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.

9780226384429

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

Order through Powell’s City of BooksOrder through Amazon.com

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.

BOOK: How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society

A couple of years ago, Princeton University Press published the huge volume, The Princeton Guide to Evolution (out in paperback in February 2017), which provides a large overview of evolutionary biology, as a science and its relationship to human society (you can read the introduction here). Now the press has condensed a variety of chapters that address evolution as it relates to human society into a shorter book.

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Jonathan B. Losos and Richard E. Lenski, eds., How Evolution Shapes Our Lives: Essays on Biology and Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 416 pp.

Publisher’s description It is easy to think of evolution as something that happened long ago, or that occurs only in “nature,” or that is so slow that its ongoing impact is virtually nonexistent when viewed from the perspective of a single human lifetime. But we now know that when natural selection is strong, evolutionary change can be very rapid. In this book, some of the world’s leading scientists explore the implications of this reality for human life and society. With some twenty-three essays, this volume provides authoritative yet accessible explorations of why understanding evolution is crucial to human life—from dealing with climate change and ensuring our food supply, health, and economic survival to developing a richer and more accurate comprehension of society, culture, and even what it means to be human itself. Combining new essays with essays revised and updated from the acclaimed Princeton Guide to Evolution, this collection addresses the role of evolution in aging, cognition, cooperation, religion, the media, engineering, computer science, and many other areas. The result is a compelling and important book about how evolution matters to humans today. The contributors are Dan I. Andersson, Francisco J. Ayala, Amy Cavanaugh, Cameron R. Currie, Dieter Ebert, Andrew D. Ellington, Elizabeth Hannon, John Hawks, Paul Keim, Richard E. Lenski, Tim Lewens, Jonathan B. Losos, Virpi Lummaa, Jacob A. Moorad, Craig Moritz, Martha M. Muñoz, Mark Pagel, Talima Pearson, Robert T. Pennock, Daniel E. L. Promislow, Erik M. Quandt, David C. Queller, Robert C. Richardson, Eugenie C. Scott, H. Bradley Shaffer, Joan E. Strassmann, Alan R. Templeton, Paul E. Turner, and Carl Zimmer.

You can read the first chapter here.

ARTICLE: Another on evolution and Japan

From the Journal of the History of Biology (online first):

The Instinctual Nation-State: Non-Darwinian Theories, State Science and Ultra-Nationalism in Oka Asajirō’s Evolution and Human Life

Gregory Sullivan

Abstract In his anthology of socio-political essays, Evolution and Human Life, Oka Asajirō (1868–1944), early twentieth century Japan’s foremost advocate of evolutionism, developed a biological vision of the nation-state as super-organism that reflected the concerns and aims of German-inspired Meiji statism and anticipated aspects of radical ultra-nationalism. Drawing on non-Darwinian doctrines, Oka attempted to realize such a fused or organic state by enhancing social instincts that would bind the minzoku (ethnic nation) and state into a single living entity. Though mobilization during the Russo-Japanese War seemed to evince this super-organism, the increasingly contentious and complex society that emerged in the war’s aftermath caused Oka to turn first to Lamarckism and eventually to orthogenesis in the hopes of preserving the instincts needed for a viable nation-state. It is especially in the state interventionist measures that Oka finally came to endorse in order to forestall orthogenetically-driven degeneration that the technocratic proclivities of his statist orientation become most apparent. The article concludes by suggesting that Oka’s emphasis on degeneration, autarkic expansion, and, most especially, totalitarian submersion of individuals into the statist collectivity indicates a complex relationship between his evolutionism and fascist ideology, what recent scholarship has dubbed radical Shinto ultra-nationalism.

Darwin and Evolution in Cartoons and Caricatures

Visual representation in science is the study of how images can inform an understanding of scientific practice and the production and dissemination of knowledge. There will be at least two worskshops on this topic in the next year (here and here). The description of one describes images as “occupy[ing] a special place… for their power to encapsulate scientific knowledge, their capacity to communicate to various publics, and their flexibility in the production of meanings by the interaction of producers and users.” For this month’s edition of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders and it’s theme of visuals and representations in science,  I thought I’d share some information about Darwin and evolution in cartoons and caricatures.

Jonathan Smith looked at visual representation within Darwin’s various books in his 2006 book Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture (Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture) (you can read the first chapter as a pdf). One could look at Darwin portraiture and photography, maybe Janet Browne has, and how specific images have been used to push a particular way of looking at Darwin. The Darwin year saw many books looking at Darwin and his impact on art. Constance Clark’s 2001 article in The Journal of American History, “Evolution for John Doe: Pictures, the Public, and the Scopes Trial Debate,” is about the “role of visual images of evolutionary ideas published during the [Scopes]debate.” And Heather Brink-Roby’s article “Natural Representation: Diagram and Text in Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species,” in Victorian Studies, looks at how Darwin used diagram and text “not simply to argue for, but also as evidence of, his theory.” Also, analyses of the March of Progress imagery of evolution and other representations (like trees of life) would fit into visual representations (see here and here, and of course Gould’s Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, specifically chapter 1, “Iconography of an Expectation”).

Where do political cartoons and caricatures fit into this? Surely, such images were avenues of knowledge for the public, and how a cartoon represented Darwin or evolution (anti-evolution, pro-evolution, etc.) had an impact on the viewer, and evolution was used as a means to comment on society and culture or whatever was in the news. I know of at least two historians of science who have published on the topic:

Browne, Janet. “Darwin in Caricature: A Study in the Popularisation and Dissemination of Evolution.”Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 145:4 (December 2001): 496-509. (also, see my post 19th-Century Caricature Prints with Tyndall, Darwin caricatures at The Primate Diaries, and Darwin caricatures at Genomicron)

Davis, Edward B. “Fundamentalist Cartoons, Modern Pamphlets, and the Religious Image of Science in the Scopes Era.” In Religion and the Culture of Print in Modern America, edited by Charles Lloyd Cohen and Paul S. Boyer, 175-98. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2008.

Davis presented at the History of Science Society meeting in 2009 on “Demonizing Evolution,” sharing some of the fundamentalist cartoons. Since Google Books won’t let me see the cartoons in the article, I’m not sure if those in his talk are the same as those in his article, but I will share a few from his talk:

Sunday School Times, June 1922

Why be an ape--? (London, 1936)

Sunday School Times, January 1929

no source given for this one

These cartoons in the era of the Scopes trial present evolution as: dangerous to one’s faith (learning about and accepting evolution will creep into one’s religious life), “modern” education is cheating on God and the Bible; evolution is anti-religion; evolution is sacred and religious itself; the theory of evolution is collapsing, full of speculation and not fact-based. Much of these claims are still used today, by many creationists and intelligent design proponents who spend more time trying to discredit evolution than convincing us that their view is scientific. Such cartoons and anti-evolution pamphlets, according to Davis, “provide new insights into the intense debate about the meaning of science and the nature of religion that took place among American Protestants in the 1920s. From popular publications such as these, we see just how the fundamentalists and the modernists both attempted to influence public opnion about the religious image of science in the decade of the Scopes trial” (193).

There is a wonderful resource for political cartoons that do the opposite of demonizing evolution. Historian of science Joe Cain has brought to our attention the ephemeral journal Evolution: A Journal of Nature, which ran from 1927 through 1938, 21 issue in all, and he provides a publication history for it in a 2003 article for Archives of Natural History. Evolution was “a monthly platform for pro-evolutionist perspectives and as a device for rebutting anti-evolutionists. It also aimed to bolster the resolve of teachers caught in the centre of curriculum debates.” Its purpose was laid out in the first issue:  “This magazine will help bridge that gap by furnishing a forum in which science itself can speak in popular language without fear of the restraints with which fundamentalists are seeking to shackle them.” Among the articles within Evolution were scores of political cartoons. Cain has made all the issues available (also available through the Biodiversity Heritage Library) and a page with some of the cartoons. Here are a few:

Unfortunately, Evolution was not a great success (hence, only 21 issues). By its 12th issue, the journal touted its 5,000 subscribers, and provided a list of how many by state. Interestingly, it had the most subscribers in New York City (675), California (551), New York State (494),  Illinois (486), and Ohio (299). A few others in the 100-200 range (including Pennsylvania), and the rest under 100, including all states in the South.

I will also point out another website, put togteher by Mark Aldrich, called Cartooning Evolution, 1861-1925, broken up into Darwin and EvolutionEvolution as Social CommentVictorian ScienceFundamentalist PublicationsThe Scopes Trial: Northern NewspapersThe Scopes Trial: National Magazines, and The Scopes Trial: Southern Newspapers. Here’s a sampling, but be sure to check out the website itself, there are many more. Enjoy:

chidefender

Harpersbazar

bennett

fun1872

puck 1885

moody

sst

sst

judge

rrdemo

livingage

sfchron

sfexaminer

ARTCILE: Patrick Geddes and the politics of evolution

File:Patrick Geddes (1886).jpg

Patrick Geddes (1854 - 1932)

Forthcoming in Endeavour:

Patrick Geddes and the politics of evolution

Chris Renwick

Abstract Ever since they began to be widely discussed during the early nineteenth century, evolutionary ideas have played a controversial role in debates about politics and social reform. Understanding the political commitments of those who have sought to integrate politics and evolution is a complex challenge, though; not least because memories of mid-twentieth-century eugenic policies have frequently shaped how we talk about biosocial science. However, as the case of the Scottish biologist-turned-town-planner Patrick Geddes highlights, while we need to be aware of the broad appeal that biosocial science has historically held, we also need to recognise that current political categories can be misleading when thinking about those of who have put evolution and politics together.

The shit that refuses to be flushed

The shit:

Wallace, too?

Wallace, too?

Just back in June, Michael Ruse argued against  the tired argument that Darwin was somehow responsible for Hitler and the atrocities of the Holocaust. And now we must defend Newton. He is responsible, after all, for bombs dropping and bullets speeding. Not really, but it follows the same logic.

A Discovery Institute fellow has once again lambasted Charles for events which occurred after his death. See “The Dark Side of Darwinism” by David Klinghoffer for The Huffington Post on July 2, which reads, in part:

Darwin elaborated a picture of how the world works, how creatures war with each other for survival thus selecting out the fittest specimens and advancing the species. In this portrait of animal life, man is no exception. Any animal that strives to preserve the weak, as man does, is committing racial suicide. “Thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind,” Darwin wrote in The Descent of Man, a policy “highly injurious to the race of man.”

Hitler did nothing more than translate the competition of species into obsessively racial terms. John West reminds us that while it’s true that Darwin himself was by all accounts a kind and gentle man, he was “better than his [own] principles.” The outline of a campaign of extermination — of whatever groups might be deemed unfit — is right there in the notorious fifth chapter of the Descent. Darwin assured readers that human sympathy would prevent such a horror, but his own concept of morality was itself an evolutionary one. Moral ideas evolved along with the species. There is nothing transcendentally compelling about our “sympathy.”

Darwinism was itself a major agent of dispelling sympathetic sentiments. Evolutionary thinking inspired modern scientific racism. For Darwin, evolution explained the phenomenon — so he saw it — of racial inferiority. Some races were farther up the evolutionary tree than others. Thus, in his view, Africans were just a step above gorillas.

In the hands of American racists, such observations came to justify not only eugenics but ugly restrictive immigration legislation like the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, authored by a congressman from Washington State, Albert Johnson. He was inspired by the bestselling eugenics advocate of the time, Madison Grant, whose influential book The Passing of the Great Race sold more than a million and a half copies. The Johnson-Reed law, which excluded Asians from immigrating to the United States, was one of the irritants in U.S.-Japanese relations that led ultimately to the Pacific side of World War II.

“Ideas have consequences” — that is the often repeated mantra of this meaty documentary. Which is, come to think of it, another fact of history that tends to get lost, or suppressed, in discussions of Darwinism.

A picture of how the world works carries implications about how the world should work, must work. If morality is stitched into the fabric of reality rather than being merely a useful fiction, then here is no observation about reality that has no moral consequences. That much the victims of moral Darwinism, over the past century and a half, have found out to their sorrow.

Again, the application of a particular science – good or bad – does not say anything about whether said science is correct/true/proven/confirmed/what have you. Many blogs have responded to this beaten and ludicrous claim, so here are some links:

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Klinghoffer Disgorges a Creationist Gusher (7/3/10)

The Sensuous Curmudgeon: Hitler, Darwin, and … Winston Churchill? (7/5/10)

PZ: Huffpo. Creationist. Nazis. Mix together and flush. (7/5/10)

The Primate Diaries: Darwin and Hitler, Again? (7/6/10)

The Primate Diaries: Responding to Discovery Institute at Huffington Post (7/6/10) & Eric was censored!

Thoughts in a Haystack: Shameless Assholes (7/7/10)

Please be patient, I am evolving as fast as I can!: Klinghoffer . . . again! (7/7/10)

Religious Dispatches (Lauri Lebo): HuffPo Columnist Tries to Link Darwin with Hitler (7/8/10) & Greg takes note

Robert J. Richards, an historian of biology and Darwin scholar, addresses the claim: Darwin –> Haeckel –> Hitler in his book The Tragic Sense of Life: Ernst Haeckel and the Struggle over Evolutionary Thought, and he has several papers/chapters on the same topic available on his website (here, here, here, and here). A review of the book went up on Skeptic and Richards responded to the “hyperbolically misleading review.”

Back to Klinghoffer. He urges Steve Newton of the NCSE, who wrote a piece for HuffPo a few days before where he stated “David Klinghoffer… has tried to link Darwin to Dr. Mengele, H.P. Lovecraft, Chairman Mao, and Charles Manson,” to check out a new documentary titled What Hath Darwin Wrought? – a film produced by none other than the Discovery Institute. Unbelievable! Essentially: “Hi, my name is David, I am with the Discovery Institute. You don’t accept my argument, so let me give you another opinion. It’s also from the Discovery Institute. Trust me, we have no biased agenda.”