Darwin-L Message Log 5:59 (January 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<5:59>From mahaffy@dordt.edu  Tue Jan 11 07:31:31 1994

Subject: Fair to Desmond & Moore?
To: Address Darwin list <Darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu>
Date: Tue, 11 Jan 1994 07:36:46 -0600 (CST)
From: James Mahaffy <mahaffy@dordt.edu>

I would like to include a reference to Desmond and Moore in a annotated
bibliography I am going to hand out this semester.  However, since I have
only had time to read of couple of chapters and am not a historian, i
would appreciate feedback on the annotation that I include below.
Have I hit both the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

Desmond, A. and Moore, J. 1991 Darwin: The Life of a Tormented
Evolutionist Warner Books, New York 808 pages, I have only read
parts of this fascinating and widely acclaimed biography of Darwin
but that reading and a number of reviews give me a good feeling for
the book.  The book, written by two leading Darwin scholars, will
give you a real sense of Darwin and his time.  In fact what makes
the book unique is their seeing Darwin in terms of his social
position, the influence of his family and the social context of the
time.  To show the effect of these influences and make them real
(both of which they powerfully do) they write as if they knew what
was influencing Darwin and going through his mind, and flush out
historical details where needed.  This in fact makes the book to
some extent a historical fictionalized novel. Although well
footnoted, sometimes I would like to have known what is fact and
what is conjecture.  For instance, did Grant (a teacher that
influenced Darwin in his undergraduate days) actually go on walks
with Darwin (it is logical - but there is is no proof in the book
that their connection occurred in this manner).   Still there is a
mass of documented detail and their style makes Darwin and his
situation live.  I am sure every Dordt student would appreciate
"indignation" at a friend being confined to the college for the
rest of the semester because he fell asleep on Darwin's couch after
a hike in the wilds and missed curfew. This is a good biography but
every biologist should still read for himself some of what Darwin
wrote.  Pick up and look at the book On the Origin of the Species
by Means of Natural Selection from our library to feel the force of
his arguments and the type of logical presentation he makes.
Darwin provided a mechanism that scientists could use to explain
origins with out the supernatural to a world that to a large extent
was ready to explain it that way, but in the empirical sciences, he
could not have changed the paradigms of his time without some force
to his argument.   Even those  of us who walk in a different
paradigm believing in a God who creates and sustains this world
should still understand the present neoDarwinian theory and its
historical origins. This book, Darwin,  is not in library but you
are more than welcome to borrow my copy.
James F. Mahaffy                   e-mail: mahaffy@dordt.edu
Biology Department                 phone: 712 722-6279
Dordt College                      FAX 712 722-1198
Sioux Center, Iowa 51250

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