that it neither dares rest in doubting, nor extinguish itself by unjustified belief; and we commend this state of mind to students of species, with respect to Mr. Darwin's or any other hypothesis, as to their origin. The combined investigations of another twenty years may, perhaps, enable naturalists to say whether the modifying causes and the selective power, which Mr. Darwin has satisfactorily shown to exist in Nature, are competent to produce all the effects he ascribes to them; or whether, on the other hand, he has been led to over-estimate the value of the principle of natural selection, as greatly as Lamarck overestimated his vera causa of modification by exercise'' (Huxley, 1859). Huxley supported Darwin but was also sceptical about some of his arguments (see also chapter 4 of Kampourakis, 2014).

One of the complaints against Wilberforce was that he presumed to speak of scientific matters, although he was not a scientist. But five weeks earlier Wilberforce had written a review of the Origin, which was published in the July issue of The Quarterly Review, just after the Oxford meeting (Brooke, 2001). The fact that in his speech he used arguments included in the review shows that Wilberforce, contrary to the central tenet of the legend, did not reject the theory because of religious sentiments only. For example, one of his aims was to overthrow Darwin's analogical argument from artificial selection: ''We come then to these conclusions. All the facts presented to us in the natural world tend to show that none of the variations produced in the fixed forms of animal life, when seen in its most plastic condition under domestication, give any promise of a true transmutation of species; first, from the difficulty of accumulating and fixing variations within the same species; secondly, from the fact that these variations, though most

serviceable for man, have no tendency to improve the individual beyond the standard of his own specific type, and so to afford matter, even if they were infinitely produced, for the supposed power of natural selection on which to work; whilst all variations from the mixture of species are barred by the inexorable law of hybrid sterility. Further, the embalmed records of 3000 years show that there has been no beginning of transmutation in the species of our most familiar domesticated animals; and beyond this, that in the countless tribes of animal life around us, down to its lowest and most variable species, no one has ever discovered a single instance of such transmutation being now in prospect; no new organ has ever been known to be developed—no new natural instinct to be formed — whilst, finally, in the — vast museum of departed animal life which the strata of the earth imbed for our examination, whilst they contain far too complete a representation of the past to be set aside as a mere imperfect record, yet afford no one instance of any such change as having ever been in progress, or give us anywhere the missing links of the assumed chain, or the remains which would enable now existing variations, by gradual approximations, to shade off into unity'' (Wilberforce, 1860). Therefore, there is more than religious obscurantism in Wilberforce's critique.

Class 4 also included a presentation and discussion of the religious views of some evolutionary biologists. The aim was to show that there is no single attitude towards religion among scientists and especially among evolutionary biologists. By using excerpts from their books, these scientists were shown to possess entirely different views from one another on religious issues, which were classified as atheism, agnosticism and religiosity. Richard Dawkins was the scientist-atheist: ''Maybe you think it is obvious that God must exist, for how else could the world have come into being? How else could there be life, in all its rich diversity, with every species looking uncannily as though it had been 'designed'? [...] Far from pointing to a designer, the illusion of design in the living world is explained with far greater economy and with devastating elegance by Darwinian natural selection'' (Dawkins, 2006, p. 2) ... ''Being an atheist is nothing to be apologetic about. On the contrary, it is something to be proud of, standing tall to face the far horizon, for atheism nearly always indicates a healthy independence of mind and, indeed, a healthy mind'' (p.3). Simon Conway Morris was at the other extreme, however without being as explicit as Dawkins was: ''. .. given that evolution has produced sentient species with a sense of purpose, it is reasonable to take the claims of theology seriously. In recent years there has been a resurgence of interest in the connections that might serve to reunify the scientific worldview with the religious instinct. [...] In my opinion it will be our lifeline'' (Conway Morris, 2003, p. 328) and ''. .. the complexity and beauty of 'Life's Solution' can never cease to astound. None of it presupposes, let alone proves, the existence of God, but all is congruent. For some it will remain as the pointless activity of the Blind Watchmaker, but others may prefer to remove their dark glasses. The choice of course, is yours''(p. 330). Finally, the views of the late Stephen Jay Gould (1941—2002) were presented as the case for agnosticism: ''I do not see how science and religion could be unified, or even synthesized, under any common scheme of explanation or analysis; but I also do not understand why

the two enterprises should experience any conflict. Science tries to document the factual character of the natural world [...] Religion on the other hand, operates in the equally important, but utterly different, realm of human purposes, meanings and values'' (Gould, 1999, p. 4), ''. . .science studies how the heavens go, religion how to go to heaven'' (p. 6), and ''I am not a believer. I am an agnostic in the wise sense of T.H. Huxley, who coined the word in identifying such open-minded scepticism as the only rational position because, truly, one cannot know. Nonetheless [. . .] I have great respect for religion'' (pp.8-9).

Thus, it was made explicit that it is not possible to have a war or even a conflict between science and religion since scientists do not share the same religious views. And students were encouraged to examine a plurality of views before arriving to any conclusions (see also chapter 2 of Kampourakis, 2014). At this point another core nature of science aspect can also be discussed: that ''science cannot answer all questions'' (McComas, 2008). An important distinction that was explicitly made during the class was between questions that science has not answered yet but may answer in the future, and questions that science cannot answer because they fall outside its realm.

Darwin's impact on literature

There are many different types of interaction between science and literature, as a result of the common historical and cultural contexts that shape both activities. One interesting case is to examine the impact of science on literature, by looking how literature has historically responded to major developments in science (Cartwright, 2007). In particular, the Darwinian theory came to provide answers to questions of particular urgency among Victorians about authority, the relations of the personal and the social to the natural, origins, progress, and endings (for an interesting analysis of the relation between Darwin and literature see Levine, 1988). Some authors of the time thought that evolution meant progress, however readers were quick to pick up that it also conflicted with the concept of creation derived from the Bible and with long established assumptions of the values attached to man's special place and role in the world. Class 5 entitled Darwin's Influence on 19th century literature presented how the writings of highly admired authors or poets referred to Darwin's ideas.

George Meredith (1828—1909) in his epic poem Modern Love (1862) writes: ''What are we first? First, animals; and next Intelligences at a leap; on whom Pale lies the distant shadow of the tomb, And all that draweth on the tomb for text. Into which state comes Love, the crowning sun: Beneath whose light the shadow loses form. We are the lords of life, and life is warm. Intelligence and instinct now are one. But nature says: 'My children most they seem When they least know me: therefore I decree That they shall suffer.' Swift doth young love flee, And we stand wakened, shivering from our dream. Then if we study Nature we are wise. Thus do the few who live but with the day: The scientific animals are they. Lady, this is my sonnet to your eyes'' (Meredith, 2004, p.32).

Thomas Hardy (1840—1928) was among those that did not actually embrace Darwin's ideas. In his poem Hap (1866) he

suggested that is more comforting to think of the world as being directed by a benevolent and wise God than a world without direction or purpose. The existence of such a God would be useful to Hardy because his suffering would be reduced if only he knew that some force greater than he had caused the suffering he experiences: ''If but some vengeful god would call to me From up the sky, and laugh: ''Thou suffering thing, Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy, That thy love's loss is my hate's profiting!'' Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die, Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited; Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.'' (quoted in Otis, 2002, p. 289—290).

In 1884 Herbert George Wells (1866—1946) won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science, now Imperial College, at London. His year of studying comparative anatomy under Huxley was influential; his first full-length works were textbooks of biology and geography. In The Time Machine (1895) and The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) he attempted to write on Darwinian themes and Darwinian man: ''The two species that had resulted from the evolution of man were sliding down towards, or had already arrived at, an altogether new relationship. The Eloi, like the Carolingian kings, had decayed to a mere beautiful futility. They still possessed the earth on sufferance: since the Morlocks, subterranean for innumerable generations, had come at last to find the daylit surface intolerable. And the Morlocks made their garments, I inferred, and maintained them in their habitual needs, perhaps through the survival of an old habit of service'' (Wells, 2002/1895, p. 93)

In his The Way of All Flesh, posthumously published in 1903, Samuel Butler (1835—1902) wrote: ''Of course he read Mr Darwin's books as fast as they came out and adopted evolution as an article of faith. 'It seems to me,' he said once, 'that I am like one of those caterpillars that, if they have been interrupted in making their hammock, must begin again from the beginning. So long as I went back a long way down in the social scale I got on all right, and should have made money but for Ellen; when I try to take up the work at a higher stage I fail completely'. I do not know whether the analogy holds good or not, but I am sure Ernest's instinct was right in telling him that after a heavy fall he had better begin life again at a very low stage, and as I have just said, I would have let him go back to his shop if I had not known what I did''(Butler, 2004/1903, p. 280).

Students read through these works and identified excerpts bearing Darwin's influence. The aim of this class was to clarify the way science and literature share a common historical, social and cultural context. Their relationship was found to be a really close one. As soon as the class was over and these examples were discussed, students were encouraged to look for Darwinian ideas in other works of literature. A very useful anthology that can be used to generally present the relation between literature and science in the 19th century is that by Otis (2002).


The history of the development of Darwin's theory is a fascinating story that is expected to help students understand how science is done, as well as an excellent example to illustrate a core nature of science aspect: that there

are historical, social, and cultural influences on science. From what was described above it should be clear that in order to identify these influences, one might look for people whose writings influenced the scientist under focus (historical influences), aspects of his personal life that influenced the development and publication of his theory (social influences) and the reaction to his theory by the scientific community, the public as well as the Church, especially in those cases where established beliefs are challenged (cultural influences). Such influences were identified in Darwin's case; however this is not the only story that can be used in order to achieve this. Several other fascinating stories, stemming from the development of other scientific disciplines, that illustrate the impact of external influences on the practice of science are also available (see McComas and Kampourakis, 2015 for such examples).

What is the point of identifying these influences? Nowadays science is an indispensable part of human society and culture that has an enormous influence on our world and on our everyday life, especially through advances in medicine and technology. As a result it is important that school science focuses not only on science content but also on NOS, in order to prepare scientifically literate citizens. Hence, teaching about core nature of science aspects may help students understand better what science is and how it is done. Science is not an extraordinary activity, done by exceptionally gifted individuals only, which has the potential of answering any possible question. Science is a human activity and its apparent weaknesses result from our own mental and cognitive abilities. But it is exactly this characteristic that makes science the most objective way to explore the factual character of nature and to understand life without any reference to supernatural agents. Moreover, the apparent weaknesses of science may actually be its strengths: the motivation to investigate further, understand better, and eventually get to know more and ask even more questions.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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