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Monday, September 03, 2007

Giving Darwin a decent burial?

A friend draws my attention to this abstract from the Darwinism after Darwin conference (September 3-5, 2007 in Leeds, UK):
Giving Darwin a decent burial

Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, UK

I propose to use counterfactual historiography to argue that the branches of biology that we today consider to be most advanced – molecular biology, especially in relation to genetics – would have progressed more swiftly had Darwin NOT persevered and published Origin of Species in 1859. The predominance of other scientifically respectable theories of evolution available at the time, which typically did not treat design as an illusion in nature (e.g. Lamarck’s, Wallace’s), would have provided – and indeed did provide -- a more hospitable intellectual environment for the development of lab-based branches of biology responsible for bringing us to where we are now. Moreover, I will argue that had Darwin been out of the world-historic picture, biology would not have acquired its distinctly 'historicist' character, to which philosophers have become reconciled only in recent years. Rather, genetics and molecular biology would be more closely aligned with engineering-based disciplines like bionics, precedents for which could be found in the first half of the 20th century, via systems theory perspectives and what became known as 'biophysics'. I conclude that rather than continuing to venerate Darwin, even though he would find relatively little of contemporary biological research relevant to his own studies, we would do better – in time for his 200th anniversary – to retire Darwin as The Last Great Historicist, who has earned a place alongside Marx and Freud more for reasons of cultural iconicity than scientific relevance.

Of course that's all true, but I hope Fuller remembered to bring his own body bag.

Still, last year, he got away with telling the Guardian that Darwinism had had its own way for far too long:
He says the addition of ID would improve science education, something four out of 10 respondents supported in a BBC poll last week. "There needs to be some incentive to develop historically sensitive textbooks in science education and ID could be very much part of that," Fuller says. "Most students who take science at a high school level will not go on to become scientists. The point is, you want a science education for an informed citizenry - people who can appreciate science, can recognise science when they see it, and can think critically about science."
I guess if he just keeps moving - it's hard to hit a moving target.

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