Journal for General Philosophy of Science: “Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective”

The June 2010 issue (Vol. 41, No. 1) of the Journal for General Philosophy of Science focuses on Darwin:

Ute Deichmann & Anthony Travis, Special Section: Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective: Guest Editors’ Introduction

Ulrich Charpa, Darwin, Schleiden, Whewell, and the “London Doctors”: Evolutionism and Microscopical Research in the Nineteenth Century

Abstract This paper discusses some philosophical and historical connections between, and within, nineteenth century evolutionism and microscopical research. The principal actors are mainly Darwin, Schleiden, Whewell and the “London Doctors,” Arthur Henfrey and Edwin Lankester. I demonstrate that the apparent alliances—particularly Darwin/Schleiden (through evolutionism) and Schleiden/Whewell (through Kantian philosophy of science)—obscure the deep methodological differences between evolutionist and microscopical biology that lingered on until the mid-twentieth century. Through an understanding of the little known significance of Schleiden’s programme of microscopical research and by comparing certain features of his methodology to the activities of the “London Doctors,” we can identify the origin of this state of affairs. In addition, the outcome provides an insight into a critique of Buchdahl’s view on Schleiden’s philosophical conception.

Ute Deichmann, Gemmules and Elements: On Darwin’s and Mendel’s Concepts and Methods in Heredity

Abstract Inheritance and variation were a major focus of Charles Darwin’s studies. Small inherited variations were at the core of his theory of organic evolution by means of natural selection. He put forward a developmental theory of heredity (pangenesis) based on the assumption of the existence of material hereditary particles. However, unlike his proposition of natural selection as a new mechanism for evolutionary change, Darwin’s highly speculative and contradictory hypotheses on heredity were unfruitful for further research. They attempted to explain many complex biological phenomena at the same time, disregarded the then modern developments in cell theory, and were, moreover, faithful to the widespread conceptions of blending and so-called Lamarckian inheritance. In contrast, Mendel’s approaches, despite the fact that features of his ideas were later not found to be tenable, proved successful as the basis for the development of modern genetics. Mendel took the study of the transmission of traits and its causes (genetics) out of natural history; by reducing complexity to simple particulate models, he transformed it into a scientific field of research. His scientific approach and concept of discrete elements (which later gave rise to the notion of discrete genes) also contributed crucially to the explanation of the existence of stable variations as the basis for natural selection.

Michel Morange, How Evolutionary Biology Presently Pervades Cell and Molecular Biology

Abstract The increasing place of evolutionary scenarios in functional biology is one of the major indicators of the present encounter between evolutionary biology and functional biology (such as physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology), the two branches of biology which remained separated throughout the twentieth century. Evolutionary scenarios were not absent from functional biology, but their places were limited, and they did not generate research programs. I compare two examples of these past scenarios with two present-day ones. At least three characteristics distinguish present and past efforts: An excellent description of the systems under study, a rigorous use of the evolutionary models, and the possibility to experimentally test the evolutionary scenarios. These three criteria allow us to distinguish the domains in which the encounter is likely to be fruitful, and those where the obstacles to be overcome are high and in which the proposed scenarios have to be considered with considerable circumspection.

Anthony Travis, Raphael Meldola and the Nineteenth-Century Neo-Darwinians

Abstract Raphael Meldola (1849-1915), an industrial chemist and keen naturalist, under the influence of Darwin, brought new German studies on evolution by natural selection that appeared in the 1870s to the attention of the British scientific community. Meldola’s special interest was in mimicry among butterflies; through this he became a prominent neo-Darwinian. His wide-ranging achievements in science led to appointments as president of important professional scientific societies, and of a local club of like-minded amateurs, particularly field naturalists. This is an account of Meldola’s early scientific connections and studies related to entomology and natural selection, his contributions to the study of mimicry, and his promotion in the mid-1890s of a more theory driven approach among entomologists.

Rony Armon, Beyond Darwinism’s Eclipse: Functional Evolution, Biochemical Recapitulation and Spencerian Emergence in the 1920s and 1930s

Abstract During the 1920s and 1930s, many biologists questioned the viability of Darwin’s theory as a mechanism of evolutionary change. In the early 1940s, and only after a number of alternatives were suggested, Darwinists succeeded to establish natural selection and gene mutation as the main evolutionary mechanisms. While that move, today known as the neo-Darwinian synthesis, is taken as signalling a triumph of evolutionary theory, certain critical problems in evolution—in particular the evolution of animal function—could not be addressed with this approach. Here I demonstrate this through reconstruction of the evolutionary theory of Joseph Needham (1900-1995), who pioneered the biochemical study of evolution and development. In order to address such problems, Needham employed Herbert Spencer’s principles of emergence and Ernst Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation. While Needham did not reject Darwinian theory, Spencerian and Haeckelian frameworks happened to better fit his findings and their evolutionary relevance. He believed selectionist and genetic approaches to be important but far from sufficient for explaining how evolutionary transformations occur.

ARTICLE: Darwin’s Emotions: The Scientific Self and the Sentiment of Objectivity

In the current Isis (Vol. 100, Dec, 2009, pp. 811-26):

Darwin’s Emotions: The Scientific Self and the Sentiment of Objectivity

Paul White

Abstract Darwin’s emotional life has been a preoccupation of biographers and popularizers, while his research on emotional expression has been of keen interest to anthropologists and psychologists. Much can be gained, however, by looking at Darwin’s emotions from both sides, by examining the relationship between his emotional experience and his scientific study of emotion. Darwin developed various techniques for distancing himself from his objects of study and for extracting emotional “objects” from feeling subjects. In order to investigate emotions scientifically, his own emotional life, his feelings for others, had to give way—or did it? This question has implications well beyond the life of Darwin, moral implications about the effects of scientific discipline on those who practice it and on the animals and people subjected to it. This dual approach to Darwin’s emotions also allows us to address a conundrum of recent histories of “objectivity”—namely, the status of the scientific self as a feeling subject.

Also in this issue, essay reviews of The Tragic Sense of Life (about Ernst Haeckel) and Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, and a short review of Imperial Nature: Joseph Hooker and the Practices of Victorian Science.

DISSERTATION: Ernst Haeckel and the redemption of nature

by Heie, Nolan, Ph.D., Queen’s University (Canada), 2008, 412 pages; AAT NR37075
Abstract (Summary) A respected marine biologist at the University of Jena, Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) was the most visible proponent of Darwin’s theory of evolution in Germany around the turn of the twentieth century. Alongside his natural-scientific research activities, he attempted to popularise a philosophy that he dubbed ‘Monism’–which consisted essentially of mid-nineteenth-century mechanistic materialism permeated with elements derived from early-nineteenth-century German Romantic pantheism–and to use this outlook as the basis for a worldwide anticlerical movement. His popular science books were an outstanding success, selling hundreds of thousands of copies throughout the world, but his organisation attracted far fewer adherents. By examining Haeckel’s popular science writings and contemporary reactions to them, especially among lesser-known contemporaries who have received relatively little attention in previous studies, this thesis explores the subjective appeal of Haeckel’s monistic philosophy. Specifically, it investigates the way in which he employed metaphors and visual images to communicate scientific and philosophical concepts, and in so doing seemed to provide his readers with what they had feared lost along with the decline of orthodox religious belief: a feeling of greater purpose, a foundation for ethical behaviour, an appreciation of beauty in the world, and a stable sense of identity. The imagery and metaphors that he employed were open to multiple interpretations, and others saw in them an expression of the destructive modern forces that threatened to bring about social collapse. Paradoxically, the same devices that accounted for Haeckel’s appeal as a popular science writer contributed to the incoherence and fragmentation of his Monism movement.

Also, in a recent issue of Science, Lynn K. Nyhart reviews the two new books about Haeckel: Robert J. Richards’ The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought and Sander Gliboff’s H. G. Bronn, Ernst Haeckel, and the Origins of German Darwinism: A Study in Translation and Transformation.

Darwin Scholars

I’ve added a link section on this blog (2nd column) for the webpages of Darwin scholars, and not necessarily just historians of science. Help me fill it in with suggestions. I decided to do this after I was on Robert J. Richards’ webpage, where he provides a lot of access to articles and book chapters he has written, especially these two pieces that we can find useful:

“The Moral Grammar of Narratives in History of Biology—the Case of Haeckel and Nazi Biology,” Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biologyed. Michael Ruse and David Hull (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2007). 

“Myth: That Darwin and Haeckel were Complicit in Nazi Biology,” in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed.Ronald L. Numbers (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 2009).

Also, Richards has on his site the audio and video from a course he taught in Fall 2008 on Origin and Descent. So much to listen to, so little time!

Some New Journal Articles

Evolution June 2007 – Vol. 61 Issue 6 Page 1261-1506

Making Evolution Relevant and Exciting to Biology Students
David M. Hillis
pages 1261–1264

Museums Teach Evolution
Judy Diamond and E. Margaret Evans
pages 1500–1506

Biological Theory Volume 2, Issue 1 – Winter 2007

Karl Popper and Lamarckism
Elena Aronova
Biological Theory Winter 2007, Vol. 2, No. 1: 37-51.
PDF (free access)

Michael Ruse—Bare-Knuckle Fighting: EvoDevo versus Natural Selection
Scott F. Gilbert
Biological Theory Winter 2007, Vol. 2, No. 1: 74-75.

Niko Tinbergen: The Ethologist as Field Naturalist
Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr.
Biological Theory Winter 2007, Vol. 2, No. 1: 87-90.

Ernst Haeckel’s Alleged Anti-Semitism and Contributions to Nazi Biology
Robert J. Richards
Biological Theory Winter 2007, Vol. 2, No. 1: 97-103.

ISHPSSB 2007 Meeting

International Society for the History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology 2007 Meeting
University of Exeter
Wednesday 25th – Sunday 29th July 2007
Preliminary Full Programme

papers/presentations of interest:

Popper’s dance with Darwin
Michael Bradie

Intimations of natural selection: Patrick Matthew and Charles Darwin’s notebooks
Daniel Becquemont

‘Darwin’s delay’: another historiographical myth?
John van Wyhe

Darwinian populations and transitions in individuality
Peter Godfrey Smith

Leon Croizat: A radical biogeographer
David Hull

Private letters, public discourse: The botanical correspondence of Mary Treat and Charles Darwin
Dawn Sanders

What did Darwin do to teleology?
Arno Wouters

Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation in America: a quick response in the years 1844-1847
Albert Peacock

C. Darwin and J. D. Hooker: a controversy between friends
Anna Carolina Regner

Alfred R. Wallace and his vision of anthropology and evolution
Juan Manuel RodrÌguez Caso, Rosaura Ruiz GutiÈrrez

Alfred Russel Wallace’s claims regarding spiritualism
Juliana Ferreira, Roberto Martins

Darwinism and the ever changing definitions of the ‘inheritance of acquired characteristics’
Fern Elsdon Baker

Natural selection and the problem of reduction in life sciences
Bartlomiej Swiatczak

What is “natural” in natural selection?
Abhijeet Bardapurkar

Extinction in German Natural History, 1790-1830
Thomas Burnett

The Cambridge school of animal morphology, 1882-1910
Helen Blackman

‘Skandalon’: Haeckel’s pictures of embryos in the struggle of world views
Nick Hopwood

Dewey’s Darwinism and the Baldwin effect
David Depew

From the principles of psychology to dynamic systems: the influence of Darwin on James, Dewey, and cognitive neurobiology
Tibor Solymosi

What does a pragmatist genetics look like? Herbert Spencer Jennings and the politics of evolution and heredity
Judy Johns Schloegel

Gospel of Greed: Peirce’s misreading of Darwin
Mark Tschaepe

Is the tree of life metaphor really necessary?
Erica Torrens, Ana Barahona

Rhetoric in Stephen Jay Gould’s work
Vladimir Cachon

Spontaneous generations, beginning of life and history of life in Lamarck’s theory
Stéphane Tirard

More on Haeckel’s Embryos by the Discovery Institute

Lessons Learned from Haeckel and His Drawings: We Shouldn’t Always Believe What the “Leading Experts” Tell Us about Evolution

Review part 1 and part 2 of “The Textbooks Don’t Lie: Haeckel’s Faked Drawings Have Been Used to Promote Evolution,” and Pharyngula’s comments.

And a new textbook is being offered, Explore Evolution, which “is one of the first textbooks ever to use the inquiry-based approach to teach modern evolutionary theory. It does so by examining the current evidence and arguments for and against the key ideas of modern Darwinian theory. We hope examining the evidence and arguments in this book will give you a deeper understanding of the theory and help you to evaluate its current status.”

Weekend Dispersal

I haven’t had much time on the computer in the last day or two, but here’s a collection of posts and articles to keep you busy reading on Darwin and natural history:

The Bend Weekly on Darwin and a moth with an astounding 12-inch proboscis.

Legal History Blog on Darwin’s correspondence; ThinkingShift also.

Pharyngula on the Discovery Institute’s post on Haeckel’s embryos (part 2, here’s part 1).

More Weekend Reading

Another NPR story on Carl Linnaeus

Geological Society opens archives (temporarily) at The Red Notebook: a Darwinian weblog

The Discovery Institute on (sadly) The Textbooks Don’t Lie: Haeckel’s Faked Drawings Have Been Used to Promote Evolution

An abstract of a paper, “Darwin and the imperial archive” by Paul White, author of Thomas Huxley: Making the “Man of Science”, to be presented at the conference “Nature behind glass: historical and theoretical perspectives on natural science collections” in September:

‘The imperial archive’ is an expression used predominantly by literary scholars to describe a vision that emerged in the Victorian period of an empire ruled by knowledge rather than brute force. This view of knowledge as a form of governing power gained a new impetus from emerging disciplines of geography, biology, and anthropology. Networks of collectors and surveyors issuing from institutions like the British Museum, the Royal Geographical Society, and the India Office supplied civil bureaucracies with facts gathered at a distance, facts that were both discrete and comprehensive, cumulative and unifiable. Such an archive has been seen not as a facet of imperial control, however, but rather as a substitute for fragile territorial dominion: a “fantasy of knowledge collected and united in the service of state and empire” (Richards). Darwin’s evolutionary theory is regarded as crucial to this programme, providing a unifying framework in which information about peoples of the world could be placed, and a legitimation of European conquest. Historians of anthropology and post-colonial scholars have tended to agree about the complicity of Darwinian theory in the proliferation of racialist discourses that seem, in turn, to underpin imperial practices of collecting, ordering and display in the period, such as the census of British populations in the colonies launched in 1869 by the
Ethnological Society, that involved the mapping and measurement of native peoples for the purposes of racial taxonomy. In addressing this question of Darwin’s relation to imperial culture, I want to take a different approach. Rather than look primarily at Darwinian theory, or as Darwin scholars have often done, to look at his biography or publications, I want to examine instead his own imperial archive, to look at the practice of building such an archive, as it were, from the ground up, and in its migration from private collection to public display. Darwin’s
zoological and botanical collecting, pursued through a world-wide network of correspondents, is now well known. Still relatively unexplored however is his large and varied collection of materials on human evolution, in particular, on emotional expression, gathered through scientific questionnaires and photography. I will argue that there was a distinctive difference in the ways in which Darwin pursued knowledge of non-Europeans, as compared with the techniques by which other naturalists sought to generate a science of colonized peoples. This comparison of how the imperial archive was actually assembled will serve to highlight and critique some of the assumptions behind scholarship on imperial history and anthropology. If the ‘imperial archive’ appears detached from the application of force, it is because the colonial ‘context’ has been erased from the original material in its collation and transfer to print. In many cases, the emotions Darwin gathered from non-European peoples could only be generated in circumstances of imperial dominion, and in settings where British control was absolute. On the other hand, the movement of such materials from private to public knowledge was in itself highly fragile and contingent. Darwin’s collecting was informed by new technologies of
observation, measurement and display, whose implementation was far from straightforward or authoritative, and in the case of ethnographic photography, ultimately uncontrollable.