The UNSW Evolution in the Modern World (BIOS2500) course introduces you to the power of evolutionary thinking and its application to understanding modern life. You’ll explore how evolution shapes the living world, from the flu virus to millions-strong colonies of leaf-cutter ants, and from invertebrates to conscious and highly cultural humans.

Charles Darwin’s insight that evolution happens by natural selection remains, in the words of philosopher Daniel Dennett, “the most important idea anybody ever had.” Unfortunately, only a small proportion of people ever gain more than a superficial understanding of natural selection and how evolution works.

Evolution in the Modern World considers the important perspective that evolution provides on the most difficult and persistent problems that plague 21st century living. These include the COVID-19 pandemic, antibiotic resistance, obesity, overpopulation, income inequality, gender inequity, and the ideological warfare that surround sex and family life.

This course explores the relationships between evolutionary, social, cultural and economic processes. Throughout this course, and long after you graduate, you will recognise and counter common arguments against evolution and learn to address issues that concern society, culture, and their relation to evolution.


Course Breakdown

Evolution in the Modern World involves a weekly two-hour lecture and two-hour tutorial/practical lesson. In 2020, both lectures and tutorial sessions are to be delivered online, with check-ins, Q&A discussions and other activities running during assigned class times.

Lectures are active learning events designed to spur discussion and thoughtful interaction in our time together online. Tutorials include discussions, computer game play, and analysing pop culture phenomena such as rap videos.

Major topics covered throughout the course include:

  • Natural selection
  • The deep history of humanity
  • Diet and the obesity crisis
  • Population growth, overpopulation, poverty and economic development
  • Arms races, infectious diseases, parasites and pharmaceuticals
  • Deception and self-deception: plagiarism, placebo effects and plane crashes
  • Sexual selection and human mating systems
  • Sexual conflict
  • How does culture arise?
  • Violence, homicide and property crime
  • Parents and offspring don’t always get along: from the womb to the nursing home
  • Living fast and slow: development, poverty and social environments
  • Ageing
  • Cooperation, group selection and the rise of institutions
  • Politics, self-interest and the left-right divide


Conditions for Enrolment

There are no pre-requisites for this course. We encourage students from all faculties and disciplinary backgrounds.


Career Opportunities 

Evolution is the most fundamental idea in all of biology, with relevance to sociology, criminology, economics, psychology, medicine and all manner of other disciplines. This course will make you a more rounded citizen, and better able to work with people in different sectors of the economy from your own. This course is general education in its broadest and most useful sense, a chance to enrich your education and see the world in a refreshing new light. 

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