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A Final StoryScience, Myth, and Beginnings$
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Nasser Zakariya

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226476124

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226500737.001.0001

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(p.113) Chapter Four Schisms
A Final Story

Nasser Zakariya

University of Chicago Press

Helmholtz articulates a final story on the basis of the new thermodynamics, examined in relation to the change of organic forms, energy and entropy. He recasts this as a synthesis of thermodynamics and Darwinian natural selection, demonstrating one possible authoritative historicization of natural history. As he found a schism between the reception of Kantian and Hegelian thought, Helmholtz finds another between natural scientific and “logical-literary” education, a divide debated in the English context, where thermodynamics and natural selection suggest opposing final stories. Differences between William Thomson and Tait on one hand, and Darwin, T. H. Huxley and Tyndall on the other, cast disciplines as at odds. They represent as tied together disciplinary relationships, educational visions, the implications of science in relation to society, and cosmological and religious belief. Towards the turn of the century, Huxley puts forward narratives of “cosmic evolution,” calling for an ethical battle against nature, defining ethics in opposition to the process of natural selection. The theoretical underpinnings of a final story are questioned by Machean considerations, by new challenges to Laplacian cosmic stability and by deployment of radiation, returning to disciplinary debates in the history of science and recasting the history of nature.

Keywords:   heat death, cosmic evolution, uniformitarianism, Hermann von Helmholtz, T. H. Huxley, William Thomson, John Tyndall, Ernst Mach, Henri Poincaré, Ernest Rutherford, Frederick Soddy

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