Denis R. Alexander and Ronald L. Numbers

in Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226608402
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226608426 | DOI:

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Science was once the antithesis of ideology, enjoying a secure position and enshrined as the very “norm of truth.” Until well into the twentieth century there was no attempt from either the scientists themselves or the scholars of science to link science and ideology. This book illustrates the sheer diversity of the relationship between biology and ideology, and explores how biology has been used for a wide range of political, religious, and social purposes from 1600 to the present. It discusses how the vigorous debate surrounding the spontaneous generation of life was shaped by concerns about atheism and its perceived threat to morality. The book also considers the link between biology and natural theology, how concepts of race before Charles Darwin were based on contemporary biological understandings of anatomy and physiology, how evolutionary biology became increasingly intertwined with eugenics, the role of biology in German national socialism, the close linkage between evolution and the notion of progress, the role of biology in shaping notions of sex and gender, and the battle over the Intelligent Design movement in the United States.

Keywords: ideology; biology; natural theology; eugenics; evolutionary biology; socialism; evolution; gender; Intelligent Design movement; race

Chapter.  4114 words. 

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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