, Volume 60, Issue 3, pp 323-328
Date: 07 Apr 2012

Elliott Sober: Did Darwin Write the Origin Backwards? Philosophical Essays on Darwin’s Theory

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Did Darwin write the Origin backwards? This is the title and initial question of a new book by Elliott Sober, who joins topics from current philosophy of biology with the historical analysis of Charles Darwin’s writings. Since good history and good philosophy of science often walk hand in hand, Sober’s approach is highly welcome.

The book has four chapters and three long postscripts, which amount to a fifth chapter. I will discuss them in order.

The first chapter is based on a recent Darwin-year paper (Sober 2009). Sober considers the question of why Darwin, in the Origin of Species (1859), presented natural selection first and common descent second. The choice is not at all obvious. Darwin intended to convince readers first and foremost of the factuality of evolution; that is, of descent with modification. As Sober points out, this is logically independent of the mechanism of modification: A population may be subject to natural selection without branching, and branching may occur in the ...