Don’t panic, but do take care that you don’t forget to make your pre-publication order of Darwin’s Doubt. The superior discount, free shipping, and digital books offer will run out on Friday, May 31. Go to DarwinsDoubt.com.
As we approach the June 18 publication date of Stephen Meyer’s new book Darwin’s Doubt, I note that today happens to be the anniversary of the premiere, a hundred years ago, of Stravinsky’s revolutionary Rite of Spring. Famously, when it was first performed in Paris on May 29, 1913, there ensued something close to rioting among the audience members. Listening to an interesting discussion of the piece on NPR this morning, I thought of this comment from George Gilder, techno-utopian economist and New York Times bestselling author, about Darwin’s Doubt.
I spend my life reading science books. I’ve read many hundreds of them over the years, and in my judgment Darwin’s Doubt is the best science book ever written. It is a magnificent work, a true masterpiece that will be read for hundreds of years.
Read for hundreds of years? The best science book ever written? Is that a bit over the top? Maybe not. A point that someone on the radio was making about Rite of Spring is that from 1913 onward, in a sense, composers were divided by whether they were trying to sound like Stravinsky or whether they were trying not to. The appearance of that one piece of music, with its abrupt shrugging off of familiar staid rules about rhythm, consonance, tonality and the like, was like a liberation: embraced by many, rejected by others, but ignored by no one.
The history of our culture includes a variety of such monuments. In science, obviously, Darwin’s Origin of Species marked a sharply defined turning point. From 1859, upholders of the argument for design in nature were increasingly embattled. In Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen Meyer casts the conflict as one between Darwin and his great “nemesis,” Harvard paleontologist Louis Agassiz (1807-1873). From the Origin onward, the choice was between the triumphant vision of Darwin and that of the besieged Agassiz.
I think what Gilder means is that Meyer’s book stands, as no book before it has done before, to overturn that relationship between triumph and embattlement. Dr. Meyer seeks to revive the scientific design theory that Agassiz stood for, but on the basis of the latest evidence, that neither Darwin nor his nemesis even suspected.
If in the culture of science there’s a “Before Darwin’s Origin” and an “After Darwin’s Origin,” there may well also be a “Before Darwin’s Doubt” and an “After Darwin’s Doubt,” representing a liberation from old, staid materialist assumptions about what a proper interpretation of life’s history should look like. The ramifications of that, if Gilder is right, go far beyond science, much as the implications of Stravinsky’s music went beyond music and symbolized for many the birth of a new, modern world, unbound by old rules, that was not welcome to everyone.
Hence the rioting. We hope the reception of Darwin’s Doubt, no doubt very unwelcome to the most rigid Darwin defenders, will be a little more placid than that.
Image credit: Stage backdrop for Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps, Nicholas Roerich; Wikipedia.