Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Anne's thoughts on Darwin's "Recapitulation and Conclusion"

Since I can't be in class for the discussion, I thought that I would post some thoughts...

In Darwin's last chapter, "Recapitulation and Conclusion" he briefly explains what he discusses in each of his preceding chapters. He uses strong statements like "the truth of these propositions cannot I think be disputed" (435) to affirm his general theory of natural selection. However, at the same time, when he addresses the details he acknowledges the imperfection and conjecture involved in forming some of his conclusions.

After he goes through his main arguments, he counters those of his opponents. He anticipates the controversy to come those upholding the creationist view. I thought his comment about the urge to "hide our ignorance under such expressions as 'the plan of creation'" (453) shows gumption on Darwin's part, especially in light of his reluctance to involve himself in any controversy. However, on the other hand, even though Darwin sees that his ideas will be difficult to accept, he sees hope in the "young and rising naturalists" (453). His faith in the next generation of minds reminds me of Thomas S. Kuhn's book, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions". In his book, Kuhn addresses a similar idea, that often a true shift in paradigm requires an entire generation, because of the deeply embedded ideas of scientists working within the frame of accepted laws.

In his concluding paragraphs, Darwin opens the door for future scientific inquiry. For example, he writes, "we are as yet very ignorant of the full extent of the various climatal and geographical changes" (437). He even assets that "we can dimly foresee that there will be a considerable revolution in natural history" (455). He then goes through the different fields of science for which he sees such a revolution, such as genealogy, embryology, geography, geology and psychology. In Darwin's "prophetic glance into futurity" he foretells correctly that his ideas will have massive repercussions. However, even he does not realize just how massive his influence will turn out to be for not only science, but also for thought in general.

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