History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Is Descent of Man overrated?

February 24th, 2008 · No Comments

Zimmer excerpt from Descent of Man.

Is Darwin’s Descent of Man overrated? Even as he wrote this book, his codiscoverer Alfred Wallace had already put the pretensions of Darwinism on human emergence in their place. If Darwin’s book was a turning point it ought to be in the history of scientism, leaving behind the naive hope in a simplistic explanation of man fulfilling the ambitions and pretensions of reductionists.

For all these frustrations, The Descent of Man marks a turning point in the history of science. It represents the first effort to trace the origin of human nature to a biologically realistic account of evolution. Darwin argued that the same natural processes that produced iris petals and scorpion tails also produced humanity’s noblest features, such as language and morality. Of course, like any book, The Descent of Man was the product of its time. It is deeply tinted by the prejudices and assumptions of Victorian England. Its picture of humanity is in some ways disturbingly obsolete. And yet over 130 years later it remains a living document. How many other books from 1871 appear regularly in the footnotes of papers published in the latest issues of scientific journals?

Tags: Evolution

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