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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

May 03, 1999

Evolution of evolution focus of new book by U of G prof

Renowned Darwinian scholar and philosopher Michael Ruse jumps into the middle of the so-called "science wars" in his new book Mystery of Mysteries: Is Evolution a Social Construction?

Ruse, a professor in the University of Guelph's departments of philosophy and zoology, acts as a referee in the ongoing battle between scientists who say their studies are objective and cultural studies scholars who argue science is subjective. In the book, he points out the strengths and weaknesses on both sides of the "science wars," using evolution as a case study: has evolution always been treated objectively or has it been affected by cultural attitudes over time?

Ruse's earlier book Monad to Man: The Concept of Progress in Evolutionary Biology contained similar themes, but Mystery of Mysteries is geared toward a more general audience. "In (Monad to Man) I was using philosophy to try to understand biology, in this book, I am using biology to try to understand philosophy," Ruse wrote.

Mystery of Mysteries begins with Ruse discussing the Sokal hoax -- the publication of a prominent physicist's pseudo-article in a leading journal of cultural studies. He discusses how it represents the ongoing dispute over the nature of science, and says the key to fully understanding the debate is to better understand the ideas and influences of two philosophers: Karl Popper, who says science is an objective reality, and Thomas Kuhn, who says science follows cultural shifts.

Ruse presents biographies of key contributors to evolutionary science and weighs their contributions on the Popper vs. Kuhn scale. The book includes Erasmus Darwin and his grandson Charles Darwin, Julian Huxley, Theodosius Dobzhansky, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Edward O. Wilson, Geoffrey Parker and John Sepkoski.

"It is a book not just about science, but about scientists' behaviours," Ruse says. "For example, I'm interested in Dawkins' violent atheism, Gould's New York Jewish background and connection to Marxism, and Wilson's Southern Baptist background and fascination with the military.

"I wanted to present a portrait of individual scientists and ultimately try and ask the question: ‘Is science what scientists think, something about the real world? Or is it, as cultural studies thinks, a cultural constraint, a reflection of society?" Ruse asked.

Contact: Prof. Michael Ruse, Department of Philosophy Work: (519) 824-4120 Ext. 3232 Home: (519) 824-9503

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