Over at Science Progress, I’ve been involved in putting together not one but two items timed for Darwin Day.
The first is an op-ed coauthored with my prof here at Princeton, D. Graham Burnett, who teaches Darwin. We argue for historical nuance, which leads one to reject the idea that Darwin should be considered an icon of conflict between science and religion. In fact, we call that idea “a hackneyed story, lacking in historical nuance and ultimately running counter to the project of drawing helpful lessons from the life of one of history’s greatest scientists.” A brief excerpt:
…Science-religion battles seem resurgent today, and it’s tempting to see in Darwin the modern originator of this enduring conflict.
Yet historical research on the relationship between science and religion, including work on the Victorian period and the Darwinian revolution, reveals a very different story. Not only did fundamentally theological ideas–the notion of the “perfect adaptation” of living organisms to their circumstances, for instance–actually help shape Darwin’s theory, but religious beliefs strongly influenced its reception in surprising ways. Who would have thought that several fervent early twentieth century neo-Darwinists right in Richard Dawkins’s beloved Oxford were actually exuberantly pious Anglo-Catholics, who saw in Darwin’s ideas a stick with which to beat back deistic Protestantism?
You can read the full column here.
Meanwhile, over at Science Progress I also interviewed Darwin’s great-great grandson, Matthew Chapman, who happens to be a screenwriter, author, and the founder of ScienceDebate2008–and who I call “Darwin’s Dangerous Descendent.” The interview is hilarious and also insightful, so I encourage you to read the whole thing, but I’ll just give an excerpt:
What was the view in your family about the Darwin legacy–were people living in its shadow? Did they make inside jokes about it?
I do think that some of the family lived in Darwin’s shadow. It’s hard not to, but it gets easier as time goes by. When I was young people did not make jokes in the way that I do. There were people, my mother included, who I think felt they had something to live up to, and, failing to do so, were made unhappy. Others I have met over the years–not my immediate family, I hasten to mention–seem to be rather excessively proud of it. I poke fun at the connection by saying that I’m the best argument creationists have because if you look at my family tree with Darwin at one end and me at the other this in itself disproves evolution. When I look at Prince Charles, he always seems rather rueful to me, as if he was saying to himself, “This is all very well, but it’s just an accident of birth.” He’s right about this, and it’s how I feel, except that in my case there are no perks.
You can read the whole interview here. Happy Darwin Day!