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Debate on evolution is topic
of Greene's new book
March 1, 1999

Professor emeritus of history John C. Greene has turned his longstanding dialogue with two renowned evolutionary biologists into a new book.

In Debating Darwin: Adventures of a Scholar, Greene, a leading figure in evolutionary ideas, discusses what sparked his interest in the history of evolution and evolutionary thought, and how he came to know 20th-century evolutionary biologists Ernst Mayr and Theodosius Dobzhansky.

"I was trained in the history of ideas and was particularly interested in the way in which very general ideas about nature and society influence scientific thought and how, conversely, in the long run, scientific discoveries and theories modify or even undermine these more general ideas, the general view of the world," Greene says.

"No historian has done more than John C. Greene to point up paradoxes and contradictions in neo-Darwinian attempts to ground human values in evolutionary theory," says James R. Moore, an expert on Darwin. "His exchanges with Ernst Mayr on the history, philosophy, and ethical-religious significance of Darwinism are a major contribution to the ongoing Darwinian debate."

The book includes Greene's "rather prolonged dialogue with Ernst Mayr," a 20-year correspondence he has had with the Harvard scientist.

"We disagreed about many things," he says. "Mayr was particularly interesting to me because he was not only an evolutionary biologist and an ornithologist, but he studied the history of biology, evolutionary biology and the philosophy of biology and published books on these subjects. That brought him right into my bailiwick, because he had his ideas of how evolutionary thought developed and I had mine."

Also in the book is correspondence with Dobzhansky, the Russian evolutionary biologist and author of Genetics and the Origin of Species, who worked in the genetics laboratory at Columbia University in the 1920s. His book started the neo-Darwinian movement in biology, tying together classical Mendelian genetics and the work of field naturalists.

Greene joined the UConn history department in 1967 and retired in 1987. He has authored many articles and book chapters, but is best known for two books: The Death of Adam: Evolution and Its Impact on Western Thought, and American Science in the Age of Jefferson.

Debating Darwin: Adventures of a Scholar will be published this month by Regina Books of Claremont, Calif.

Sherry Fisher