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eBook Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution ePub

eBook Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution ePub

by Gertrude Himmelfarb

  • ISBN: 1566631068
  • Category: Historical
  • Subcategory: Biography
  • Author: Gertrude Himmelfarb
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Ivan R. Dee; Reprint edition (February 1, 1996)
  • Pages: 526
  • ePub book: 1959 kb
  • Fb2 book: 1828 kb
  • Other: azw mbr lrf doc
  • Rating: 4.8
  • Votes: 491

Description

Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution is a 1959 biography of Charles Darwin by the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution is a 1959 biography of Charles Darwin by the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb.

Himmelfarb’s last sentence in her 1959 study Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution captures the spirit of. .Himmelfarb’s book is well known for its criticism of Darwin’s theory

Himmelfarb’s last sentence in her 1959 study Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution captures the spirit of ambiguity present in her analysis: But if it is important for later generations not to deny the fact of revolution because they cannot concede its truth or justice, it is no less important not to concede truth or justice merely because they cannot deny the fact. Himmelfarb’s book is well known for its criticism of Darwin’s theory. However, her treatment of Darwinism as a conservative revolution indicates nuance in the approach to her subject matter. Darwin’s revolution proved conservative in two senses.

Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb died at her home on Monday evening .

Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb died at her home on Monday evening, December 30, 2019. At her passing, she was 97 years old. Born in Brooklyn to Russian Jewish parents, she met her future husband, Irving Kristol, when she was 18 at a Trotskyist anti-Soviet meeting.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. Books for People with Print Disabilities. Internet Archive Books.

In her enduring study of the impact of Darwinism on the intellectual climate of the nineteenth century, Gertrude Himmelfarb brings massive documentation to bear in challenging the conventional view of Darwin's greatness

In her enduring study of the impact of Darwinism on the intellectual climate of the nineteenth century, Gertrude Himmelfarb brings massive documentation to bear in challenging the conventional view of Darwin's greatness.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (Feb. 17, 1809) and the centenary of the publication of his . 17, 1809) and the centenary of the publication of his Origin of Species (November, 1859); in this carefully documented book on the great naturalist and his contemporaries the author asks: ""Why was it given to Darwin, less ambitious, less imaginative, less learned than many of his colleagues, to discover the theory (of natural selection and evolution) sought for by others? Was he a great revolutionary? If so, what was the nature of the revolution he brought about?"" Answering these questions she tell. Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. Chicago: Elephant Books. Moore, James R. 1979. The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870–1900. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Osborn, Henry Fairfield.

Home Browse Books Book details, Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. Publication year: 1959. Contributors: Gertrude Himmelfarb. Subjects: Darwin, Charles, 1809-1882. By Gertrude Himmelfarb.

The passing of historian Gertrude Himmelfarb on December 30 2019 was brought to my attention by an article from .

The passing of historian Gertrude Himmelfarb on December 30 2019 was brought to my attention by an article from the Discovery Institute¹. It describes her as a consummate scholar of the first rank and one of America’s leading scholars and intellectuals. It is now over 60 years since one of her greatest achievements Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution² was published. I read it several years ago, and was very impressed. People following me on Medium will know that I have previously written many articles critical of Darwinism³. Himmelfarb has been one of my inspirations.

Himmelfarb’s last sentence in her 1959 study Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution captures the spirit of ambiguity present in. First, as already mentioned, Darwinism legitimated a revolution that had largely already occurred.

Himmelfarb’s last sentence in her 1959 study Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution captures the spirit of ambiguity present in her analysis: But if it is important for later generations not to deny the fact of revolution because they cannot concede its truth or justice, it is no less important not to concede truth or justice merely because they cannot deny the fact. There were thus powerful contextual reasons for the theory’s acceptance and perpetuation.

A biographical, historical, and philosophical study of the impact of Darwinism on the intellectual climate of the nineteenth century, challenging the conventional view of Darwin's greatness. "A thorough and masterly book". -Times Literary Supplement.

Comments

black coffe black coffe
This is one of the few most riveting books I've ever read. A great work of biography and of intellectual inquiry.
Aiata Aiata
This is a fascinating book about Charles Darwin, his family and friends, the development of his belief system, and its reception and acceptance by his professional peers and by the common man. The author has deeply researched the writings of the man, of those who were influences on him, and of those whose opinions carried weight in the scientific community, and she has given an excellent synthesis of the state of professional and popular scientific belief during the middle third of the 19th century. She devotes some time (about as much as you'd expect) to a critique of the theory of evolution by natural selection, but she does not accept or reject the theory, leaving that to her readers (some of her issues with the Darwinian theory have since been dealt with by the so-called neo-Darwinists, as the science of molecular biology has grown substantially in the last several decades; however, hers is an analysis of Darwin and his times, so the present state of science is not really pertinent to the book).
By and large this is a superb introduction to Charles Darwin, his theory, and his times, and is, above all, a good read.
Reighbyra Reighbyra
truth
Modigas Modigas
Himmelfarb’s last sentence in her 1959 study Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution captures the spirit of ambiguity present in her analysis: “But if it is important for later generations not to deny the fact of revolution because they cannot concede its truth or justice, it is no less important not to concede truth or justice merely because they cannot deny the fact of revolution.” (p.452)

History, asserts Himmelfarb, can be divided into pre and post darwinian epochs, with the latter basically coterminous with a culturally actualized modernity. Of course, Darwin did not singlehandedly turn the world upside down. “For most men…the Origin was not an isolated event with isolated consequences. It did not revolutionize their beliefs so much as give public recognition to a revolution that had already occurred. It was belief made manifest, revolution legitimized.” (p.452) This “revolution legitimized” can be understood scientifically as well as culturally. Scientifically, as Butler famously said: “Buffon planted, Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck watered, but it was Mr. Darwin who said ‘That fruit is ripe,’ and shook it into his lap.” (p. 448) (I would add that Himmelfarb also makes clear Charles Lyell’s enormous contribution in laying the groundwork for Darwin.) In a broader cultural sense, the Origin broke through the crust of conventional opinion: “What the Origin did was to focus and stimulate the religious and nihilist passions of men. Dramatically and urgently, it confronted them with a situation that could no longer be evaded, a situation brought about not by any one scientific discovery, nor even by science as a whole, but by an antecedent condition of religious and philosophical turmoil. The Origin was not so much the cause as the occasion of the upsurge of these passions.” (p. 400)

Himmelfarb’s book is well known for its criticism of Darwin’s theory. However, her treatment of Darwinism as a “conservative revolution” indicates nuance in the approach to her subject matter. Darwin’s revolution proved conservative in two senses. First, as already mentioned, Darwinism legitimated a revolution that had largely already occurred. There were thus powerful contextual reasons for the theory’s acceptance and perpetuation. Though Himmelfarb articulates cogent and longstanding criticism of Darwinism, she is not under the impression that such criticism is decisive: “It is the critic’s conceit to think that what has been criticized has been destroyed. In fact, however, the Origin, so far from being destroyed, still dominates the thinking of most men today, and for the same reasons that it captured the minds of a considerable number of Darwin’s contemporaries.” (p. 349) Himmelfarb’s book helps bring these reasons to light, and one does not get the impression that she views all these reasons with disdain. Secondly, “A more important sense in which Darwin was conservative, even old-fashioned, was his lack of self-consciousness as a scientist confronting his subject, his unquestioned faith in an objective universe in which both he and his subject occupied fixed and independent positions. He never doubted that he was a passive, disinterested observer accurately recording the laws revealed in nature. In this faith in the possibility of an objective science he was reverting to a tradition that even in his own time had begun to be questioned…It was for this reason that Darwinism did not turn out to be the implacable enemy of religion that was first suspected. For Darwinism shared with religion the belief in an objective knowledge of nature. If religion’s belief was based on revelation and Darwinism on science, with good will the two could be-as indeed they were-shown to coincide. The true challenge to orthodox religion came with the denial of the possibility of all objective knowledge…Post-Kant and post-Kierkegaard, Darwinism appears as the citadel of tradition.” (p.448-49) Though Himmelfarb is no cheerleader for Darwinism, this quote is a good example of how at various points in her book she finds ways to accommodate it to what one might call her “neo-conservative” world-view.

Himmelfarb’s multifaceted critique of darwinism is well worth reading, all I can do here is note some highlights. On page 336, Himmelfarb summarizes a chapter on the argument of the Origin by stating “The difficulty with natural selection, however, is that if it explains too much, it also explains too little, and that the more questionable of its hypotheses lie at the heart of its thesis. Posing as a massive deduction from the evidence, it ends up as an ingenious argument from ignorance.” To unpack this, lets begin with the last sentence, followed by the first:

Posing as a massive deduction from the evidence-
Himmelfarb shows how Darwin and later darwinians at times confused-deliberately, and to their rhetorical advantage-evolution (common descent with modification) with natural selection. Darwinians thereby surreptitiously drew support from evidence for evolution to bolster their theory, and also sometimes suggested that examples of natural selection on a small scale somehow bolstered Darwin’s larger argument concerning natural selection being powerful enough to generate the whole tree of life. (I’ll add that I have noticed the rhetorical conflation of evolution and natural selection in Jerry Coyne’s popular recent book Why Evolution is True, and also point out that Jerry Fodor mentioned Coyne’s conflation of the two in his own book, What Darwin Got Wrong.)

it ends up as an ingenious argument from ignorance-
Himmelfarb talks about Darwin’s cleverly constructed “logic of possibility”: “Unlike conventional logic, where the compound of of possibilities results not in a greater possibility, or probability, but in a lesser one, the logic of the Origin was one in which possibilities were assumed to add up to probability.” (p. 334) As Whewell complained, “For it is assumed that the mere possibility of imagining a series of steps of transition from one condition of organs to another, is to be accepted as a reason for believing that such transition has taken place. And next, that such a possibility being thus imagined, we may assume an unlimited number of generations for the transition to take place in, and that this indefinite time may extinguish all doubt that the transitions really have taken place.” (p. 333-4) (I’ll add that Whewell’s complaint would certainly apply to argumentation found in The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.) Darwin’s argument not only converted possibilities into probabilities, it turned liabilities into assets, as can be seen by his claiming that his theory explained the fossil record, a claim that Himmelfarb says necessitated a deliberate confusion between “explaining” and “explaining away.” (And Coyne’s aforementioned book treats the fossil record as an asset for darwinism without really even attempting to address controversial issues like the Cambrian explosion.) Also, “this technique for the conversion of possibilities into probabilities and liabilities into assets was the more effective the longer the process went on,” as the reader who had conceded certain claims was expected to go all the way with Darwin and not to shy away from extensions of the argument. Further, “When imagination exhausted itself and Darwin could devise no hypothesis to explain away a difficulty, he resorted to the blanket assurance that we were too ignorant of the ways of nature to know why one event occurred rather than another, and hence ignorant of the explanation that would reconcile the facts to his theory.” (p.335) (Consider the following from Richard Dawkins, who, when talking about the problem of the origin of life, combines the assurance of an answer ultimately compatible with what he takes to be the Darwinian world view with an appeal to his argument as already elaborated: “The present lack of a definitely accepted account of the origin of life should certainly not be taken as a stumbling block for the whole Darwinian world view, as it occasionally-probably with wishful thinking-is. The earlier chapters have disposed of other alleged stumbling blocks, and the next chapter takes up yet another one…” )(The Blind Watchmaker, p. 166)

explains too much-
Himmelfarb notes how critics pointed out how the undisciplined nature of Darwin’s concept of adaptation had great plasticity, permitting almost any conjecture and resisting all control or verification. Darwinian adaptation was thus criticized for explaining too much. (Relatedly, Jerry Fodor has recently argued that it is overly ambitious and fallacious to assume that natural history can be placed under the control of a theory.) Also, one critic commented on the “labor saving” quality of Darwin’s conception of adaptation: “By suggesting that the steps through which an adaptive mechanism arose were indefinite and insensible, all further trouble is spared. While it could be said that species arise by an insensible and imperceptible process of variation, there was clearly no use in tiring ourselves by trying to perceive that process.” (p.320) (This “labor saving” aspect of darwinism can be seen in replies to Michael Behe that he is being unrealistic to ask that darwinians develop complex models for the emergence of molecular machines rather than speak in general terms of gene duplication and mutation, followed by recruitment to new functions.)

Explains too little-
Himmelfarb notes that from the beginning, darwinism was criticized for lacking an explanation for the variations that natural selection was supposed to work on. Neo-darwinism came along to suggest genetic mutations as an answer, but Himmelfarb is not impressed with the neo-darwinian claim that that the rarity of potentially beneficial genetic mutations just goes to show how powerful natural selection really is. She says that natural selection “has become the deus ex machina rescuing nature from the impossible situation in which the Darwinians had put her. Long before Darwin, men had recognized the improbability that nature, working blindly and by chance, could have evolved the universe as we know it. The triumphant discovery of the neo-Darwinians is, after all, only a feeble echo of an ancient cry. The laborious calculations of probability-the number represented by an infinity of noughts, the monkey pecking out the works of Shakespeare-are at least as much an argument in favor of the creationist theory as of natural selection, insofar as they can be said to be an argument in favor of anything.” (p.330)

more questionable of its hypotheses lie at the heart of its thesis-
Himmelfarb discusses doubts regarding core darwinian assumptions such as the “survival of the fittest,” a concept whose truth can be questioned not only in light of the apparently different demands sometimes placed by natural selection and sexual selection, but for other reasons as well. (Relatedly, Jerry Fodor recently argued that because there simply are no “laws” of trait selection, natural selection is reduced to a truism.) Himmelfarb also mentions problems relating to the darwinian concept of struggle for survival. Although the later development of reciprocal altruism theory may be a solution to these problems in some instances, such would not seem to be the case, I would argue, with regards to humans.

Himmelfarb makes many other criticisms of darwinism as well. She argues that darwinism has offered no satisfactory explanation for man as an intellectual or spiritual creature, and that Darwin’s heavy reliance on sexual selection in The Descent of Man was an acknowledgement that natural selection was not up to the burden of explaining mankind’s distinctiveness from other animals, and much else besides. (Not that sexual selection turned out to be up to the burden either, thinks Himmelfarb.) She also brings to light how many critics have viewed the argument of the Origin as excessively teleological (a criticism Fodor makes as well), and she mentions how in the Descent, Darwin “had explained that if the Origin erred in putting too great an emphasis on natural selection, it was because he had not yet entirely thrown off the prevailing teleological habit of mind that was a vestige of the old theory of creation.” (p. 349) (For the Darwin quote itself, see p. 367-68)

Whatever problems one can catalogue concerning darwinism (and Himmelfarb has a more extensive list than I have indicated), Himmelfarb makes clear that the theory managed to became established orthodoxy in a remarkably short period of time. How does one account for this? She points out many advantages the darwinian theory possessed: The simplicity of the theory; the impression of a massive structure of evidence supporting this simple skeleton; a well constructed argument that probably carried more weight than the facts. More important still, says Himmelfarb was the bankruptcy of Darwin’s opponents. Special creation was the only other general alternative/rival, and it of course came with its own set of problems that rendered it unattractive from a scientific point of view.

Himmelfarb also points out how many scientists in Darwin’s day and later recognized their commitment to darwinism was more an act of faith in the scientific enterprise in general than a scientifically validated belief: “The theory of natural selection is in many respects almost the ideal scientific theory…’the desire for some such hypothesis,’ as the authors of a work on zoology put it, is as powerful a factor in its perpetuation as it had been in its original acceptance. And when there is no alternative, or rather when the alternative is making due without any theory at all, the pull to Darwinism becomes very nearly irresistible. Science abhors gaps in its logical structure as it abhors leaps in nature-and for the same reason. Without the continuum of scientific theory, without the uniformity of nature, scientific knowledge, indeed science itself, feels jeopardized. Scientists cannot long-and a century is a long time as the history of modern science goes-live with the unknown, particularly when the unknown resides at the heart of their subject, and when it threatens to pass from the transient condition of the unknown into the permanent unknowable. Tyndall was once indiscreet enough to write ‘The logical feebleness of science is not sufficiently borne in mind. It keeps down the weed of superstition, not by logic, but by slowly rendering the mental soil unfit for its cultivation.’ The moral is that the mind must be so entirely habituated to the ideas of uniformity and continuity that even in the failure of fact and logic, the faith in science would remain intact.” (p. 446) Endnote 25 for this passage, which quotes from a review of Himmelfarb’s book when it first came out-my copy is a later edition-is wonderfully illustrative of the point Himmelfarb makes here regarding the appeal of darwinism.

Of course, as Himmelfarb makes apparent through her treatment of Charles Lyell, to counter superstition though uniformitarianism and continuity does not necessarily entail hostility to religion in general, merely to religious zealotry. Himmelfarb, like Lyell and like Leo Strauss (guru to neocons such as Himmelfarb) viewed religion as socially necessary, though potentially dangerous to the philosophic/scientific enterprise if unrestrained. Darwinism, both by enduring as an affirmation of faith in science that dampens religious zealotry, and by proving itself ultimately compatible with religion (as in the case of the theistic evolutionists), thus provides a fair amount of social utility from Himmelfarb’s perspective. Even so, utility is not truth, and one gets the sense that for Himmelfarb, though Darwinism is not entirely devoid of explanatory value, evolution is at bottom a mystery we just do not understand very well.

Himmelfarb is less ambiguous in her judgments concerning attempts to extend darwinian ideas into the social and political realm. Nationalism/Imperialism, laissez faire, socialism, all drew support in various ways from Darwin’s theory. Himmelfarb distances Darwin’s theory from such appropriations, which do not impress her, to put it mildly. Darwin’s theory in her estimation does not really offer useful guidance for political and social problems. Interestingly enough, she shows great sympathy here with “Darwin’s Bulldog” Thomas Huxley, who Himmelfarb presents as eventually repudiating the notion of evolutionary ethics: “…what he (Huxley) feared was not only the individualism of Spencer, which would leave men to the mercies of an unrestricted struggle for existence, but also the regimentation of the Comtists and eugenicists, who would try to enforce upon society the notions of fit and unfit derived from nature. If it was dangerous to forbid to intelligence any part in the organization of society, it was equally dangerous to assume that any one man or group of men could have so preternatural an intelligence as to enable them to determine the ‘points’ of a good or bad citizen, in the way breeders judge the points of a calf; a presumed ‘scientific’ administration of society would be as intolerable a tyranny as any yet known.” (p.407)

Time marches on, and so does science. However, as I tried to indicate in my review, many of Himmelfarb’s general criticisms of darwin’s theory still seem valid in light of my own (admittedly not yet extensive) exposure to darwinian literature and critiques of such literature. However, I am open to considering another point of view should someone wish to articulate why they think Himmelfarb's analysis is wrong and/or dated.

At any rate, I consider this a thought provoking and informative book, and intend to look for any more recent musings Himmelfarb may have produced relating to darwinism. I would be interested to find out what she thinks about the Intelligent Design movement, for instance, or if she thinks the evolutionary psychologist Jonathan Haidt is an instructive social theorist.
tamada tamada
Like all books by Himmelfarb, this one is erudite, well written, informative, insightful and sure to upset the politically correct which for me makes it five stars.

In first presenting the historical information about Darwin and his theory and then analyzing their historical and cultural effects, the author does a comprehensive job in presenting a balanced picture. However it is just this evenhandedness which will incite those secularists who hold Darwin up as the destroyer of God and the founder of the Scientific view of creation for Himmelfarb shows that Darwin himself never made these kind of claims, and that indeed the theory is just that- almost a pure thought hypothesis that has NEVER been experimentally verified, for in all the millions of fossils discovered to date there has never been an example of one species "evolving" into another, the cornerstone of what Darwin was trying to explain. While excuses abound for why this is so, nonetheless it is a fact which glaringly highlights that, while Darwin postulated A scenario for evolution, it may not be THE scenario.

Another interesting fact the author reveals is that many of the original defenders of the theory did so less from being convinced of its truth than for the "freedom" it offered from religious constraints on scientific inquiry, again highlighting the fact that it was more a philosophical revolution and less a scientific one that Darwin initiated.

As for the popular Liberal claim that God was no longer necessary because of natural selection, well, anytime science attempts to deal with metaphysical questions of "why" as opposed to how, it runs into problems which it cannot, almost by definition, answer. Specifically in this case, the claim that mutations are random is impossible to verify scientifically. How can we prove there was no underlying reason for the way change occurred, even if natural selection vetted these alterations and picked winners and losers? Even Richard Dawkins, the acclaimed scientist and radical atheist, believes evolution is geared to complexity. If it were truly random, why would this be so?

In dealing with these and other aspects of the debate the author is enlightening and informative, assuming you are not so closed minded that any detour from the Liberally approved path is forbidden. Himmelfarb is a brilliant historian and thinker who presents the facts and allows the reader to draw his own conclusions. It is the kind of refreshing attitude that Darwin's supporters once prized, before Darwin himself became ossified as dogma for many of his current day followers who mistakenly consider themselves openminded.