Neanderthals and Other Successes

Course Description

Ours is a planet of life. Evidence from fossils and molecules suggests that organisms have thrived on Earth for billions of years. However, less than one percent of the species that have ever existed on our planet are still alive today. What caused some species to succeed while others failed, and how did life on Earth begin in the first place? From the earliest bacteria to humans and their civilizations, this course addresses the origins, evolution, and extinction of life on earth based on evidence from chemistry, biology, geology, and related sciences.  

Contents & Topics  

INTRODUCTION Life: A Scientific and Religious Perspective 
Introduction and overview of course material. Describe the role of science and religion in discovering truth and discuss the strengths, limitations, and purposes of each approach. 

UNIT 1 Diversity and Distribution of Life 
Discuss the origin of the raw materials for life in stars and the general causes of Earth's habitability. Explain how elements combine to form the building blocks and genetic carriers of life. Discuss the fundamentals of taxonomy, the general characteristics of the domains and phyla of life, and principles of ecology.  

UNIT 2 Fossils, Rocks, and Molecular Clocks 
Discuss the importance of the fossil record (fossils and the rocks that preserve them) as a source of data for understanding the history of life and earth environments. Discuss how isotopes in rocks and molecules in organisms are used to determine the timing of important events in the history of life. Discuss the origin and early history of life on earth as may be determined from isotopes and molecules, including origins of prokaryotes, eukaryotes, metazoans, and bilaterians, in addition to Ediacarans, the Cambrian explosion, and the Ordovician radiation.  

UNIT 3 Evolution and Extinction 
Discuss the evidence for evolution, including molecular and morphological similarity, embryology and ontogeny, vestigial and atavistic structures, etc, with an emphasis on humans. Discuss the principles and theory of microevolution, macroevolution, and background and mass extinctions in driving change in the biosphere.  

UNIT 4 Becoming Human
Discuss the fossil and molecular records of chordates from their first appearance in Cambrian rocks through the transition of vertebrates to terrestrial habitats and the origin of primates. Discuss very specifically the fossil and molecular evidence for the origination and evolution of humans, in addition to evidence from modern genetics for current human evolution. Discuss the rise and fall of civilizations and the future of humanity.  

Goals and Objectives

After taking this course, you should be able to intelligently discuss the scientific underpinnings of life from the perspective of modern science. Moreover, you should better understand the assumptions, purposes, strengths, and limitations of science and the importance of considering the biosphere from philosophical and religious perspective as well for a complete understanding of life. Not only will the fulfillment of these goals enrich your lives, this course should better prepare you to share the gospel with science-minded investigators. Additionally, we hope that you will:

    1. Generate greater understanding and appreciation of science as a method for discovering truth (and its limits), and especially the origin, mechanics, and evolution of the biosphere.
    2. Discover general scientific principles that govern the rise and demise of species, ecosystems, and, human civilizations
    3. Develop greater ability to observe physical details in the world around us (learn to see), think creatively and critically (learn to interpret what we see), and formulate scientific questions (and testable hypotheses)
    4. Develop a greater understanding of the events that must have taken place during the history of the earth to sustain humans and our civilizations.
    5. Intelligently defend why you believe what you believe, and make informed decisions about science and society.
    6. Build a lifelong sense of curiosity and desire to learn.   
Course Requirements  
  • Class Preparation
  • Mastery Quizzes
  • Weekly Summaries
  • Exams
  • Class Exercises
  • Other Activities  
Course Prerequisites
  • Completion of FDSCI101 with a D- or higher
  • Completion of FDENG101 with a D- or higher
  • Completion of FDMAT108 with a D- or higher
Semesters Taught

Winter, Spring, Fall

Course Lead

Forest Gahn
Forest Gahn