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Darwin Loves You

Darwin Loves You: Natural Selection and the Re-enchantment of the World

George Levine
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Darwin Loves You
    Book Description:

    Jesus and Darwin do battle on car bumpers across America. Medallions of fish symbolizing Jesus are answered by ones of amphibians stamped "Darwin," and stickers proclaiming "Jesus Loves You" are countered by "Darwin Loves You." The bumper sticker debate might be trivial and the pronouncement that "Darwin Loves You" may seem merely ironic, but George Levine insists that the message contains an unintended truth. In fact, he argues, we can read it straight. Darwin, Levine shows, saw a world from which his theory had banished transcendence as still lovable and enchanted, and we can see it like that too--if we look at his writings and life in a new way.

    Although Darwin could find sublimity even in ants or worms, the word "Darwinian" has largely been taken to signify a disenchanted world driven by chance and heartless competition. Countering the pervasive view that the facts of Darwin's world must lead to a disenchanting vision of it, Levine shows that Darwin's ideas and the language of his books offer an alternative form of enchantment, a world rich with meaning and value, and more wonderful and beautiful than ever before. Without minimizing or sentimentalizing the harsh qualities of life governed by natural selection, and without deifying Darwin, Levine makes a moving case for an enchanted secularism--a commitment to the value of the natural world and the human striving to understand it.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2733-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xxiv)
    (pp. xxv-xxx)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Secular Re-enchantment
    (pp. 1-44)

    The gentle gentleman Charles Darwin, who was buried in Westminster Abbey, lives in public consciousness within an adjective describing a brutally competitive and mechanistic world, and as the author of a controversial theory that has made him to many the Antichrist. He has survived not only as the icon of a revolutionary shift in the way we think about origins and humanity but as an unpleasant idea. And for those who think about such things, in extending naturalistic explanation even to human behavior, he is seen as perhaps the most striking embodiment of that scientific rationalism that, in Max Weberʹs...

  6. CHAPTER 2 The Disenchanting Darwin
    (pp. 45-72)

    If I am, in this book, to return to the idea of a redeeming Darwin, of a Darwin whose cultural power might be taken as both humane and enriching, it will be necessary, as I want to do briefly in this chapter, to face this culturally saturated Darwin precisely in the places that implicate him in his cultureʹs prejudices, and that have issued out in various social and political movements that seem to have had very unhappy consequences. Since I will want to be arguing that Desmond and Moore are right, that Darwin was indeed very much a man of...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Using Darwin
    (pp. 73-92)

    I have focused thus far on the interpretations of Darwin that emphasize his indebtedness to his own class and moment. But historians of science have been aware of the remarkable variety of interpretations to which Darwinʹs ideas have been subjected, and if anything can suggest how impossible it is to consider any particular ideological positioning asintrinsicto a theory such as Darwinʹs, that variety should do it. Janet Oppenheim argues that ʺDarwinʹs theory of evolution was infinitely pliable. It could be twisted to justify militarism and pacifism alike, imperialism and cooperation, unbridled laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. Perhaps the chief...

  8. CHAPTER 4 A Modern Use Sociobiology
    (pp. 93-128)

    Having looked briefly at some late-Victorian uses of Darwin, and having attempted to suggest the degree to which Darwin himself bears the responsibility for these enterprises, I want now to consider some very recent, clearly and explicitly ʺDarwinianʺ considerations of the same problem: sociobiology and its immediate and apparently more effective descendant, evolutionary psychology. Taking scientific explanation deep into the human psyche, these enterprises would seem the last word in disenchantment, and the furious debates over their validity suggest that there is much more at stake here than whether their arguments are truly Darwinian.

    Whether the disagreements are political or...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Darwin and Pain: Why Science Made Shakespeare Nauseating
    (pp. 129-168)

    In the first half of this book I have focused more on ways in which Darwinʹs work hasnotbeen enchanting than on its power to re-enchant the world. To make the positive argument, it has been essential to face and not to minimize the dispiriting potential of his ideas. In addition, I have attended at some length to those aspects of Darwinʹs ideas that have been used in support of various theories that might reasonably be called ʺsocial Darwinism.ʺ It is time to turn to alternative ways of engaging with Darwin, to turn, that is, to the enchanting Darwin,...

  10. CHAPTER 6 ʺAnd if it be a pretty woman all the betterʺ Darwin and Sexual Selection
    (pp. 169-201)

    In the long argument of this book, my primary objective is to demonstrate, through the example of Darwin and of his writing, the compatibility between an enchantment that has the power to stimulate ethical engagement and a naturalistic vision of the world. Using Darwin as a model, I tried in the last chapter to begin that demonstration, noting in particular Darwinʹs remarkable attention to minutiae, in both his science and his life. The science and the life are entwined in a way that—in spite of the strong tradition that self-consciously splits science off from ordinary life, purifies it, objectifies...

  11. CHAPTER 7 A Kinder, Gentler, Darwin
    (pp. 202-251)

    Despite Darwinʹs gentleness and compassion (and middle-class gentility), despite his deep affection for his family and his kindness, despite the fertility of his imagination and the romantic roots of his science, it would be, minimally, disingenuous not to recognize the corrosive force of his thought, its power to drain meaning from the world, its affinities with dog-eat-dog capitalism, and its uses in encouraging scientific racism and eugenics. Even on the issue with which I have been directly concerned, the question of ʺdisenchantment,ʺ it would be absurd to insist that Darwinʹs chance-ridden, mindless and heartless universe can be felt to be...

  12. EPILOGUE What Does It Mean?
    (pp. 252-274)

    Cold comfort, perhaps, this unhallowed sacredness. That Darwin loved the world despite his illness, his losses, and all he knew may seem not to have much to do with our own particular conditions, most of us not scientists steeped in the particularities of nature. Scientists often take joy in a world that, as they describe it, may frighten and appall the rest of us. As the distinguished physicists George Charpak (a Nobelist) and Roland Omnès have written, ʺThe universe and its laws evidently arouse strong feelings in researchers committed to their work. They derive great pleasure from it.ʺ¹ Darwin clearly...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 275-296)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 297-304)
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