What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution

Join a noted field biologist to survey how the theory of evolution has evolved.
What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution is rated 4.8 out of 5 by 59.
  • y_2021, m_9, d_17, h_20
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.19
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_53
  • loc_en_CA, sid_1530, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getAggregateRating, 4.34ms
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A rich source of knowledge Pros • A rich and comprehensive presentation of our modern understanding of evolution • The guidebook was written to be read and contains a wealth of recommended readings in an abundantly annotated bibliography. Cons • The lectures were not told with great storytelling prowess. • Typos in the guidebook
Date published: 2021-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Course This is an excellent course. Professor Solomon does a great job of explaining many of the concepts that form the foundation of modern evolutionary theory. This is not to say, however, that all of the lectures are easy. Lecture 6, for example, which deals with genetic drift, is technically difficult to understand, and you might have to rewind it and watch it twice. Overall, it's a very good course and well worth the money.
Date published: 2021-05-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from What Darwin Didn't Know A great scientific theory does not just explain what scientists know already; it also acts as a starting point for further research. This course’s snappy title emphasizes Darwin’s ignorance, but a more accurate version would read “What Biologists Have Learned Since Darwin.” First, they have learned a lot about heredity and variability. Darwin might have made some progress had he heeded Gregor Mendel’s now-famous article on pea plants, but like everyone else Darwin missed its significance. This gap left him vulnerable to the argument that helpful mutations in a few individuals would simply blend away in the species’ general population. In Lectures 2 and 3 Professor Solomon summarizes the workings of genes, genomes, and DNA, and how they can transmit traits useful for survival and reproduction from one generation to the next. In Lecture 6 he explains that genetic “drift”—a random accumulation of mutations over time—can also propel evolution instead of or in tandem with natural selection. Second, handy examples of natural selection in action have appeared since Darwin’s time. The famous peppered moths of England, for example, turned black under the influence of industrial pollution, because the original coloration became much easier for predators to see on tree trunks blackened by soot. They then reverted to the peppered look when the pollution went away. The beaks of soapberry bugs in Florida have shrunk in response to the arrival of new soapberry plants from Asia. In laboratories natural selection is especially easy to observe and experiment with, since bacteria and archaea have such short lives and enormous populations. Speaking of microbes, Darwin published Origin of Species before Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch confirmed the germ theory of disease and long before bacteria proved they could develop and share resistance to antibiotics. Third, plate tectonics, first coined as “continental drift” by Alfred Wegener in 1912 and revived by new evidence in the 1950s, provides an important force for the emergence of new species that Darwin knew nothing about. Once a population is split by a continental fissure or the rise of a new mountain chain, gene flow between the two parts ceases and genetic drift in combination with natural selection will create multiple species out of one. On the other hand, the collision or joining of landmasses brings life forms into a new competition in which the winners survive, and the losers go extinct. Fourth, the known fossil record has expanded enormously since Darwin’s day. Consider that in his time paleontologists had not yet found most of our favorite non-avian dinosaurs or any hominins other than Neanderthal Man. Darwin suspected that humans originated in Africa, but no solid proof emerged until the discoveries of Louis and Mary Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in the 1950s and 60s. Furthermore, Darwin believed that evolution always proceeded gradually, but he was ignorant of the five great mass extinctions that ravaged multicellular life and opened space for the rapid evolution of new species. Finally, scientists have considered and reconsidered questions that Darwin was aware of and discussed, including the origin of the eye, insect societies with sterile workers, coevolution of species in cooperation or competition with one another, and sexual selection. Nothing is flawless, but this course comes close enough for me. Professor Solomon’s presentation is very good; my favorite moment was when he used a jar of jellybeans in several colors to demonstrate population shrinkage and genetic drift. The guidebook is very helpful, containing quizzes for most chapters and a glossary in the back. I still do not understand exactly what alleles are and how they differ from genes, so I need to work on that.
Date published: 2021-04-29
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Course, Lots of Information, But ... I enjoyed the course, It has loads of useful information and examples, but at times it felt like I was connected to a fire-hose of information, with information coming faster than I could digest it. The professor is knowledgeable and presents well, but the course seems to be aimed at persons somewhat more familiar with the field than I am. It's more technical, with Latin species names tossed around like confetti. Enjoyable, but not for the casual viewer.
Date published: 2020-12-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wealth of Information I can't believe how much I learned from this course. I took it with six other college classmates and we met each week on Zoom to discuss the two lectures we viewed. Professor Solomon presented new and intriguing information each lecture. His presentation was excellent and his enthusiasm for his subject was evident. I took away a fundamental knowledge of how evolution works from this course What was really amazing is that Darwin essentially got it right! All of the scientific discoveries since he published his work support his theory. What we have discovered since has just filled in the gaps. I have much more respect for Darwin and his status as one of the great scientists of all time.
Date published: 2020-10-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Brilliant and educational Professor Scott Solomon has given one of the most amazing series of lectures on evolution that I have ever heard. Professor Solomon is succinct, enthusiastic and very knowledgeable about this topic and he has presented a myriad of fascinating nuances in biology that reflect how evolution has fashioned species over time, how natural selection works on populations, and the variety of influences that impact species over time.
Date published: 2020-09-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good course! The content warrants 5 stars, Scott Solomon the lecturer was engaging, I gained an expanded perspective on how evolution works, and I learned a lot about Darwin, such a fascinating character. However, I took off a rating star since sometime the visual and audible streams weren't in synch, and because, generally the lecture format is not my favorite. But, I highly recommend this Great Course. A strong scientific background isn't a prerequisite. I watched one 30-minute lecture each day.
Date published: 2020-09-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great for those well grounded in biology As a retired mechanical engineer with no background in the life sciences I was really challenged to comprehend many of the lectures. I read Darwin's Origin of Species and The Descent of Man and found them, even with the somewhat archaic style, more understandable than the modern science of evolution as described by Scott Solomon. I think this was because Darwin lived and wrote in a much simpler time and his work seemed logical. Solomon's course is loaded with the complexities of the 20th and 21st centuries. The illustrations and graphics in the guidebook were without captions and many were not readable by my 76 year old eyes, but those in the lectures were great. For people interested in the story of human evolution, I recommend Richard Leakey's The Origin of Humankind and Chris Stringer's Lone Survivors which are readily understandable by the layperson.
Date published: 2020-08-20
  • y_2021, m_9, d_17, h_20
  • bvseo_bulk, prod_bvrr, vn_bulk_3.0.19
  • cp_1, bvpage1
  • co_hasreviews, tv_6, tr_53
  • loc_en_CA, sid_1530, prod, sort_[SortEntry(order=SUBMISSION_TIME, direction=DESCENDING)]
  • clientName_teachco
  • bvseo_sdk, p_sdk, 3.2.1
  • CLOUD, getReviews, 4.59ms


Taught by Professor Scott Solomon of Rice University, this course follows the revolution in biology and genetics sparked by Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. In Darwin's day, there were many gaps and uncertainties in his theory-most of which were conclusively solved by his successors. Throughout, Dr. Solomon contrasts what Darwin knew with our tremendous increase in knowledge today.


Scott Solomon
Scott Solomon

We will consider all the things that Darwin did not know about evolution and what we have learned since.


Rice University

Dr. Scott Solomon is an Associate Teaching Professor at Rice University, where he teaches ecology, evolutionary biology, and scientific communication. He received his PhD in Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior from The University of Texas at Austin, where his research explored the evolutionary origins of biodiversity in the Amazon basin. Fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, he has worked as a visiting researcher with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. and with São Paulo State University in Rio Claro, Brazil. Dr. Solomon’s research examines the interactions between native and nonnative ants, the impacts of extreme flooding on ant communities, and the evolution of ants and their symbiotic microorganisms. His experiences in the field include rafting the Nile, coming face-to-face with wild mountain gorillas, fishing for piranhas and venomous lionfish, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, swimming with hammerhead sharks, being sniffed by hyenas while camping in the Serengeti, and dining on roasted palm weevils and guinea pigs in Peru. Dr. Solomon’s writing and photography have appeared in such publications as Aeon, Nautilus, Slate, and WIRED. He is also the author of Future Humans: Inside the Science of Our Continuing Evolution. He regularly lectures on science topics to the general public, including giving presentations at museums, schools, churches, and TEDx events.

By This Professor

What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution
What Darwin Didn't Know: The Modern Science of Evolution


What Darwin Knew and Why It Still Matters

01: What Darwin Knew and Why It Still Matters

Retrace Darwin’s path to his theory of evolution by natural selection, which appeared in his masterpiece The Origin of Species, published in 1859. Encounter collector Alfred Russel Wallace’s astonishing, almost identical, key insight. Detail the types of evidence, not known to Darwin, that have accumulated in the century and a half since his time, deepening and extending his ideas to a remarkable degree.

32 min
Inheritance: Darwin’s Missing Link

02: Inheritance: Darwin’s Missing Link

Missing from On the Origin of Species is any account of how traits pass from one generation to the next. Explore the work on genetic inheritance by Gregor Mendel, whose pioneering rules of heredity remained essentially unknown for 35 years. Follow up with 20th-century pioneers including Thomas Hunt Morgan, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and others, who established the “modern synthesis” of evolutionary biology.

33 min
Genome Mutations: Evolution’s Raw Material

03: Genome Mutations: Evolution’s Raw Material

The arrival of genetics in the early 20th century addressed what Darwin did not know about inheritance, but there was more to uncover: how do genes function, and where do variations come from? Trace the discovery of DNA as the carrier of genetic information and the realization that mutations and other structural changes in DNA are a source of the modifications that underlie natural selection.

33 min
Gene Flow versus Natural Selection

04: Gene Flow versus Natural Selection

Natural selection is not the only mechanism driving evolution. In this lecture, discover how the movement of individuals leads to gene flow between populations. Travel to the Galapagos Islands and neighboring Cocos Island to see how finches evolved into multiple species in the Galapagos archipelago but stayed a distinct species on isolated Cocos. Consider the implications for human evolution.

31 min
Geology and Genes: The Geography of Life

05: Geology and Genes: The Geography of Life

Trace the importance of geology in Darwin’s thinking and his many observations that make sense only in light of the theory of plate tectonics, which was not developed until the 1960s. Chart the breakup, movement, and reassembly of continental plates that dispersed related flora and fauna all over the planet. Also look at the Wallace Line in Indonesia, which separates Asian from Australian species.

31 min
Genetic Drift: When Evolution Is Random

06: Genetic Drift: When Evolution Is Random

Explore how population bottlenecks and the founder effect lead to random changes in the frequency of genes, an independent mechanism of evolution known as as genetic drift. Darwin had an inkling of this process when he proposed that “spontaneous variations” play a role in evolution. But genetic drift has proved far more significant than he ever envisioned. For example, it has played a key role in human evolution.

32 min
Rapid Evolution within Species

07: Rapid Evolution within Species

Darwin thought evolution was an imperceptibly slow process, but it can happen remarkably quickly. Review Peter and Rosemary Grant’s famous studies of Galapagos finches, along with the work of other scientists on guppies in Trinidad, moths in England, and foxes in Siberia. These show evolution playing out in real-time as creatures adapt to changing conditions within a few generations.

29 min
Evolution in the Lab

08: Evolution in the Lab

One thing Darwin never anticipated was that evolution would be observed in the laboratory. In this lecture, analyze lab experiments that shed light on the minute details of evolution, helping to settle a long-standing debate: Is the outcome of evolution random or predictable? Also cover digital life simulations, which inspire new ideas that can be tested with living populations.

31 min
The Many Origins of Species

09: The Many Origins of Species

Despite its title, On the Origin of Species does not fully address how new species arise. Delve into this complex problem by investigating what a species is. Consider definitions based on morphological, biological, phylogenetic, and genomic distinctions. Then examine the reproductive barriers, both before conception and after, that can lead to the origin of new species.

32 min
Cambrian Explosion to Dinosaur Extinction

10: Cambrian Explosion to Dinosaur Extinction

Darwin was puzzled by the sudden appearance of complex, diverse flora and fauna in the fossil record roughly 540 million years ago, a period known as the Cambrian explosion. And Darwin had no idea that the history of life on Earth has included five big mass extinction events—including the demise of the dinosaurs—followed by accelerated periods of evolution that often took life in radically new directions.

32 min
Reconstructing the Tree of Life with DNA

11: Reconstructing the Tree of Life with DNA

Darwin envisioned the history of evolution as a great Tree of Life, in which all the branches are connected by ancestry. Explore the modern version of this idea, which has been revolutionized by DNA sequencing. Investigate the concept of phylogenetics and the surprisingly close link between single-celled microorganisms, plants, and animals. Also probe the phenomenon of “jumping” genes.

31 min
Human Evolution in All Directions

12: Human Evolution in All Directions

Zoom in on the branch of the Tree of Life that gave rise to our species. Fossil discoveries and insights from DNA have led researchers to abandon the iconic image of a linear progression from hunched apes to upright humans. In its place is a much more intertwined tree for humans and their closest living and extinct relatives, including Neanderthals and the recently discovered Denisovans.

32 min
Evolution Doesn’t Repeat, but It Rhymes

13: Evolution Doesn’t Repeat, but It Rhymes

Convergent evolution occurs when natural selection causes different species to evolve in similar ways. Does this mean that evolution follows a predetermined path? Focus on the recent debate between scientists Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris. Gould perceived contingencies and unpredictability, but Conway Morris saw repetition and consistency. How do these views relate to human evolution?

30 min
The Evolution of Extreme Life

14: The Evolution of Extreme Life

Life is even more adaptable than Darwin could have known. In this lecture, investigate extremophiles—organisms that flourish in extreme conditions. These have made biologists rethink the limitations of life on Earth. From bacteria existing miles underground that divide once every 10,000 years to creatures thriving next to superheated undersea volcanoes, life is programmed to adapt and survive.

32 min
Imperfect Nature: Ad Hoc Body Designs

15: Imperfect Nature: Ad Hoc Body Designs

While Darwin knew of inefficient anatomical features of humans and other animals, he didn’t consider these a distinct category of evidence for natural selection. Explore ad hoc body designs—from our imperfect eyes and sexual anatomy, to the bizarre faces of flounders and the false thumbs of pandas. Each adaptation shows evolution devising a solution that is “good enough,” even if it is not ideal.

31 min
The Sterile Worker Paradox

16: The Sterile Worker Paradox

Why was Darwin afraid that ants might undermine his theory of natural selection? Delve into the sterile worker paradox: the puzzle of why ants and other “eusocial” species evolved to have large numbers of non-reproducing offspring. Since the ability to reproduce is central to natural selection, this feature, which is common among insects and also present in other animals, demands explanation.

33 min
Coevolution: Peace Accords and Arms Races

17: Coevolution: Peace Accords and Arms Races

Darwin saw that natural selection not only leads to species that evolve to their mutual advantage, but to enemies that wage an evolutionary arms race that ends up benefiting both sides. Study coevolutionary cases—from the yucca plant and its symbiotic partner, the yucca moth, to the fastest animal on Earth, the cheetah, and its prey the springbok antelope, which has evolved to be almost as fast.

32 min
Microbiomes: Evolution with Small Partners

18: Microbiomes: Evolution with Small Partners

On the Origin of Species failed to account for a major part of the Tree of Life, namely bacteria and other microorganisms. These represent the original forms of life, and they have played a central role in the evolution of every species since. Study the symbiotic role of microbes in the functioning of plants and animals, and consider the view that all organisms are, in part, microbial.

33 min
The Evolution of Brains and Behavior

19: The Evolution of Brains and Behavior

In Darwin’s lifetime, comparisons between the brains of different species were restricted to examinations of anatomy alone. Today, researchers use genetic tools to gain deep insights into how behaviors and sensory abilities evolve. Study behavior in creatures from fire ants to crows to humans, asking how did human brains get so large—and why are big brains so useful anyway?

31 min
The Evolution of Sex and Parenting

20: The Evolution of Sex and Parenting

Darwin devised his theory of sexual selection to explain many traits that can’t be understood through natural selection alone—from the peacock’s gaudy tail to the elaborate constructions of bowerbirds. Probe deeper to discover why sexual reproduction exists at all, what causes individuals to develop into males versus females, and why some males take on the role of raising the young.

32 min
The Evolution of Aging and Death

21: The Evolution of Aging and Death

Darwin’s writings seem to imply that evolution through natural selection should always favor longer lifespans. So why don’t we live forever (or at least for several centuries)? Consider ways that evolutionary processes account for aging and death. Weigh factors such as accumulated mutations, programmed cell death, and genes whose multiple effects are antagonistically at odds with one another.

32 min
Evolutionary Medicine

22: Evolutionary Medicine

Explore one of the ultimate applications of evolutionary principles: harnessing evolution to benefit human health. Study diseases such as malaria, AIDS, influenza, and cancer that evolve rapidly to outmaneuver the body’s changing defenses. Also contrast our modern lifestyle with the physiology we inherited from our prehistoric ancestors, who evolved to compete in a far different world.

32 min
Gene Editing and Directed Evolution

23: Gene Editing and Directed Evolution

Darwin contrasted natural selection with artificial selection—the time-tested techniques for selective breeding that promote desired traits in plants and animals. See how far we’ve come with 21st-century tools such as CRISPR, which allows precise edits to the DNA sequence of any species. Evaluate the promise and perils of this technology, which lets us take evolution into our own hands.

32 min
The Future of Human Evolution

24: The Future of Human Evolution

What does the future hold? Will we evolve into new species? Or have we reached an optimum state that will see minimal evolutionary changes? Weigh the impact of our ever-more-sophisticated technology and consider what will happen to humans who leave Earth for another planet with new physiological challenges. As you learn in this course, evolution isn’t just possible; it’s inevitable.

38 min