Charles Darwin: Traveler of Reason (G. Bringuier)

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is one of the scientists who profoundly revolutionized his time with his thought. The intellectual revolution that Darwin offers returns in fine to consider that man is an animal like any other. Moreover, his thought is so powerful that it has been declined in economic and social thought. Are we not talking about social Darwinism? It is the path of this man that Georges Bringuier, educational inspector in scientific fields, explores in his book Charles Darwin: Traveler of Reason.

A man of his time

Like any biography, the author explores Charles Darwin's youth but also his intellectual training. Thus, we learn that an economics book allowed the emergence of the concept of "natural selection". We also see all the contributions, in particular from the natural sciences of the 18th century, which made it possible to reach Darwin's conclusions. Thus, the author enables the reader to understand Darwin's proper place in his time. Of course, the author painstakingly recounts Charles Darwin's journey aboard the Beagle between 1831 and 1836. This journey is central to Darwin's thought. For the reader, in addition to understanding the genesis of Charles Darwin's thought, this journey allows an immersion into the world of the early nineteenth century, in particular Latin America and Oceania. We see the judgment of a young Englishman from a good family on these new worlds. Attention to detail and precision, the journey takes up a third of the work. A second third of the work is devoted to the second part of the life of Charles Darwin, who died in 1882. This part immerses the reader in the world of British science: royal societies and private correspondence are the norm. Yet Darwin is not fully anchored in this world, living much of his life in his rural home in Downe, Kent. Throughout the book, the author humanizes his subject: we see Charles Darwin with his wife and children, his friends, etc ... But the book does not only deal with Darwin's life, but also of the emergence of the theory of natural selection.

Revolutionary thought

As we said before, every scientific revolution has its bases: Charles Darwin's grandfather already had interesting ideas about evolution (some bad tongues even said that his grandfather Erasmus Darwin had a more interesting thought. than that of Charles Darwin). We can see that the theory of evolution was beginning to take shape: the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck had already proposed one. But during Charles Darwin’s time, it was Alfred Russel Wallace who supported and developed the theory of natural selection. We can see how much Darwin's travel accounts were instrumental for Wallace. Writing his most important book From the origin of species is precipitated by this competition. One of the most virulent scientific debates of the 19th century is recounted in this biography. We see that Charles Darwin, aware of the controversies that will arise, did everything to delay the most controversial elements of this theory. The place of man in the theory of evolution only appears in his book Male descent and sex selection published only in 1871. Throughout this period Charles Darwin had contacts and friends who made it possible to expose and defend these ideas (sometimes anonymously). The author gives an important place to this aspect: international and national relays, the success of distribution and the problem of the first French translation are mentioned. The author thus delves into the fabric of science within the scientific field.

A militant book

The book Georges Bringuier is anxious to show on numerous occasions how Darwin’s thought is still relevant today. It traces and explains well the force of creationist thought today which threatens even Europe (although little publicized unlike the American creationist movements). He returns in particular to the new “scientific” form of the creationist thesis called Intelligent Design. The debate is important and we can relate it to other successful books in other scientific fields if we reformulate the question as the author suggests: Darwinism leaves a great place to chance or some scientists or so-called as such do not hesitate to speak of God's plan. The stakes are not low: if there is no chance but a pre-established plan, then the Church's position no longer has any problems with Darwinism because God has anticipated evolution. Ultimately, it is a teleological view of nature that is at stake. We can better understand from this angle the strength and virulence of the oppositions that Darwin had to face. When discussing Darwin's thought throughout his work, the author does not hesitate to make explicit the critiques of Darwin's theories and the responses to these critiques of Darwin. He also does not hesitate to relate the weaknesses of this theory of which Darwin was aware. The author adds contemporary elements that support Charles Darwin's theory (in particular DNA research). The reader can thus form his opinion.

"Darwin was right" is written on a sign planted on a Pacific atoll by an American mission. This book will provide the reader with a better understanding of the genesis and development of Charles Darwin's thought. This rich biography with many notes to facilitate understanding and maps to represent the trip greatly helps understanding and reading this book. The rich index at the end of the book is greatly appreciated. The author has immersed himself at length in the author's writings: numerous excerpts dot the text. Thus, it is a successful biography that the author has delivered to us that does not neglect either the personal or the scientific aspects of Darwin's life. This work is also intended to be a work against contemporary obscurantism. The author also achieved this goal.

BRINGUIER Georges, Charles Darwin: Traveler of Reason, Privat, May 2012

Video: Richard Dawkins interviews Prof. Michael Baum Enemies of Reason Uncut Interviews 110 (September 2021).