Thursday, March 21, 2013

Peter J. Bowler's "Darwin Deleted"

Peter J. Bowler is professor emeritus of the history of science at Queen’s University, Belfast. He has written several books on the development and impact of evolutionism and on science and religion, including Evolution: The History of an Idea, The Eclipse of Darwinism, The Non-Darwinian Revolution, Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence, and Monkey Trials and Gorilla Sermons.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin, and reported the following:
Presumably the claim that one can judge the ‘quality’ of a book from its p. 99 is meant to apply to its literary quality. This is a bit unfair to those authors whose main purpose is to convey an idea they think is important or exciting and who aspire only to decent everyday prose rather than literary effect. If the argument is important, you can hardly expect a single page in the middle to convey its substance, or to reveal the book’s potential. My p. 99 is from a fairly typical section in which I try to explain how even without Darwin the theory of evolution would have been promoted in the mid-nineteenth century by other scientists and thinkers (on p. 99 it’s the philosopher Herbert Spencer). But even this forms only part of the overall theme of the book, which shows that if (for example) Darwin had fallen overboard on the voyage of the Beagle, there were other versions of evolutionism that could have carried the theory forward. Natural selection would have come much later, and would have seemed less revolutionary. In this counterfactual world, religious believers would have been less traumatized by evolutionism, because it would have been easier to imagine life progressing toward moral perfection. But most of what we call ‘social Darwinism’ would occur anyway, because the ideology of racial or national struggle doesn’t depend on Darwin’s theory of natural selection acting on individual differences. Page 99 of Darwin Deleted will not tell you about the significance of the book as a whole, although I suppose you can use it to judge the adequacy of my prose.
Learn more about Darwin Deleted at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue