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Friday, September 30, 2005

Darwin as pure cultural commodity:Recent review of Darnton thriller

When a person has become a pure cultural commodity, you can say what you want about them. The thriller by Pulitzer Prize-winner John Darnton is perceptively reviewed by Books editor Marjorie Kehe of Christian Science Monitor. She remarks that

Darwin never really goes out of fashion. Just when you think that maybe he's slipping from public view a bit, there's some kind of a trial, public hearing, or cultural disruption that shifts him and his everlastingly disputed findings back into the spotlight.

So John Darnton probably made a wise choice when he tapped the ever-controversial naturalist to serve as one of the protagonists of his new novel The Darwin Conspiracy.

[ ... ]

Clearly Darnton did his homework and the biographical information woven in about Darwin is interesting, but here he more nearly resembles a character in an Indiana Jones film than a man still rocking intellectual and theological boats.

Fair enough, but my sense is that Darnton’s salable idea only works when the worldview itself has come under fire. It wasn't so long ago that Richard Dawkins wrote:

Living organisms had existed on earth without ever knowing why for 3000 million years before the truth finally dawned on one of them. His name was Charles Darwin.

(Ben Wattenberg quoted Dawkins to himself as saying this, on PBS’s Think Tank (November 8, 1996), apparently reading from Dawkins's The Selfish Gene.

Wittenberg comments,

That sounds to me like a religious statement. That is a - that is near messianic language. And you are making the case that these other people have this virus of the mind. That tonality says, I found my God.

Dawkins's response is interesting.)

Even back then, Wattenberg felt compelled to protest. Today, a lot more people are asking questions about the Darwin cult in biology.

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