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Debating Darwin

By: Robert J Richards(Author), Michael Ruse(Author)

318 pages, 19 plates with 21 b/w photos and b/w illustrations

University of Chicago Press

Hardback | Oct 2016 | #230406 | ISBN-13: 9780226384429
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NHBS Price: £22.50 $29/€26 approx

About this book

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. Debating Darwin 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.

"This engaging dialogue between Richards and Ruse is both an excellent, accessible summary of two distinguished scholarly careers of research on Darwin and evolution and a source of fresh insights. Although the authors situate Darwin's life and thought in two very different cultural contexts – German romanticism (Richards) and English gentlemanly society (Ruse) – the reader is struck more by how compatible and instructive these accounts are for understanding Darwin's thought as a rich and fertile source of subsequent inspiration and debate. A highly recommended introduction to the topic for students and general readers and an entertaining read for veterans of the Darwin wars."
– David Sepkoski, author of Rereading the Fossil Record: The Growth of Paleobiology as an Evolutionary Discipline

"Debating Darwin offers readers a ringside seat at a friendly but no-holds-barred fight about Charles Darwin's place in history. Was the British Enlightenment the making of Darwin, as Ruse contends? Or was Darwin a child of the Romantic science of Goethe and his followers, as Richards suggests? Watching these two outstanding scholar-teachers argue it out is an education in history, science, and the pleasures of serious disagreement."
– Gregory Radick, author of The Simian Tongue: The Long Debate about Animal Language

"Charles Darwin's ideas were controversial from the outset, so much so that Darwin's friend and supporter Thomas Henry Huxley said he sharpened up his claws and beak in order to defend them. Here in this volume the debate continues as two world-renowned historians explore what Darwin's proposals meant in his own day and to us now. The issue at stake is how best to understand Darwin as a thinker – was he influenced primarily by his personal social context, the industrializing entrepreneurial world of Britain in the Victorian era, or was he more in touch with the great intellectual currents flourishing in continental Europe? How did these questions influence his religious sensibilities and those of his readers? Back and forth, the ripostes sparkle with intellectual energy. Through Ruse's and Richards' eyes, we can see Darwin afresh, as the enthralling historical figure who not only transformed biology but also our deepest sense of who we are."
– Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: The Power of Place


Charles Darwin: Great Briton (Michael Ruse)
Britain before Darwin
A Child of His Class
Evolution and Natural Selection
On the Origin of Species
Charles Darwin: Cosmopolitan Thinker (Robert J. Richards)
Sketch of Darwin’s Life and Works
Literature of Significance for Darwin: Romanticism and Natural Theology
The Romantic Foundations of Darwin’s Theory
Darwin’s Scientific Theology
Darwin’s Construction of His Theory
Man, the Moral Animal
Response to Ruse
The Language of Metaphor
Evolutionary Development as Progressive
Individual versus Group Selection
The Evolution of Morality
Reply to Richards
Levels of Selection
The Romantic Influence
Alexander von Humboldt
Paradise Lost
History of Evolutionary Biology since the Origin of Species
Human Consciousness
Religion and God

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Robert J. Richards is the Morris Fishbein Distinguished Service Professor in History of Science at the University of Chicago, where he is professor in the department of History, Philosophy, and Psychology and in the Committee on Conceptual and Historical Studies of Science and directs the Fishbein Center for the History of Science and Medicine. His books include, most recently, Was Hitler a Darwinian? Disputed Questions in the History of Evolutionary Theory, also published by the University of Chicago Press. Michael Ruse is director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University. His books include The Gaia Hypothesis: Science on a Pagan Planet, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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