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Cultural Darwinism

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The recent debate over Intelligent Design (ID) provides an opportunity to examine the pervasiveness and the meaning of Darwinian thinking in modern culture. The latest incarnation of a century-old critique of evolution, ID infuriated critics as a disease of scientific illiteracy. However, examining the debate as cultural history of science suggests that the IDers were not ignorant or stupid, but rather shrewd and disingenuous. They wielded scientific data as a rhetorical weapon, not as truth but as text, to be bent to one's moral purpose—which in their case was an attack on science itself. In contrast to the scientific critics, I view ID as a symptom, a boil on the neck of a social body infected with anxiety over cultural Darwinism. Though the courts seem to have effectively lanced ID, the infection remains. In an age of Darwinian psychiatry, Darwinian business, Darwinian literature criticism, and even Darwinian anti-Darwinism, some boundary checks on cultural Darwinism would be salutary—not for advancing a conservative political agenda as the ID folks seek to do, but simply for reconciling a faith in reason with a rejection of biological determinism.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, MD 21205, USA

Publication date: 2008-08-01

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