ARTICLE: Censoring Huxley and Wilberforce: A new source for the meeting that the Athenaeum ‘wisely softened down’

The following article is recently published in Notes and Records:

Censoring Huxley and Wilberforce: A new source for the meeting that the Athenaeum ‘wisely softened down’

Richard England

Abstract In mid July 1860, the Athenaeum published a summary of the discussions about Charles Darwin’s theory that took place at the British Association meeting in Oxford. Its account omitted the famous exchange between Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Huxley, the rising man of science. A fuller report of the meeting was published a week later in a local weekly, the Oxford Chronicle, but this has gone unnoticed by historians. The Oxford Chronicle supplies a new version of Wilberforce’s question to Huxley, with more material about religious objections to human evolution and the proper role of authority in popular scientific discussions. Excerpts from the Athenaeum and Oxford Chronicle accounts show that they likely had a common ancestor, and other sources corroborate details given only in the Oxford Chronicle. This discovery reveals that the Athenaeum narrative—until now the longest and best known—was censored to remove material that was considered objectionable. The Oxford Chronicle gives us a fuller story of what was said and how the audience reacted to the encounter between Huxley and Wilberforce.



Journal special issue on “Replaying the Tape of Life: Evolution and Historical Explanation”

A whole issue of the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences is devoted to the topic “Replaying the Tape of Life: Evolution and Historical Explanation.” The contents are as follows:

Introduction: Evolution and historical explanation
Peter Harrison, Ian Hesketh

What was historical about natural history? Contingency and explanation in the science of living things
Peter Harrison

The “History” of Victorian Scientific Naturalism: Huxley, Spencer and the “End” of natural history
Bernard Lightman


Theological presuppositions of the evolutionary epic: From Robert Chambers to E. O. Wilson
Allan Megill


What are narratives good for?
John Beatty


Counterfactuals and history: Contingency and convergence in histories of science and life
Ian Hesketh

The spontaneous market order and evolution
Naomi Beck

Contingency and the order of nature
Nancy Cartwright


Freedom and purpose in biology
Daniel W. McShea


“Replaying Life’s Tape”: Simulations, metaphors, and historicity in Stephen Jay Gould’s view of life
David Sepkoski

A case study in evolutionary contingency
Zachary D. Blount


Can evolution be directional without being teleological?
George R. McGhee Jr.

Evolutionary biology and the question of teleology
Michael Ruse

Contingency, convergence and hyper-astronomical numbers in biological evolution
Ard A. Louis


It all adds up …. Or does it? Numbers, mathematics and purpose
Simon Conway Morris

ARTICLE: Biologist Edwin Grant Conklin and the idea of the religious direction of human evolution in the early 1920s

New in Annals of Science:

Biologist Edwin Grant Conklin and the idea of the religious direction of human evolution in the early 1920s

Alexander Pavuk

Abstract Edwin Grant Conklin, renowned US embryologist and evolutionary popularizer, publicly advocated a social vision of evolution that intertwined science and modernist Protestant theology in the early 1920s. The moral prestige of professional science in American culture — along with Conklin’s own elite scientific status — diverted attention from the frequency with which his work crossed boundaries between natural science, religion and philosophy. Writing for broad audiences, Conklin was one of the most significant of the religious and modernist biological scientists whose rhetoric went well beyond simply claiming that certain kinds of religion were amenable to evolutionary science; he instead incorporated religion itself into evolution’s broadest workings. A sampling of Conklin’s widely-resonant discourse suggests that there was substantially more to the religion-evolution story in the 1920s US than many creationist-centred narratives of the era imply.

ARTICLE: Oxford Serialized: Revisiting the Huxley–Wilberforce debate through the periodical press

I came across another article on the famous Oxford debate, this one from 2014 in History of Science:

Oxford Serialized: Revisiting the Huxley–Wilberforce debate through the periodical press

Nanna Katrine Lüders Kaalund

Abstract The debate between the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, and the scientific naturalist, Thomas Huxley, at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science has come to represent an iconic moment in the history of the relationship between science and religion. This article uses the digitalized databases of nineteenth-century British periodicals to re-examine the reception of the Huxley–Wilberforce debate. By combining methods and insights from digital humanities with the vast literature on the Huxley–Wilberforce debate, and the secondary literature on science and print culture, I show that the narrative of Huxley’s victory over Wilberforce was not the prevalent story told in the press immediately after the event occurred. Rather, this study shows that there is still much to be learned from looking at the ways in which the press influenced nineteenth-century understandings of iconic moments in the history of science, even in cases that have been well examined, such as the Huxley–Wilberforce debate.

ARTICLE: A Yankee at Oxford: John William Draper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, 30 June 1860

This new article [PDF] in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society will interest those who enjoy looking at the history of the famous “Oxford debate” between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce:

A Yankee at Oxford: John William Draper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, 30 June 1860

James C. Ungureanu

Abstract This paper contributes to the revisionist historiography on the legendary encounter between Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley at the 1860 meeting in Oxford of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It discusses the contents of a series of letters written by John William Draper and his family reflecting on his experience at that meeting. The letters have recently been rediscovered and have been neither published nor examined at full length. After a preliminary discussion on the historiography of the Oxford debate, the paper discloses the contents of the letters and then assesses them in the light of other contemporary accounts. The letters offer a nuanced reinterpretation of the event that supports the growing move towards a revisionist account.

ARTICLE: An Ottoman response to Darwinism: İsmail Fennî on Islam and evolution

In the latest British Journal for the History of Science (Dec. 2015):

An Ottoman response to Darwinism: İsmail Fennî on Islam and evolution

Alper Bilgili

Abstract The Scopes trial (1925) fuelled discussion in the United States on the social and political implications of Darwinism. For the defenders of the 1925 Tennessee law – which prohibited the teaching of Darwinism in schools – Darwinism was, amongst other things, responsible for the German militarism which eventually led to the First World War. This view was supported by İsmail Fennî, a late Ottoman intellectual, who authored a book immediately after the trial which aimed to debunk scientific materialism. In it, he claimed that Darwinism blurred the distinction between man and beast and thus destroyed the foundations of morality. However, despite his anti-Darwinist stance, İsmail Fennî argued against laws forbidding the teaching of Darwinism in schools, and emphasized that even false theories contributed to scientific improvement. Indeed, because of his belief in science he claimed that Muslims should not reject Darwinism if it were supported by future scientific evidence. If this turned out to be the case, then religious interpretations should be revised accordingly. This article contributes to the literature on early Muslim reactions to Darwinism by examining the views of İsmail Fennî, which were notably sophisticated when compared with those of the anti-religious Darwinist and anti-Darwinist religious camps that dominated late Ottoman intellectual life.

Recent Darwin/evolution articles from the Journal of the History of Biology

The following articles have been published in the Journal of the History of Biology in the last year or so, and one from 2013:

Radim Kočandrle, Karel Kleisner, “Evolution Born of Moisture: Analogies and Parallels Between Anaximander’s Ideas on Origin of Life and Man and Later Pre-Darwinian and Darwinian Evolutionary Concepts”

Abstract This study focuses on the origin of life as presented in the thought of Anaximander of Miletus but also points to some parallel motifs found in much later conceptions of both the pre-Darwinian German romantic science and post-Darwinian biology. According to Anaximander, life originated in the moisture associated with earth (mud). This moist environment hosted the first living creatures that later populated the dry land. In these descriptions, one can trace the earliest hints of the notion of environmental adaptation. The origin of humans was seen as connected in some way with fish: ancient humans were supposed to have developed inside fish-like animals. Anaximander took into account changes in the development of living creatures (adaptations) and speculated on the origins of humans. Similar ideas are found also in the writings of much later, eighteenth and nineteenth century authors who were close to the tradition of German romantic science. We do not argue that these later concepts are in any way directly linked with those of the pre-Socratics, but they show surprising parallels in, e.g., the hypothesis that life originated in a moist environment or the supposition that human developed from fish-like ancestors. These transformations are seen as a consequence of timeless logic rather than as evolution in historical terms. Despite the accent on the origin of living things, both Anaximander and the later Naturphilosophen lack in their notions the element most characteristic of Darwin’s thought, that is, the emphasis on historicity and uniqueness of all that comes into being.

Dominic Klyve, “Darwin, Malthus, Süssmilch, and Euler: The Ultimate Origin of the Motivation for the Theory of Natural Selection”

Abstract It is fairly well known that Darwin was inspired to formulate his theory of natural selection by reading Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population. In fact, by reading Darwin’s notebooks, we can even locate one particular sentence which started Darwin thinking about population and selection. What has not been done before is to explain exactly where this sentence – essentially Malthus’s ideas about geometric population growth – came from. In this essay we show that eighteenth century mathematician Leonhard Euler is responsible for this sentence, and in fact forms the beginning of the logical chain which leads to the creation of the theory of natural selection. We shall examine the fascinating path taken by a mathematical calculation, the many different lenses through which it was viewed, and the path through which it eventually influenced Darwin.

Matthew Morris, “We Know in Part: James McCosh on Evolution and Christian Faith”

Abstract James McCosh (1811–1894), president of Princeton College from 1868 to 1888, played a significant role in the American reception of evolution in the late 1800s – he was one of the more prominent clergyman to assuage the public’s fears of evolution while incorporating evolution into a conservative Christian worldview. McCosh was a prolific writer, whose books document his intellectual journey from hostility to acceptance of evolution. Three things will stand out in this overview that have not been emphasized in detail in other works: (1) James McCosh’s perspective on evolution dramatically changed over time; (2) McCosh’s motivations for engaging in the evolution-religion debate serve to clear up confusion regarding McCosh’s final position on evolution; and (3) the theological and philosophical basis for McCosh’s acceptance of evolution was established while McCosh was still hostile to evolution. His theological background therefore ‘pre-adapted’ him for evolution, and he was able to preach theology and evolution without substantially altering his theology.

Kate Holterhoff, “The History and Reception of Charles Darwin’s Hypothesis of Pangenesis”

Abstract This paper explores Charles Darwin’s hypothesis of pangenesis through a popular and professional reception history. First published in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), pangenesis stated that inheritance can be explained by sub-cellular “gemmules” which aggregated in the sexual organs during intercourse. Pangenesis thereby accounted for the seemingly arbitrary absence and presence of traits in offspring while also clarifying some botanical and invertebrates’ limb regeneration abilities. I argue that critics largely interpreted Variation as an extension of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), while pangenesis was an extension of natural selection. Contrary to claims that pangenesis was divorced from natural selection by its reliance on the inheritance of acquired characters, pangenesis’s mid nineteenth-century reception suggests that Darwin’s hypothesis responded directly to selection’s critics. Using Variation’s several editions, periodical reviews, and personal correspondence I assess pangenesis popularly, professionally, and biographically to better understand Variation’s impact on 1860s and 70s British evolutionism and inheritance.