Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins by Denis R. Alexander, Ronald L. Numbers

By Denis R. Alexander, Ronald L. Numbers

Over the process human background, the sciences, and biology specifically, have usually been manipulated to reason vast human pain. for instance, biology has been used to justify eugenic courses, pressured sterilization, human experimentation, and dying camps—all in an try and aid notions of racial superiority. through investigating the earlier, the members to Biology and beliefs from Descartes to Dawkins wish to higher organize us to determine ideological abuse of technology while it happens within the future.     Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers assemble fourteen specialists to envision the numerous methods technological know-how has been used and abused for nonscientific reasons from the 15th century to the current day. that includes an essay on eugenics from Edward J. Larson and an exam of the growth of evolution by means of Michael J. Ruse, Biology and beliefs examines makes use of either benign and sinister, finally reminding us that ideological extrapolation keeps at the present time. An obtainable survey, this assortment will enlighten historians of technology, their scholars, working towards scientists, and a person drawn to the connection among technology and tradition.

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The result was a resurgence of preformationist research and thinking, especially in the work of Bonnet, Haller, and Lazzaro Spallanzani (1729–99), as well as the rise of a truly materialist view of living phenomena, in the hands of Diderot. This placed generation theory at the heart of the debates over biological materialism that dominated the 1750s, 1760s, and 1770s. The implications for atheism and consequently for morality of a self-creative nature without preexistent germs was obvious to both sides—worrisome to the preformationist, provocative to the materialists.

However, as we have already noted, within that family of disciplines natural history had been regarded as inferior to natural philosophy because of its descriptive nature. Something of this subordinate relationship can still be seen in Jean le Rond d’Alembert’s famous “Discours préliminaire” to the Encyclopédie (1751): “The philosopher gives the reasons for things, or at least seeks them. ”88 In spite of this dismissive pronouncement, however, for some time the role of “mere historians” in the production of natural knowledge had been recognized as vital to the production of a sound philosophy of nature.

By contrast, the theory of epigenesis, which explained each instance of reproduction as the formation of an organism out of unorganized matter, was thought by many to open the door to materialism and atheism. Major naturalists at mid-century, such as Charles Bonnet (1720–93) and Albrecht von Haller (1708–77), combined scientific evidence in favor of the preexistence of germs with arguments concerning the existence of God. Even one of the century’s major opponents of preformation, John Turberville Needham (1713–81), explained to Bonnet late in his life that he had undertaken to produce a new theory of generation not based on preexistence precisely because that theory, which he thought would collapse under the weight of new evidence, had provided one of the best defenses against atheism.

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