INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON EVOLUTION AND ORGANISATION DENATURING DARWIN 12th to 14th November 2004, International School of Philosophy, Amersfoort, the Netherlands

The Theme Darwin, once again, is seemingly everywhere — competing for general acclaim as The Greatest Briton; slugging it out with Creationists in American schools; the subject of public disputes as to who can be regarded as his true disciples; with awards in his name for both scientific endeavour and suicidal stupidity; through to new reclamations of his ideas in academia. And even though the theory of evolution may not be the ‘universal acid’ that Daniel Dennett (1995) seeks, burning through all that stood in its way, it has been etched into a broad swathe of the natural, social and political sciences. Sometimes, for example, it appears to merely rest as agreeable metaphor, as in Marshall’s ‘teeming millions’ in economics; sometimes to lie as causal explanation, as in social inequality as rendered by social Darwinists; sometimes to stand as proof, as atheistic fundamentalists use it to deny the existence of Gods; and sometimes to act as the Trusty Sword of Truth, as wielded to defeat those contemporary bogey figures, be they post-modernists, feminists or social-constructionists (see, for example, Pinker, 2003 or Dawkins,1976 and 2001).

The misapplication of Darwinist thinking in the social sciences, on its own, could justify a conference. Yet such a narrow theme risks simply returning to the bitter battles over sociobiology of the 1970s, fought over similar terrain. Instead, the rise and rise of Darwinism itself demands a closer look. We suggest here four themes that might evolve.

First, perhaps, is the origin of The Origin of Species. The genesis of the central idea — evolution through natural selection — continues to attract discussion as to whether Darwin was creator, or (unknowing) disciple. Yet Darwin’s construction of the argument, his proof (drawn from his own cultivations) and its presentation, draws into question the whole question as to what is natural, and what is selected. Thus, for example, even as his theory appears to extinguish one Creator, in practice, another seems to emerge in His place — a theme that is continuously re-enacted today, as programmers seek to develop natural selection in software. We would welcome papers further examining such origins and their consequences.

Darwin’s writing is undoubtedly skilled, as he weaves his subjects into an evocative narrative. But the pernicious spread of Darwinism cannot be laid simply to the power of his rhetoric. Why did the idea of evolution through natural selection so quickly and virulently spread beyond its natural host and find such welcome in seemingly unrelated fields? And why does it continue to excite similar interest as an explanation for apparently unrelated phenomena today? We welcome work that seeks to explore the phenomena of Darwinism itself.

At the same time, despite Darwin’s own warnings, as his ideas spread they became and continue to become derivations of derivations: mere pastiche or downright wrong. Diluted and adulterated, these homeopathic theories claim to explain more and more of the world around, be it in terms of rampant individualism or carefully pruned collective, while still claiming fidelity to the purity of their source. Unsurprisingly, such unruly science has shown itself capable of producing monsters, both hopeful and hopeless, with monstrous results. We call, then, for critique of such abominations.

And finally, despite the overwhelmingly critical tone of what has preceded, there is the question of where a more considered examination of the consequences of the Darwinist explosion might take us. This may stretch, for example, from the exploration of a radical humanism that might take account of contemporary issues that oscillate between the biological and social sciences, such as Bio-nomics, through to discussion to whether Darwinism and the social sciences will always remain incommensurable. In the field of organisation, for example, could we go beyond rather simple notions of ‘population ecologies’ to consider the mutual co-construction of ‘organised’ bodies and the ‘fitness landscapes’ that they both constitute and inhabit?


Abstracts of no more than 500 words should be sent to [email protected], no later than Monday 31st May 2004. Please submit abstracts in MS Word or Rich Text format. Acceptance will be notified by July 2004. Electronic versions of full papers should be submitted no later than Thursday 30th September 2004, again to [email protected].. A selection of complete papers will be placed on the conference website as soon as is practicable after that date.

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