In “New Book Poses the Question: At the Birth of Modern Science, Was Darwin Present — or AWOL?” ( Evolution News & Views, April 10, 2012), Michael Flannery reviews The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World :
The book takes its title from breakfast meetings that occurred from the end of 1812 through the spring of 1813 in which the four Cambridge students discussed Francis Bacon and inductive reasoning, the nature of scientific inquiry, and its appropriate goals and objectives. Their bond would remain life-long. More importantly, in developing their ideas they crafted the modern concept of “the scientist” as one who put his or her investigations to the practical service of human betterment. Given its broad altruistic aims, they saw this new scientific age as one in which the government had an active responsibility to support research and to recognize those who labored on its behalf. In their collective revision the natural philosopher (often an amateur cleric dabbling in astronomy, geology, chemistry, or other field) was transformed into a professional scientist supported by the academy and a collegial network of fellow practitioners.
Unfortunately, Snyder offers a second narrative. This one presents a strained and ultimately failed attempt at linking Charles Darwin with the work of the Philosophical Breakfast Club, a “breakfast” meeting of the minds that never happened. There are some hints of this misdirection sprinkled here and there throughout the book, but it comes to the fore in chapter 12, “Nature Decoded.”
Why did Snyder go out of her way to tie Darwin to these founders of modern science? The question, of course, almost answers itself. If these Victorian creationists (in a broad historical and philosophical sense, not our modern one) are indeed the founders of modern science — which is, after all, her central thesis — then she had to make them Darwin-friendly.
The fact is, Snyder probably could not have sold the book contract if she hadn’t. Who cares about actual science when the literary airheads are all channelling Darwin?