BIOL 436 (Fall)

Evolution and Society

E. Abouheif
(514) 398-7190
S. Reader (Coordinator) N7/12 (514) 398-6421
3 credits (3-0-6)
BIOL 304 or permission of the instructor
Explores the impact that biological evolution and evolutionary thinking has on society. Topics covered include intelligence, language, race, sex, medicine, politics, and creationism. We will introduce each topic and lead discussion, while an invited lecturer will focus on a particular aspect of that topic. 

Lecture 1: Approaches to studying evolution and culture I
Lecture 2: Approaches to studying evolution and culture II

Evolution and Sex
Lecture 3: Introduction
Lecture 4: Presentation by guest lecturer: Professor Sarah Turner (Concordia)
Lecture 5: Discussion and debate

Evolution of Intelligence and the Brain
Lecture 6: Introduction
Lecture 7: Presentation by guest lecturer (TBA)
Lecture 8: Discussion and debate

Evolution, Human Health, Disease & Medicine
Lecture 9: Introduction
Lecture 10: Presentation by guest lecturer (TBA)
Lecture 11: Discussion and debate

Evolution and Food
Lecture 12: Introduction
Lecture 13: Presentation by guest lecturer (TBA)
Lecture 14: Discussion and debate

Evolution and Politics
Lecture 15: Introduction
Lecture 16: Presentation by Professor (TBA)
Lecture 17: Discussion and debate

Evolution and Race
Lecture 18: Introduction
Lecture 19: Presentation by guest lecturer (TBA)
Lecture 20: Discussion and debate

Evolution and Religion
Lecture 21: Introduction: Creationism and evolution, evolution of religion
Lecture 22: Presentation by guest lecturer (TBA)
Lecture 23: Discussion and debate

General Discussion
Lecture 24: Term paper presentations


Assigned readings. There is no set text, but a useful book touching on some themes of the course is: Laland & Brown 2011, Sense and Nonsense: Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Behaviour (Second Edition), Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Each topic will be considered over three class periods. During the first period the professor will present a lecture introducing the material. The next meeting will host an expert from the McGill or wider community who will present an in depth analysis of one aspect of the topic. Experts will come from a range of fields, allowing students to compare evolutionary and other approaches to the topics. Finally, the third period will be devoted to a guided discussion of the material presented in the first two periods.

Summary presentation (10%) – will be based on role-playing presentations of the problems discussed in the previous two lectures. Role-playing presentations are meant to both summarize key aspects of the content of the two previous lectures, as well as raise several “controversial points of discussion” in order to spark debate and discussion among the group. The criteria for how these role-playing presentations will be graded will be given to the students at the beginning of the course, and the students will receive feedback on their performance shortly after the discussion.

Participation in Discussions (20%): We expect that students will be prepared for the discussion periods by the take home assignments (see below), and that the summary presentations at the beginning of these periods will serve as a catalyst to ignite the discussions. Marks will be accorded for evidence that the students are using lecture material to inform and advance their arguments. Students will be given feedback on their performance once half-way during the term. This feedback will include advice on improving performance where necessary. Attendance will also be taken at lectures and discussions, and will form part of the participation grade.

Take home assignments (35%): these will be given after each guest lecturer has spoken. Thus, there will be seven assignments over the term. The students will be asked to summarize the previous two lectures on a particular topic, highlighting those elements of the presentations that they think are cardinal in understanding the topic. In addition, they will be given a list of questions related to the topic, of which they will choose one to answer in a short essay. The students are encouraged to discuss their questions with each other. The assignments will be due on the day of the discussion period for the topic, before the discussion period commences. Note that the lowest-graded assignment will be excluded from the mean grade.

Term Paper (35%): topics for the term paper will be chosen from a list provided by the professors.

McGill University values academic integrity. Therefore all students must understand the meaning and consequences of cheating, plagiarism and other academic offences under the Code of Student Conduct and Disciplinary Procedures (see for more information).

Last update: March 22, 2019