THE TRIUMPH OF EVOLUTION: American Scientists and the Heredity-Environment Controversy, 1900-1941 by Hamilton Cravens

THE TRIUMPH OF EVOLUTION: American Scientists and the Heredity-Environment Controversy, 1900-1941

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hamilton Cravens, a historian at the University of Iowa, focuses on the heredity-environment issue in terms of developments in the old or newly emerging disciplines of the human sciences--genetics, psychology, anthropology, sociology--during the first four decades of the century. He singles out the eminent personalities and the innovators who rose to challenge cherished beliefs. During the early decades, when the scholarly elite was almost 100% WASP, heredity was assumed to dominate environment and many a scholar paid lip service or more to the eugenics movement. With the rise of new secular universities and the land-grant colleges, however, and with the growth of the experimental approach, momentum began to build toward a synthesis: heredity and environment. By the Forties the heredity vs. environment issue was no issue or a nonsensical one. Academia was united in the belief that evolutionary principles accounted for mankind's evolving--and also evolving a capacity for culture; genes and society both shaped the individual. Thus the ""triumph"" of the title--in itself undeniable. But Cravens' approach seems too safe and sanguine, his portrayals dispassionate and cool. One does not feel any moral outrage at the excesses of the eugenics movement and the sterilization and immigration restrictions that resulted. Moreover, it is one thing to say that the human sciences, in agreeing on the interaction of nature/nurture, have a common paradigm; another to find a unifying paradigm within the separate fields (except perhaps for biology itself). Nor, in the light of renewed flare-ups of the Shockley variety, and academic controversy over the evolutionary process, can we quite call the issue closed. The book is better approached as a scholarly treatise of educational developments in the human sciences than as a demonstration of evolution's triumph.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1978
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press