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The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Darwin's Precursors and Influences

Further reading

by John Wilkins
Copyright © 1996-2003
[Last Update: 21 February 2003]



Nobody can fairly understand the development of Darwinism unless they have read at least one good biography of Darwin and some history of biology during those years and before.

The best single survey of biological thought is Mayr 1982. It should be read first, especially the second section in its entirety. Mayr's 1988 covers Darwin's arguments logically and in context, and should also be read. A good general overview of the development of modern evolutionary biology from the 17th century to today is Young 1992, and it is lavishly illustrated with lovely reproductions of the original plates. If you have access to it, an excellent and comprehensive older history of biology is Nordenskiöld 1929, which was written at a time when Darwinism was again being pronounced dead. Magner 1994 is also excellent.

The best single volume biography of Darwin is that of Desmond and Moore 1991, despite their adherence to a school of historiography ("social constructionism") I find sometimes overstresses the social dimension when dealing with intellectual development and science. Another accessible biography, and a very good introduction to Darwin's life, is White and Gribbin 1995. Janet Browne's magnificent two volume biography is now released, and although I have not yet seen the second volume, the first is a tour de force and essential to understand how Darwin came about his ideas.

Darwin's use of scientific method and his debt to the philosophical conjectures of the time is covered well in Ghiselin 1969 and Ruse 1979 (and opposed by Løvtrup 1987).

There are many myths about science in the 19th century. A good number of these are dispersed by Ruse 1979 and Desmond 1985 and 1989. Ruse especially is recommended reading. The subsequent history of Darwinism post-1859 is well covered in Hull 1973 and Bowler 1982. Richards 1992 provides a an excellent history of the term "evolution" and the analogy between development and transformation, although I find his overall conclusion a bit reaching. Quammen 1996, chapters 2 and 3, gives a different perspective on Wallace and Darwin's relationship worth reading.

Older biographies and studies have limited value now that Darwin's notebooks and correspondence have been published by de Beer and others, and should be read with care. However, Eiseley 1961 is still a good introduction despite the stirring moral tone.

A good single introduction to the development of modern Darwinism from the "new synthesis" of 1930-1940 to today: it is Bowler's 1989. In addition, Keller and Lloyd 1992 has a number of good essays on key topics in evolution including historical reviews of each concept as well as modern usage and problems.

Finally, for in my opinion a somewhat overstated view from a consciously non-Neo-Darwinian viewpoint, but one which gives no comfort to anti-evolutionists, Løvtrup 1987 makes many of the same points as this essay, although he wants to give a different emphasis to Lamarck's priority (for transmutation).

Here are some articles of interest for those wishing to go further:

Beddall, Barbara G., 1988. Darwin and Divergence: the Wallace Connection, Journal of the History of Biology, 21: 1-68

Dobzhansky, T., 1959. Blyth, Darwin, and Natural Selection, American Naturalist, 93: 204-206

Dempster, W. J., 1983. Patrick Matthew and Natural Selection: Nineteenth-Century Gentleman-Farmer, Naturalist and Writer. Edinburgh: Harris

Schwartz, Joel S., 1990. Darwin, Wallace, and Huxley, and Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Journal of the History of Biology, 23: 127-153

Schweber, Silvan S., 1994. Darwin and the Agronomists: the Influence of Political Economy on Scientific Thought, in Cohen, I. B., ed., The Natural Sciences and the Social Sciences. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 305-316

Stevens: F., 1995. George Bentham and the Darwin/Wallace Papers of 1858: More Myths Surrounding the Origin and Acceptance of Evolutionary Ideas, Linnean, 11: 14-16

Wallace, Alfred Russel, 1903. My Relations with Darwin in Reference to the Theory of Natural Selection, Black and White, 17 January 1903, 78-79

Wells, Kentwood D., 1973. The Historical Context of Natural Selection: the Case of Patrick Matthew, Journal of the History of Biology, 6: 225-258

Young, R. M., 1969. Malthus and the Evolutionists: the Common Context of Biological and Social Theory, Past and Present, 43: 109-145.



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