Claiming Darwin

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin
  • Article
  • 4000 words
  • Level: high school and above

This article by Myrna Perez Sheldon was published in 2015 in Cosmologics Magazine, which is a project of the Science, Religion, and Culture program at Harvard Divinity School.  Sheldon discusses the impact on evolutionists of both the resurgence of Creationism and Stephen Jay Gould’s ideas about “punctuated equilibrium” during the 1970’s and 1980’s.  She notes that Gould framed Charles Darwin

as a historical figure who had been influenced by his time and place. According to Gould, Darwin’s theory did come down to explaining natural order without recourse to God, but largely because of Darwin’s own historical context—“all the higher order harmony that used to be seen as the source of evidence for God’s benevolence is epiphenomenal upon the struggle of something lower for personal gain. That’s all.” If this framing sounded a great deal like “Adam Smith’s economics translated into nature,” it was “no accident” according to Gould. Gould went on to inform the audience that “one of the most interesting conclusions of recent historical research has shown the tie of Darwin’s development of the theory of natural selection in 1838 to his interest… in the thought of Adam Smith.” In other words, the formulation of Darwin’s theory was due to Darwin’s “cultural embeddedness” and the influence on him by the famous eighteenth-century economist. This did not make the theory less valid, important, or true, but Gould did believe it meant that the theory could be reflected upon, revised, and updated.

However, she writes, creationists believed that Gould’s critiques of Darwin showed the strength of their own critiques:

[Gould] actively argued that evolutionary biologists disagreed over some particulars, but the terms of evolution were safe from creationist critique. But in these crucial years, his attempts to promote his vision of evolution inextricably linked his debates with other Darwinists with creationism in the American cultural imagination.

Click here to access this article from Cosmologics Magazine.