Darwin Deleted: Imagining a World without Darwin

Peter J. Bowler. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-226-06867-1
In this intriguing, dense book, Bowler uses counterfactual history to explore what might've become of science and society shorn of Darwin's contributions. Bowler does not discount Darwin, but instead considers alternative tracks to the theory of evolution, illuminating the potential of other branches like morphology or paleontology. Oft-neglected Darwinian contemporaries such as Owen, Huxley, and Haeckel are given another glance as would-be figureheads. Bowler acknowledges the challenge of counterfactual history, and although it does seem implausible, the book's subtitle reminds us that we are doing a thought experiment. This book is an historical account as well as an inquisition into the deep cultural and social implications of Darwinism, recognizing how such ideas likely would have made their way into science and society without Darwin—albeit by a different, perhaps less incendiary, route. Would the church have so staunchly rejected evolution had Darwin not been claimed its progenitor? Might we now call the belief in natural selection and the theories that flank it "Haeckelism" or "Wallaceism"? Though his book is accessible to those who are genuinely curious, what Bowler authoritatively and convincingly posits is, of course, only speculative; we can never know for sure what society without Darwin would really look like. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/25/2013
Release date: 03/01/2013
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