Authors Debate Charles Darwin’s Theories, Work in New Book

More than 150 years after Charles Darwin published "On the Origin of Species," the man and his theories continue to generate controversy and debate. Even scholars steeped in the great scientist's work can't seem to agree on some aspects of Darwin's landmark conclusions and the influences that led to his findings.

That academic battle plays out in a new book titled "Debating Darwin."

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The two authors who present their contrasting ideas in the book Robert J. Richards, professor in History of Science and Medicine at the University of Chicago, and Michael Ruse, director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science at Florida State University, join us on Chicago Tonight.

Below, an excerpt from the book.

Alfred North Whitehead remarked that the European philosophical tradition was but a series of footnotes to Plato.1 A comparable but more far- reaching observation might be made about Charles Dar-win: since the late nineteenth century, intellectual life not only in philosophy but in the sciences and in other areas of cultural significance has been decisively shaped by Darwin’s accomplishment. Foot-notes to the Origin of Species gather like ants to the careless picnic of modern life. Though we, the authors of this book, have major differences in our interpretations of Darwin’s theoretical conceptions, we are in little doubt about their impact on the sciences, humanities, and culture more generally. In biology, his ideas have dominated and shaped its history through the last century and a half, and those ideas have recast the understanding of ourselves. In this epilogue, we would like to sketch the major features of that more recent history, noting a few of the fault lines that threaten even this, our small edifice of comity. Of course, substantial changes have occurred in evolutionary theory since Darwin’s time, which, we believe, would have surprised—and gratified—him. Nonetheless, even those changes have their roots in his theory, so it would not mischaracterize the biology of the modern period to call it Darwinian, or more precisely, neo-Darwinian. This biology has come to situate human beings into their distinctive place in nature.

Read an extended version of the epilogue

Excerpted from “Debating Darwin,” by Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse. Reprinted with permission.

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