Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal and the Rise of Naturalism, 1861-64

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Charles Darwin, the Copley Medal, and the Rise of Naturalism, 1862-64, thrusts students into the intellectual ferment of Victorian England just after publication of The Origin of Species. Since its appearance in 1859, Darwin's long awaited treatise in “genetic biology” had received reviews both favorable and damning. Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce presented arguments for and against the theory in a dramatic and widely publicized face-off at the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Oxford. Their encounter sparked a vigorous, complex debate that touched on a host of issues and set the stage for the Royal Society’s consideration of whether or not they ought to award Darwin the Copley Medal, their most prestigious prize. While the action takes place in meetings of the Royal Society, Great Britain’s most important scientific body, a parallel and influential public argument smoldered over the nature of science and its relationship to modern life in an industrial society.

A significant component of the Darwin game is the tension between natural and teleological views of the world, manifested especially in reconsideration of the design argument, commonly known through William Paley’s Natural Theology or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802), and updated by Wilberforce. But the scientific debate also percolated through a host of related issues:  the meaning and purposes of inductive and hypothetical-speculation in science; the professionalization of science; the implications of Darwinism for social reform, racial theories, and women’s rights; and the evolving concept of causation in sciences and its implications for public policy. Because of the revolutionary potential of Darwin’s ideas, the connections between science and nearly every other aspect of culture became increasingly evident. Scientific papers and laboratory demonstrations presented in Royal Society meetings during the game provide the backdrop for momentous conflict that continues to shape our perceptions of modern science.

About the Authors:

Marsha Driscoll is Associate Professor of Psychology at Bemidji State University in Bemidji, MN. Her scholarly interests include the nature and role of cognitive and affective empathy, adult development, and the interdisciplinary connections of psychology to the other social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. Elizabeth E. Dunn is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and Professor of History at Indiana University South Bend. Her primary field of study is American Intellectual History, with research and publications centered on value conflicts in a variety of settings including Benjamin Franklin’s religious beliefs, paper money in colonial America, and political campaigning in the nineteenth century. Dann P. Siems was Assistant Professor of Biology at Bemidji State University. His research interests included the natural history of fishes, phenotypic plasticity in life history theory, relationship of ontogeny to phylogeny, history, and philosophy of biology, role of behavior and cognition in evolution, and evolutionary psychology. B. Kamran Swanson is an Instructor of Philosophy at Harold Washington College in the Chicago area. His studies have focused on the philosophy of Benedict Spinoza and early modern philosophies of science. 

Companion Text (Optional):

Janet Browne, Darwin's "Origin of Species": A Biography
© 2006 | Atlantic Monthly Press | ISBN-10: 0802143466 | ISBN-13: 9780802143464