"Owen's Ape and Darwin's Bulldog introduces a brilliant, new and insightful perspective into the philosophy behind Richard Owen's methods and reasoning." —Evo Edu Outreach, 2010
"Part history of science, part history of philosophy, part philosophy of science—but all in the service of the pragmatic dimensions of science in society. I know of no other book quite like this one." —Jason Scott Robert, Arizona State University
"Cosans's analysis is thought-provoking and informative, exemplifying an overall point that has been increasingly accepted: a scientist's interpretation of what s/he observes is best understood within its historic context." —Journal of Anthropological Research, Vol. 66, 2010
"A fascinating new look at the Owen-Huxley controversy [that] gives us important insight into a hitherto thinly discussed aspect of the Darwinian Revolution. I much enjoyed reading it and learnt from virtually every page." —Michael Ruse, author of Darwinism and Its Discontents
Owen’s Ape and Darwin’s Bulldog sheds new light on one of the most celebrated episodes in the history of evolutionary biology. Cosans’s careful analysis draws on history, philosophy, and even his own dissections, to reveal a complexity hitherto underestimated.Frederick R. Davis, History, Florida State University,
Tallahassee, QUARTERLY REVIEW OF BIOLOGY, Volume 84.4 Dec. 2009
"In conclusion, the reviewer recommends this book strongly for all specialists and students, including palaeontologists and palaeoanthropologists." —Zentralblatt fur Geologie und Palaontologie, 11, 5/6, 2009
A few months after Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species, Thomas Huxley challenged Richard Owen at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and set off a debate about apes, brains, and human evolution. Owen’s Ape and Darwin’s Bulldog explores that first debate about Darwin's theory of evolution.
Huxley, a rising star in comparative anatomy and a protégé of Darwin, stood in contrast to Owen, the driving force behind the creation of the British Museum of Natural History. Owen's perspective was based on careful anatomical observations and on an interest in theories of evolution that had been proposed prior to Darwin's Origin. Huxley, soon to be known as Darwin's bulldog, built his case against Owen based in part on a different philosophy of how to practice science. In investigating the origins of this dispute, Christopher E. Cosans considers a tangled context of ideas stemming from the works of Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Thomas Malthus, Robert Chambers, Charles Darwin, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Adrian Desmond, Nancy Cartwright, and Hilary Putnam.
Conventional wisdom is that Huxley discredited Owen, yet this book makes clear that Owen's anatomical claims had much more support than most historians and philosophers of science assume. Owen believed in developmental theories of evolution, which were precursors to modern evo-devo theory.
The Owen and Huxley debate is a perfect study for understanding relationships between science, ethics, and society. The story sheds light as well on current philosophical notions of scientific practice and how they influence our understanding of the history of science.