After Richard Owen criticized Darwin’s Origin, he was labeled a “creationist” by many, and his work on ape anatomy was derided by Darwin’s “bulldog” Thomas Huxley. In this close analysis of Owen’s texts, Christopher E. Cosans argues that Owen’s thought was much more sophisticated than Huxley portrayed it. In addition to considering Owen and Huxley’s anatomical debate, Owen’s Ape and Darwin’s Bulldog examines their philosophical dispute. Huxley embraced the metaphysics of Descartes, while Owen felt philosophy of science should rest on Kant’s claim that sense-perception does not tell us how things-in-themselves “really are.” Owen thought the creationist-Darwinist dispute was unproductive, and held that both 19th century special creationists and Darwin’s suggestion in the Origin that God created the first life forms unnecessarily brought supernatural causation into science.
With the hindsight of how the theory of evolution has progressed over the last three centuries, the Owen-Huxley debate affords the history and philosophy of science a case study. It sheds light on theories of knowledge that have been advanced by Quine, Wittgenstein, Hanson, and Putnam. Owen’s Ape and Darwin’s Bulldog also examines Malthus, Mill and Marx for the influence of economic thought on early evolutionary theories, and considers broader ideas about how science and society interact.