February 7, 2006 | David F. Coppedge

More on “Literary Darwinism”

Harold Fromm in Science1 reviewed Gottschall’s new book on literary Darwinism (see 01/27/2006 entry).  Like Gottschall, he argued that an evolution-informed approach to literary criticism is superior because it provides quantifiable certitude:

For years, scholars in the literary humanities have struggled to achieve at least a semblance of the certitude possible in the sciences, although none of the major schools of analysis–whether Freudian, mythic, Marxian, deconstructive, or socially constructive–could make a claim to the sort of falsifiability that quickly winnows scientific theories [sic].  But a running theme throughout The Literary Animal is the need for quantitative methods that could provide solid foundations for philosophical and aesthetic claims. (Emphasis added in all quotes.)

As an example, Fromm pointed to Gottschall’s analysis of fairy tales from around the world that showed a similarity in gender roles.


1Harold Fromm, “Reading with Selection in Mind,” Science, 3 February 2006: Vol. 311. no. 5761, pp. 612 – 613, DOI: 10.1126/science.1123990.

This is more proof that Darwinism aspires to be a comprehensive world view, escaping the confines of the biology class and waging war on every other academic field in the university.  Fromm and Gottschall’s claim that literary darwinism brings certitude and falsifiability to literary criticism is phony.  In the first place, such quantitative methods are invariably subjective.  Trying to quantify fairy tales is a fairy tale in itself.  More importantly, they have knocked down a straw man by comparing literary darwinism to a bunch of losers–Freud, Marx et al.  Every one of these approaches similarly assumes philosophical naturalism!  This is the best-in-field fallacy at work.  It takes a spirit to breathe life into the humanities, and the Father of spirits is the personal God who made us.  As literary giant C. S. Lewis indicated, describing human rationality and aesthetics in natural terms leads to the Abolition of Man – including Darwin and the molecules bouncing around in his brain.

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