ARTICLE: Progress in life’s history: Linking Darwinism and palaeontology in Britain, 1860–1914

A new Darwin article in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

Progress in life’s history: Linking Darwinism and palaeontology in Britain, 1860–1914

Chris Manias

Abstract This paper examines the tension between Darwinian evolution and palaeontological research in Britain in the 1860–1914 period, looking at how three key promoters of Darwinian thinking – Thomas Henry Huxley, Edwin Ray Lankester and Alfred Russell Wallace – integrated palaeontological ideas and narratives of life’s history into their public presentations of evolutionary theory. It shows how engagement with palaeontological science was an important part of the promotion of evolutionary ideas in Britain, which often bolstered notions that evolution depended upon progress and development along a wider plan. While often critical of some of the non-Darwinian concepts of evolution professed by many contemporary palaeontologists, and frequently citing the ‘imperfection’ of the fossil record itself, Darwinian thinkers nevertheless engaged extensively with palaeontology to develop evolutionary narratives informed by notions of improvement and progress within the natural world.

ARTICLE: Beating the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence: Darwin, social Darwinism and the Turks

A new Darwin article in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

Beating the Turkish hollow in the struggle for existence: Darwin, social Darwinism and the Turks

Alper Bilgili

Abstract Despite the vast literature on Darwinism and race, the way in which Darwin’s opinions on race were received and used by non-Western circles has been little studied. In the case of the Turks, Darwin’s comments have been related to British-Ottoman relations, and Darwin was blamed for stoking anti-Turkish sentiment within Europe. This allegedly resulted in the British occupation of Egypt in the 19th century, the demise of the Ottoman Empire, as well as contemporary Neo-Nazi arson attacks in Germany which targeted Turkish migrants. Consequently, Turkish anti-Darwinists perceive Darwinism to be not merely a false scientific theory, but also a political-ideological instrument of Western hegemony wielded against Turkey and the Islamic World. Turkish Darwinists who responded to those claims, on the other hand, presented Darwin as an egalitarian who could overcome the prejudices of his social class. Further scrutiny, however, proves both accounts to be over-simplistic. This paper aims to throw some light on the context within which Darwin expressed his opinions on Turks and thus contribute to the broader discussion of the relationship between Darwinism and race. More importantly, it aims to familiarise Western readers with one of the cultures of creationism which is very little known, despite its great impact on Muslim masses.

BOOK: Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

… Darwin came to sexual selection not from his study of the sexual differences and mating behaviors or birds and other animals… but the other way around: from his very Victorian interpretation of the human practices of wife choice, courtship, and marriage, which he then extended to animals.

The word above come from the prologue of a new book I recently started reading, which should be titled The Big Book of Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection:


Evelleen Richards, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017), 672 pp.

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Publisher’s description Darwin’s concept of natural selection has been exhaustively studied, but his secondary evolutionary principle of sexual selection remains largely unexplored and misunderstood. Yet sexual selection was of great strategic importance to Darwin because it explained things that natural selection could not and offered a naturalistic, as opposed to divine, account of beauty and its perception.

Only now, with Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, do we have a comprehensive and meticulously researched account of Darwin’s path to its formulation—one that shows the man, rather than the myth, and examines both the social and intellectual roots of Darwin’s theory. Drawing on the minutiae of his unpublished notes, annotations in his personal library, and his extensive correspondence, Evelleen Richards offers a richly detailed, multilayered history. Her fine-grained analysis comprehends the extraordinarily wide range of Darwin’s sources and disentangles the complexity of theory, practice, and analogy that went into the making of sexual selection. Richards deftly explores the narrative strands of this history and vividly brings to life the chief characters involved. A true milestone in the history of science, Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection illuminates the social and cultural contingencies of the shaping of an important—if controversial—biological concept that is back in play in current evolutionary theory.

Links: a review and interview from Times Higher Education; a review from the Guardian; a mention and article review (“Darwin and the Descent of Women,” 1983) from history of science doctoral student James Ungureanu; and a podcast of a 2016 lecture that Richards gave on her research (at this link, scroll down to find this particular one).

ARTICLE: How Fast Does Darwin’s Elephant Population Grow?

New in the Journal of the History of Biology:

How Fast Does Darwin’s Elephant Population Grow?

János Podani, Ádám Kun, and András Szilágyi

Abstract In “The Origin of Species,” Darwin describes a hypothetical example illustrating that large, slowly reproducing mammals such as the elephant can reach very large numbers if population growth is not affected by regulating factors. The elephant example has since been cited in various forms in a wide variety of books, ranging from educational material to encyclopedias. However, Darwin’s text was changed over the six editions of the book, although some errors in the mathematics persisted throughout. In addition, full details of the problem remained hidden in his correspondence with readers of the Origin. As a result, Darwin’s example is very often misinterpreted, misunderstood or presented as if it were a fact. We show that the population growth of Darwin’s elephant population can be modeled by the Leslie matrix method, which we generalize here to males as well. Darwin’s most often cited figure, about 19 million elephants after 750 years is not a typical outcome, actually a very unlikely result under more realistic, although still hypothetical situations. We provide a recursion formula suggesting that Darwin’s original model corresponds to a tribonacci series, a proof showing that sex ratio is constant over all age classes, and a derivation of a generating function of the sequence.

ARTICLE: ‘Darwin was Wrong.’ The International Media Coverage of the Oreopithecus’ Reinterpretation (1956–1959)

An article in a 2016 issue of the journal Centaurus looks at an interesting moment in the history of evolutionary thought:

‘Darwin was Wrong.’ The International Media Coverage of the Oreopithecus’ Reinterpretation (1956–1959)

Clara Florensa

Abstract ‘Darwin was wrong’ was a headline that made news around the world in March 1956. Johannes Hürzeler, a Swiss palaeontologist, had just made public his theory that Oreopithecus bambolii, a fossil thus far classified as an extinct Old World monkey, was in fact a 12-million-year old hominid. That was 10 million years (!) older than the oldest hominids accepted at the time. Two years later he unearthed a complete skeleton of Oreopithecus in Italy. The echo of this discovery in the media was enormous yet the newspaper coverage in different western countries followed distinctive patterns. This paper will show these differences and point out possible explanations that go far beyond scientific disagreement. It will be argued that the press is a privileged source for comparing simultaneous reactions to the same scientific fact around the globe and for helping us discover national and supranational patterns of scientific discourse while linking them to their contexts. This paper also highlights the role of the news pieces as ‘supports of knowledge.’ Just like bones or scientific articles, news items circulate prompting in turn the circulation of other ‘supports of knowledge’ such as fossil remains or scientists.

The whole issue is devoted to articles on the construction of prehistoric knowledge.

BOOK: Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure

I always love a new children’s book about Darwin. This new one following Darwin on the HMS Beagle voyage and his land excursions is no exception.

Charles Darwin_Thermes (1).jpg

Jennifer Thermes, Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure (New York: Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2016), 48 pp.

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Publisher’s description In 1831, Charles Darwin embarked on his first voyage. Though he was a scientist by profession, he was an explorer at heart. While journeying around South America for the first time aboard a ninety-foot-long ship named the Beagle, Charles collected insets, dug up bones, galloped with gauchos, encountered volcanoes and earthquakes, and even ate armadillo for breakfast! The discoveries he made during this adventure would later inspire ideas that changed how we see the world. Complete with mesmerizing map work that charts Darwin’s thrilling five-year voyage, as well as “Fun Facts” and more, Charles Darwin’s Around-the-World Adventure captures the beauty and mystery of nature with wide-eyed wonder.

This book show beautifully the extent to which Darwin traveled, and the maps are detailed and charming. I can imagine the idea of traveling around the world for years could be a difficult thing for young kids to get their minds around – Jennifer Thermes provides a fun and informative account.

Enjoy these images from Charles Darwin’s Around the World Adventure:

BOOK: Debating Darwin

A new book pits one Darwin expert against another in their views on what had more influence on Darwin: the social context of Industrial Revolution England or the German romantics.


Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse, Debating Darwin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 320 pp.

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Publisher’s description Charles Darwin is easily the most famous scientist of the modern age, and his theory of evolution is constantly referenced in many contexts by scientists and nonscientists alike. And yet, despite how frequently his ideas are evoked, there remains a surprising amount we don’t know about the father of modern evolutionary thinking, his intellectual roots, and the science he produced. Debating Darwin seeks to change that, bringing together two leading Darwin scholars—Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse—to engage in a spirited and insightful dialogue, offering their interpretations of Darwin and their critiques of each other’s thinking. Examining key disagreements about Darwin that continue to confound even committed Darwinists, Richards and Ruse offer divergent views on the origins and nature of Darwin and his ideas. Ruse argues that Darwin was quintessentially British and that the roots of his thought can be traced back to the eighteenth century, particularly to the Industrial Revolution and thinkers such as Adam Smith and Thomas Robert Malthus. Ruse argues that when these influences are appreciated, we can see how Darwin’s work in biology is an extension of their theories. In contrast, Richards presents Darwin as a more cosmopolitan, self-educated man, influenced as much by French and particularly German thinkers. Above all, argues Richards, it was Alexander von Humboldt who both inspired Darwin and gave him the conceptual tools that he needed to find and formulate his evolutionary hypotheses. Together, the authors show how the reverberations of the contrasting views on Darwin’s influences can be felt in theories about the nature of natural selection, the role of metaphor in science, and the place of God in Darwin’s thought. Revealing how much there still is to investigate and interrogate about Darwin’s ideas, Debating Darwin contributes to our understanding of evolution itself. The book concludes with a jointly authored chapter that brings this debate into the present, focusing on human evolution, consciousness, religion, and morality. This will be powerful, essential reading for anyone seeking a comprehensive understanding of modern-day evolutionary science and philosophy.