The aesthetics of evolution
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We can forgive a man for making a useful thing as long as he does not admire it. The only excuse for making a useless thing is that one admires it intensely.
All art is quite useless.
— Oscar Wilde (1891), The Picture of Dorian Gray
To say that Charles Darwin is a touchstone of modern evolutionary theory is to seriously understate his importance in the pantheon of contemporary scientific heroes. Since at least the 1959 centennial celebrations of On the Origin of Species, biologists have repeatedly returned to Darwin’s publications to legitimate their own ideas through his imprimatur (Smocovitis 1999). Biographical accounts of his life and theories thus provide fertile ground for emphasizing different aspects of his oeuvre, yielding a vast array of lessons—not all of them consistent—for how we should understand his intellectual investment in abolition, barnacles, coral reefs, dimorphism, earthworms, finches, geology, horticulture, and more. In Evelleen Richards’ new account of the...
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