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Social Sci LibreTexts

I: Evolutionary Theory

Skills to Develop

At the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  • answer the question, What is Biological Anthropology?
  • explain the Scientific Method
  • describe The History of Evolutionary Thought, including the roles of Charles Darwin & Darwinian Evolution
  • relate Cell Biology & Genetics to molecular evolution
  • apply Genetics & Evolution: Mendelian Genetics 
  • show how Genetics & Evolution: The Modern Synthesis works in population genetics
  • discuss how population genetics applies to Human Variation & Race

In this unit students will learn about basic genetics, modern evolutionary theory, modern human variation, and the history of evolutionary thought.

  • 1.1: What is Biological Anthropology?
    Anthropology is the scientific study of humankind. The main purpose of anthropology is for us to understand human biological and cultural diversity, and the origins of humans. So, the humans that anthropologists study can be modern or ancient, and can span across the globe. Anthropologists are unique in that they study the entirety of human existence over time and space.
  • 1.2: Scientific Method
    Science is a way to gain knowledge about natural phenomena using empirical observation and testing. While there are different protocols used in science, it is performed using a set of rules called The Scientific Method that guide scientific practice. The method stresses the need to develop a testable hypothesis, the use of objectivity and rationality, and the circularity of scientific research.
  • 1.3: History of Evolutionary Thought
    Contrary to popular opinion, evolutionary thought does not start with Charles Darwin. The history of evolutionary thought is a fascinating story spanning hundreds of years of both speculation and scientific discovery.
  • 1.4: Darwinian Evolution
    Charles Darwin has done more to influence the philosophy of science, evolutionary biology, and the modern zeitgeist than any other individual. Darwin developed a comprehensive biological theory of evolution that provided a unity to the natural world never before seen. He demonstrated the importance of historicity in science as well as a methodology that involved observation, comparison and classification, not just experimentation.
  • 1.5: Cell Biology and Basic Genetics
    In the decades since On the Origin of Species was published, subsequent generations of biologists, natural scientists, geneticists, paleoanthropologists, etc., have conducted research that has refined our knowledge about evolution. We now can address the things that Darwin did not know. Cell biology and genetics explain where variation comes from and how those traits are inherited.
  • 1.6: Mendelian Genetics
    In this section, we are going to look at how genetics functions for individuals. This field of genetics is often called Classical or Mendelian Genetics. It focuses on how various traits are passed from one individual to the next.
  • 1.7: Modern Synthesis
    The Modern Synthesis incorporates data from multiple scientific disciplines: biology, the natural sciences, genetics, paleontology, and paleoanthropology. While the basis for evolutionary theory was established by the beginning of the twentieth-century, debate continued as to whether natural selection or mutation was more important in evolution. In the 1930s, these two points of views came together to form the basis of the modern synthesis.
  • 1.8: Modern Human Variation
    One of the most striking things about humans is the huge range of biological variation we have as a species. In the previous section, we explored the mechanisms of change involved in the evolution of populations (mutation, migration/gene flow, genetic drift, and natural selection). In this section, we'll look at how those affect human populations to create human diversity.