ARTICLE: Darwin’s Technology of Life

In the journal Isis for December 2019:

Darwin’s Technology of Life

Giuliano Pancaldi

Abstract Some of Darwin’s views on descent with modification were developed alongside his adoption of a number of concepts inspired by the domain that we would now call science and technology. Focusing on the period from Darwin’s circumnavigation journey to the publication of the Origin in 1859, this essay explores the rich manuscript and published documentation left by Darwin to trace in detail his exposure to contemporary technologies and notions of invention. It argues that the parallel Darwin established on several occasions between the history of life on earth and human inventions was more than a metaphor. According to Darwin’s radical evolutionary perspective, life and invention—including his own theory explaining descent with modification—belonged to the same domain. It further argues that Darwin’s technology of life approach allowed him to make room for a plurality of causes driving evolutionary change, while at the same time avoiding the question of the origin of life. This same approach helped him to mold his scientific persona, while marking his distance from a mixed population of naturalists that included materialists as well as exponents of speculative German natural philosophy, although these were all frequent sources of reflection during his most creative years.

ARTICLES: Evolution and Film Censorship, was Huxley “Darwin’s Bulldog”?, and the Struggle for Coexistence

Here are a few items of possible interest to readers here:

In Osiris:

Darwin on the Cutting-Room Floor: Evolution, Religion, and Film Censorship

David A. Kirby

Abstract In the mid-twentieth century, film studios sent their screenplays to the Hays Office, Hollywood’s official censorship body, and to the Catholic Church’s Legion of Decency for approval and recommendations for revision. This essay examines how filmmakers crafted stories involving evolutionary biology and how religiously motivated movie censorship groups modified these cinematic narratives in order to depict what they considered to be more appropriate visions of humanity’s origins. I find that censorship groups were concerned about the perceived impact of science fiction cinema on the public’s belief systems and on the wider cultural meanings of evolution. By controlling the stories told about evolution in science fiction cinema, censorship organizations believed that they could regulate the broader cultural meanings of evolution itself. But this is not a straightforward story of “science” versus “religion.” There were significant differences among these groups as to how to censor evolution, as well as changes in their attitudes toward evolutionary content over time. As a result, I show how censorship groups adopted diverse perspectives, depending on their perception of what constituted a morally appropriate science fiction story about evolution.

In The Linnean (PDF here):

Why there was no ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’: Thomas Henry Huxley’s Famous Nickname

John van Wyhe

Summary “It is true that Huxley was widely known as a defiant defender of Darwinism. But imagining that he was widely acknowledged as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ obscures some of the historical reality, such as the fact that he had his own (non-Darwinian) ideas about evolution and was long tentative about the efficacy of natural selection. Appreciating that he was not known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ should lead to a more nuanced recognition of who he was and what he really did. If one of the most widely known, enjoyed and unquestioned nicknames in the history of science is incorrect, what other undisputed facts might also be wrong?”

And a PhD dissertation (PDF here):

The Struggle for Coexistence: Peter Kropotkin and the Social Ecology of Science in Russia, Europe, and England, 1859-1922

Eric Michael Johnson

Summary This dissertation follows the history and intellectual development of Peter Kropotkin whose scientific theory of mutual aid showed how Darwinian evolution could explain cooperation and the origin of morality. By following his journey from prince to naturalist to political radical, it reveals that Kropotkin was part of a transnational network of scientific and political thinkers whose perspective can be defined as Socialist Darwinism. Those figures that would later be defined as representing Social Darwinism originated in their opposition to Socialist Darwinism and through an ongoing debate with them. This demonstrates that political and scientific ideas about evolutionary change were influenced by each other in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

 

ARTICLE: Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, and Natural Selection: A Question of Priority

From the Journal of the History of Biology (March 2019):

Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, and Natural Selection: A Question of Priority

Curtis N. Johnson

Abstract No single author presented Darwin with a more difficult question about his priority in discovering natural selection than the British comparative anatomist and paleontologist Richard Owen. Owen was arguably the most influential biologist in Great Britain in Darwin’s time. Darwin wanted his approbation for what he believed to be his own theory of natural selection. Unfortunately for Darwin, when Owen first commented in publication about Darwin’s theory of descent he was openly hostile (Edinb. Rev. vol. 111, Article VIII, 1860, pp. 487–533, anonymous). Darwin was taken off-guard. In private meetings and correspondence prior to 1860 Owen had been nothing but polite and friendly, even helping Darwin in cataloguing and analyzing Darwin’s zoological specimens from the Beagle voyage. Every early indication predicted a life-long friendship and collaboration. But that was not to be. Owen followed his slashing review with a mounting campaign in the 1860s to denounce and discredit both Darwin and his small but ascendant circle of friends and supporters. But that was not enough for Owen. Starting in 1866, perhaps by now realizing Darwin had landed the big fish, Owen launched a new campaign, to claim the discovery of “Darwin’s theory” for himself. Darwin naturally fought back, mainly in the “Historical Sketch” that he prefaced to Origin starting in 1861. But when we peel back the layers of personal animus and escalating vituperation we discover in fact their quarrel was generated more by mutual misunderstanding than scientific disagreement. The battle ended only when Darwin finally penetrated to the crux of the matter and put an end to the rivalry in 1872, in the final version of the Sketch.

 

ARTICLE: Darwin among the Philosophers: Hull and Ruse on Darwin, Herschel, and Whewell

A new Darwin article in the HOPOS: The Journal of the International Society for the
History of Philosophy of Science:

Darwin among the Philosophers: Hull and Ruse on Darwin, Herschel, and Whewell

Phillip Honenberger

Abstract In a series of articles and books published in the 1970s, David Hull (1935–2010) and Michael Ruse (1940–) proposed interpretations of the relation between nineteenth-century British philosophy of science, on the one hand, and the views and methods of Charles Darwin, on the other, that were incompatible or at least in strong interpretive tension with one another. According to Hull, John Herschel’s and William Whewell’s philosophies of science were logically incompatible with Darwin’s revolutionary theory. According to Ruse, however, Darwin discovered and developed his theory through direct adherence to those philosophies. Here, I reconstruct Hull’s and Ruse’s interpretations of the Herschel-Whewell-Darwin relationship and then, drawing on Hull’s and Ruse’s published record and archival correspondence in the years 1968–76—particularly regarding reduction, laws, and species—I offer an explanation for their differences, namely, their different orientations to logical empiricism.

 

ARTICLE: Diagramming Evolution: The Case of Darwin’s Trees

A new article in the journal Endeavour:

Diagramming Evolution: The Case of Darwin’s Trees

Greg Priest

Abstract From his earliest student days through the writing of his last book, Charles Darwin drew diagrams. In developing his evolutionary ideas, his preferred form of diagram was the tree. An examination of several of Darwin’s trees—from sketches in a private notebook from the late 1830s through the diagram published in the Origin—opens a window onto the role of diagramming in Darwin’s scientific practice. In his diagrams, Darwin simultaneously represented both observable patterns in nature and conjectural narratives of evolutionary history. He then brought these natural patterns and narratives into dialogue, allowing him to explore whether the narratives could explain the patterns. But Darwin’s diagrams did not reveal their meaning directly to passive readers; they required readers to engage dynamically with them in order to understand the connections they disclosed between patterns and narratives. Moreover, the narratives Darwin depicted in his diagrams did not represent past sequences of events that he claimed had actually occurred; the narratives were conjectural, schematic, and probabilistic. Instead of depicting actual histories in all their particularity, Darwin depicted narratives in his diagrams in order to make general claims about how nature works. The conjunction of these features of Darwin’s diagrams is central to how they do their epistemic work.

ARTICLE: Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, and Natural Selection: A Question of Priority

In the the Journal of the History of Biology:

Charles Darwin, Richard Owen, and Natural Selection: A Question of Priority

Curtis N. Johnson (author of Darwin’s Dice)

Abstract No single author presented Darwin with a more difficult question about his priority in discovering natural selection than the British comparative anatomist and paleontologist Richard Owen. Owen was arguably the most influential biologist in Great Britain in Darwin’s time. Darwin wanted his approbation for what he believed to be his own theory of natural selection. Unfortunately for Darwin, when Owen first commented in publication about Darwin’s theory of descent he was openly hostile (Edinb. Rev. vol. 111, Article VIII, 1860, pp. 487–533, anonymous). Darwin was taken off-guard. In private meetings and correspondence prior to 1860 Owen had been nothing but polite and friendly, even helping Darwin in cataloguing and analyzing Darwin’s zoological specimens from the Beagle voyage. Every early indication predicted a life-long friendship and collaboration. But that was not to be. Owen followed his slashing review with a mounting campaign in the 1860s to denounce and discredit both Darwin and his small but ascendant circle of friends and supporters. But that was not enough for Owen. Starting in 1866, perhaps by now realizing Darwin had landed the big fish, Owen launched a new campaign, to claim the discovery of “Darwin’s theory” for himself. Darwin naturally fought back, mainly in the “Historical Sketch” that he prefaced to Origin starting in 1861. But when we peel back the layers of personal animus and escalating vituperation we discover in fact their quarrel was generated more by mutual misunderstanding than scientific disagreement. The battle ended only when Darwin finally penetrated to the crux of the matter and put an end to the rivalry in 1872, in the final version of the Sketch.

ARTICLE: “This Wonderful People”: Darwin, the Victorians, and the Greeks

In the latest issue of the Journal of Modern Greek Studies:

“This Wonderful People”: Darwin, the Victorians, and the Greeks

Ageliki Lefkaditou

Abstract Studies of Victorian appropriations of the ancient world have allowed us to appreciate the pervasive influence of classical Greece on aesthetics and education, as well as religious, moral, and philosophical discourses. Celebrations of ancient Greek genius also prompted scientific interpretations of the past, present, and future of human society. For Charles Darwin (1809–1882), along with his correspondents Charles Lyell (1797–1875), Francis Galton (1822–1911), and William Rathbone Greg (1809–1881), the ancient Greeks were a race that had never been intellectually surpassed. Classical Athens therefore served as a precautionary tale of the multiple biological, sociopolitical, and geographical factors that may inhibit social progress. Their complementary, or even conflicting, understandings of the causes that prevented humankind from surpassing the ancient Greeks demonstrate subtle differences in their evolutionary perspectives. Against the Enlightenment faith in moral and intellectual improvement, Darwin’s thesis that evolutionary progress was “no invariable rule” was used to explain why empires of the past had declined, serving also as a guide for how Victorian Britain should address concerns such as migration, morality, and social order.