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Flannery: A Farewell to Gertrude Himmelfarb, Pioneering Darwin Critic

Gertrude Himmelfarb

On a new episode of ID the Future with host Andrew McDiarmid, science historian Michael Flannery pays tribute to Gertrude Himmelfarb, the pioneering Darwin critic who passed away late last month. Download the podcast or listen to it here.

Even as the world was praising Darwin at the 1959 centennial of On the Origin of Species, Himmelfarb was writing of his rhetorical sleight of hand, by which “possibilities were promoted into probabilities, and probabilities into certainties, so ignorance was raised to a position only once removed from certain knowledge.”

Gutsy, bold, and precise in her scholarship, she saw Darwin’s theory as offering convenient “scientific” support for the class-divided, untrammeled survival-of-the-fittest industrial competition of the day. And she showed that Darwin’s scholarship — especially in his philosophical sources — was thin and thoroughly forgettable, even sixty years ago. Flannery says that when almost no other prominent scholar was saying such things about Darwin, she spoke up to tell the world the emperor had no clothes.

Photo: Gertrude Himmelfarb on Booknotes, with Brian Lamb, in 1995 via YouTube (screenshot).