Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?

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9780674005433: Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?

With the recent Sokal hoax--the publication of a prominent physicist's pseudo-article in a leading journal of cultural studies--the status of science moved sharply from debate to dispute. Is science objective, a disinterested reflection of reality, as Karl Popper and his followers believed? Or is it subjective, a social construction, as Thomas Kuhn and his students maintained? Into the fray comes Mystery of Mysteries, an enlightening inquiry into the nature of science, using evolutionary theory as a case study.

Michael Ruse begins with such colorful luminaries as Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles) and Julian Huxley (brother of novelist Aldous and grandson of T. H. Huxley, "Darwin's bulldog" ) and ends with the work of the English game theorist Geoffrey Parker--a microevolutionist who made his mark studying the mating strategies of dung flies--and the American paleontologist Jack Sepkoski, whose computer-generated models reconstruct mass extinctions and other macro events in life's history. Along the way Ruse considers two great popularizers of evolution, Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould, as well as two leaders in the field of evolutionary studies, Richard Lewontin and Edward O. Wilson, paying close attention to these figures' cultural commitments: Gould's transplanted Germanic idealism, Dawkins's male-dominated Oxbridge circle, Lewontin's Jewish background, and Wilson's southern childhood. Ruse explicates the role of metaphor and metavalues in evolutionary thought and draws significant conclusions about the cultural impregnation of science. Identifying strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the "science wars," he demonstrates that a resolution of the objective and subjective debate is nonetheless possible.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruse is Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Program in the History and Philosophy of Science, Florida State University. He is the founder and editor of the journal Biology and Philosophy, and has appeared on “Quirks and Quarks” and the Discovery Channel.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Ruse (Philosophy and Zoology/Univ. of Guelf, Canada) poses a trendy question: Is evolution (indeed, is all science) a social construct, i.e., relative, subjective? Is it steeped in cultural values? If nothing else, readers are treated to lively profiles that pair the work and thoughts of Erasmus and Charles Darwin; Julian Huxley and Theodosius Dobzhansky; Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins; Richard Lewontin and Edward O. Wilson, and finally, the English sociobiologist Geoffrey Parker and the American Jack Sepkoski. Ruse weighs the contributions of each scientist on the scale of Popper (is there a belief in an objective real world out there that the science is approaching through hypotheses which are falsifiable?) vs. Kuhn (is the scientist engaged in science that is part of the group consensus, or is there a paradigm shift?). In parsing the work, Ruse comments on ``epistemic'' valuesis the work coherent, consistent, with predictive validity, is it fertile in opening up new questions to research? Or is it nonepistemicare there cultural (e.g., political, psychosocial) factors at work? Lest there be any angst, rest assured that Ruse concludes that there is objectivity in sciencebut there are also cultural factors at work; for instance, scientists may be religious or atheists. On the whole, Ruse emerges as a progressionist, in the sense that science has become more sophisticated, adhering to stricter rules of logic and evidence and eschewing speculations except in popular articles. All the same, one cannot avoid seeing selectivity and bias in Ruse himself: He is particularly hard on Gould. Lewontin, on the other hand, is given worshipful treatment in spite of his well-known use of Marxist dialectics even in his theoretical writing. And is there a bit of the white Western male fraternity in perpetuity here? Perhaps. In the end, Ruse's conclusions are sound enough. But expect some of his methods to be questioned and some of his subjects begging to differ. (12 photos, 18 line illustrations) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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