“In Praise of Darwin”

January 11, 2010 • 12:05 am

by Greg Mayer

Jerry previously commented on Steven Shapin’s summary in the London Review of Books of the 2009 Darwin commemorations, finding Shapin’s piece “long and pretty lame“, and especially criticizing his swipe at adaptation. New York Times blogger Ross Douthat, however, finds Shapin’s piece “wonderful“, and evidently sympathizes with Shapin’s unease over Darwin and evolutionary biology:

But Shapin’s essay is more than just an attempt to explain last year’s Darwin-mania. It’s a clear-eyed and wide-ranging tour of what “Darwinism” means today — at once an unchallenged scientific paradigm and a wildly contentious theory of everything; a Church militant warring against creationists and fundamentalists and a debating society of squabbling professors; a touchstone for the literary intelligentsia and a source of secularist kitsch.

Fellow conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan is disappointed by Douthat’s “sneering tone” and “smears”, and praises Darwin as

one of the most revolutionary and influential thinkers of the past two hundred years

Commenter Ajay at the Times replies a bit more concretely, and poses an apt question for Douthat:

If by “an unchallenged scientific paradigm” you mean that Darwinism has been widely challenged historically, continually falsified and continually triumphant – then yes, you’re absolutely right. What planet do you live on?

[It’s clear that Ajay meant “tested”, rather than “falsified”.]

If you want to know what sort of Darwin commemorations were held around the world during the past year, sans Shapin’s commentary, the most extensive list, which includes talks, symposia, books, articles, exhibitions, films, etc., is that compiled by John van Wyhe of Christ’s College, Cambridge, and posted at the marvelous Darwin Online, which I’ve had occasion to note before. Some Darwin commemorations, included in the list, are continuing into 2010. John also includes a summary of some of the 1909 centennial events and publications.