The "Darwinian revolution" remains an acceptable phrase to describe the change in thought brought about by the theory of evolution, provided that the revolution is seen as occurring over an extended period of time. The decades from the 1790s through the 1850s are at the focus of this article. Emphasis is placed on the issue of species extinction and on generational shifts in opinion.
This argument has emphasized the professional character of Darwin's early activities, largely in order to balance the usual portrayal of the amateurishness of his early training and field of study. Arguing this way has revealed the interplay between Darwin's personal interests and his professional obligations, the latter being particularly important for the period from October 1836 to July 1837. In several instances, notably the treatment of his collections, the progress of his thought followed the professional lead directly. In the absence (...) of such a lead Darwin did not pursue certain issues, if only for lack of time. Thus the subject of man did not figure in his initial formulation of a transmutationist position. Only after the commitment to the new point of view had been made did the issues emerge which will be treated in Part II of this article. However, we may close by noting Darwin's inherited disposition on the subject: in the summer of 1837 Darwin responded to Lyell's claim that the change from irrational animal to rational man represented “a phenomenon of a distinct kind from the passage from the more simple to the more perfect forms of animal organization and instinct” with a fanciful doodle in the margin.121 The thoughts behind the bemused scribbling were to occupy a good portion of Darwin's time for the next two years. (shrink)
The place of man in Darwin's development of a theory of transmutation has been obscured by his manner of disclosure. Comparing the 1837–1839 period to his entire career as a theorist suggests that it was Darwin's practice to present himself and his work only before the most select scientific audiences, and then in accordance with their expectations. The negative implications of this rule for his publication on man are clear enough: finding no general invitation in science to publish as a (...) theorist and no contemporary scientific audience for the sorts of inquiries he was making on man, he was silent, at least until such time as he could publish on the strength of reputation alone. Now, with the availability of manuscripts from the early period, what was once hidden stands revealed. It is clear from Darwin's notebooks that man played a dual role in the formation of his theory: as a zoological species to be incorporated into the theory and as the primary vehicle for the study of behavior. On the first score, integrating man into the theory provoked Darwin to break with the traditional view of man's place in nature and to reject a major element in the scientific notion of progressive development. On the second score, the study of behavior led Darwin outside natural history and thence, unexpectedly, to Malthus and natural selection.One is left with the certainty that the subject of man was a central element in Darwin's formulation of his species theory. To an extent, then, the public judgment of Darwin was right all along, for the public had always sensed that Darwin spoke to a larger audience than that formed around science. On the basis of new evidence, we can add that Darwin drew from that larger audience as well. There are of course ironies to this conclusion: that Darwin the professional drew so heavily from fields where he was the amateur, that as a transparent man his inner life should prove so at odds with the manner in which he presented himself, and that his arrival at a strong sense of himself—the revolutionary “I” of his notebooks—should occur just as he stepped beyond science to engage the general culture. But when one considers the inherent difficulties of Darwin's subject and the magnitude of his claims respecting man, these ironies are perhaps not surprising at all but those of a kind which might be anticipated. (shrink)
The history of science and technology has been a scholarly discipline with little attention given to the special needs of undergraduate teaching. What needs to be done to transform a discipline to an undergraduate subject? Suggestions include using the relation between science and technology as well as the role of interpreters in formulation of the popular world view. Relations with science and history departments are considered. Curriculum materials are surveyed with some recommendations for correcting deficiencies.