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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

could be retrospectively

could be retrospectively explained but neversubject to testable predictions. In part, Popper wastrying to make room for human agency, but thelong-term beneficiaries of his critique have been,of course, anti-evolutionists seeking a place fordivine agency.A fitting conclusion to the philosophy ofscience’s chequered history in relation to biology isthe case of Kuhn, whose root-metaphor of scientificchange as an endless cycle of normal and revolutionaryphases was indebted to the model ofbiological change that the theory of naturalselection decisively defeated in the 20th century.This is the so-called ‘catastrophist’ model introducedby the French Catholic palaeontologist,Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), who interpreted thegeological stratification of the fossil record asevidence for God’s special creation and periodicreplacement of the natural order. This view wasexported to the US by Louis Agassiz (1807–73), thestaunch anti-Darwinist who founded Harvard’scomparative zoology museum, most recently hometo such malgré lui critics of Neo-Darwnism asRichard Lewontin and Stephen Jay Gould. In thefirst half of the 20th century, Agassiz’ antiselectionistthinking migrated to the HarvardMedical School, where it was championed by the82

iochemist Lawrence J. Henderson (1878–1942), anearly theorist of homeostasis and devotee of theanthropic principle, the perennially popular Aristotelianidea that the universe has been designed soas to be especially hospitable to human life.Henderson occupies a special place in our storybecause he was largely responsible for makingJames Bryant Conant the first scientist to bepresident of Harvard University. As an avid readerof the Neo-Machiavellian sociologist VilfredoPareto, Henderson suggested to Conant the value ofconsciously cultivating an élite entrusted withpreserving excellence in the face of external threat,notably Communism. The fruits of this advicewere Harvard’s Society of Fellows (where Conantand Kuhn consolidated their relationship) andHarvard’s first history of science courses, whichHenderson taught as part of general education.Uniting Henderson’s practical and theoreticalenthusiasms was the idea that each ‘organic form’(interpreted liberally to include animal species,human societies – basically any complex carbonbasedphysical system) has its own pattern ofdevelopment that it maintains, except in extremecases, against external environmental pressures.Henderson turns out to be the common intellectualancestor of three distinctive Harvard products of83

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