Evolution and the idea of social progress

In Denis Alexander & Ronald L. Numbers (eds.), Biology and Ideology From Descartes to Dawkins. London: University of Chicago Press (2010)
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Abstract

In evolutionary theory, the idea of organic evolution is linked to the social doctrine or ideology of progress. This chapter explores the relationship between evolution and the idea of social progress by first considering the definitions of evolution, social or cultural progress, and providence. It then comments on the science of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, which it argues was not perfect because Darwin encountered a lot of problems with heredity and with the fossil record. Physicists argued that the earth's lifespan is not long enough to accomodate a leisurely process such as natural selection. In general, however, the Origin of Species is a pretty good attempt at producing epistemically satisfying science. The emergence of Mendelian genetics, the building of population genetics, and the work of the empiricists fleshing out the theoretical skeleton gave rise to modern evolutionary biology.

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Michael Ruse
Florida State University

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