The New Darwinism

By Brown, Peter | Natural History, November 2005 | Go to article overview

The New Darwinism


Brown, Peter, Natural History


Evolutionary biology has always been the most controversial of the scientific disciplines. Darwin himself hesitated to bring his ideas to light, for fear of the misunderstanding and vitriol they might engender. His fears, of course, were justified. Richard Dawkins, in his introduction to this month's special section on "Darwin & Evolution" ("The Illusion of Design," page 35), diagnoses half of the "public relations" problem: Darwin's revolutionary theory of evolution by natural selection is too simple for its own good. How could something so straightforward explain anything so manifold as the origin of species? The other half of the problem is the subject matter: evolution treads on issues-the very origins of the human family-that arouse blood passions.

Many evolutionary biologists today have been as reticent as Darwin was to wade into public controversy. First, they will tell you, the controversy of interest to most people-the opposition of religious fundamentalists to Darwinism-lies outside science. second, they will add, debating creationism, now rebranded and repositioned as "intelligent design," can only grant scientific legitimacy to a position that has gained none on its own. The late Stephen Jay Gould made the latter argument when this magazine assembled a forum on evolution and its critics nearly four years ago (for a transcript, visit our Web site at www.naturalhistorymag.com).

But Gould was anything but reticent about fighting back when it came to testifying in court against teaching creationism in public school science classes. Many evolutionists have at last concluded that Gould's aggressive stance must be extended beyond the courtroom. …

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