Called "the best Darwin anthology on the market" by Stephen Jay Gould, the third edition of Philip Appleman's Darwin contains a significant amount of new material (the second was released in 1979; the first, 1970). In the two decades that have passed, numerous new commentaries on Darwin's work have appeared, notably those touching on postmodernism and intelligent-design theory (ID), and these as well as new entries from Darwin himself have now been included.
The third edition details a profound changing of epistemes in scientific and intellectual thought. Just as Copernicus and Galileo turned the medieval world upside down, Darwin ignited a revolution in science, literature, religion, and the social sciences. Darwin was and is often misquoted by his detractors, and Appleman's book sets the record straight, including many selections of Darwin's own writing.
The chapter "Mainstream Religious Support for Evolution" includes leading religious opinions on evolution, illustrating that many mainline churches and Jewish organizations don't subscribe to the gaggle of religious fundamentalists who tout "creationism." It is today's creationists--primarily fundamentalist Protestants--who, in their seemingly inexhaustible quest to squelch the teaching of evolution in the public schools, falsely claim that scientists are about "equally divided" on the facts of evolutionary biology. A review of significant court challenges is included.
New threats to scientific thought, gaining steam since the previous edition, are also covered in Darwin. Appleman discusses the new, old trend called intelligent design, which is merely fiat creationism allowing for more geologic time but still beholden to orthogenesis (with God calling the shots). The book also examines the insidious influence of postmodern thought, which holds that all knowledge is equal in importance--that science is but one way of "knowing" among all other ways (inspiration, revelation, wishful thinking, and the like). In both ID and postmodern thought, the scientific method loses, yet both have gained an impressive following and the ID group is well-organized and rapidly expanding.
Was Darwin sexist? This charge has existed since Victorian times and the publication of his Descent of Man--the very title of which is said to hint at the notion of female inferiority. Appleman includes portions of a critique of this view by Evelleen Richards, who disputes the claims of Ruth Hubbard that Darwin was biased against women.
To say that no contemporary library will be complete without this book is an understatement. While the chapters introduce subjects that, if completely catalogued, would fill a small public library, Appleman adds an extensive appendix of selected readings. Among the main headings are "Scientific Thought: Just Before Darwin," "Selections from Darwin's Work," "Darwin's Influence on Science," "Darwinian Patterns in Social Thought," "Darwinian Influences in Philosophy and Ethics," "Evolutionary Theory and Religious Theory," and "Darwin and the Literary Mind." For the humanist, this anthology is required reading. And best of all, it's an enthralling read--not quite a page-turner but hard to put down.
Bette Chambers is editor of Free Mind and a past president of the American Humanist Association.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2001|
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