On why it is OK to be a Darwinist

John Hawks on what it means to be a scientist using Darwin as the case study:

People who say that Darwin didn’t have many ideas usually haven’t read any Darwin. Now, I might say this about many nineteenth-century thinkers. When you go through the works of Spencer, or Haeckel, or Wundt, you discover that these people were remarkably thoughtful. They went through reams of examples — the kind of writing you rarely see people do anymore. Darwin was one of this number, perhaps the foremost. So it should come as no surprise that his works were full of details that would precipitate or presage developments as much as 150 years later.

But there’s something more. Darwin threaded many needles in his writing, finding the right solution for many contradictions — not only in his naturalism but also in the way his theory provoked social resistance. Darwin had the first theory of human evolution. It wasn’t correct, as we now know, but it did the essential thing: it showed a way that human features could have emerged by natural pressures of the environment. Darwin found a plausible explanation for the diversity of races — one not rooted in the divine order, but in natural history. He championed the monogenetic theory against polygenists who held that human races had separate origins. And he integrated the best empirical data from animal and plant breeding into the understanding of the natural world. Possibly most important, he insisted on the testability of his hypotheses, and gave specific criteria that would falsify them.

Sure, many of Darwin’s ideas now seem obvious. When different varieties have different rates of intrinsic growth, one will inevitably supersede the others. Small changes add up to big changes over long times. Common descent explains common morphology.

But it is precisely the reams of details that remind us so forcefully that there is more to being a scientist than having good ideas. You also have to have the courage to tell the world exactly how your ideas could be rejected. We have rejected many of Darwin’s in the succeeding 150 years. Still the core remains.

A very well written piece. Take a look!

One Response to “On why it is OK to be a Darwinist”

  1. On -ite, -ian and -ist! « Entertaining Research Says:

    […] -ite, -ian and -ist! By Guru Recently, I linked to a piece by John Hawks where he argued that it is OK to be a Darwinist; what Hawks did not discuss are the differences between a Darwinist, a Darwinite and a Darwinian. […]

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