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by Dennis Wagner

Number Thirty, May 16, 2003

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The Rhetoric of Charles Darwin

An Interview with Professor John Angus Campbell

Produced by UCTV, University of California at Santa Barbara 2002
Running Time: 1 hour 8 minutes.

Everyone agrees that the publication of Darwin's The Origin of Species was one of the primary flashpoints of the modern origins debate. But how many of us have actually read this pivotal book? John Angus Campbell has. Not only has he read it, he has built his career around understanding the rhetorical arguments employed by Darwin.

Although Charles Darwin was an accomplished naturalist, Professor John Angus Campbell considers Darwin to be "a rhetorical genius of the first order." How else could the 1859 publication of The Origin of Species touch off a cultural and scientific revolution that is still being felt today?

In this illuminating interview, Professor Campbell breaks down Darwin's book chapter-by-chapter to reveal how Darwin was able to captivate the mind of the 19th Century intellectuals. With rhetorical brilliance Darwin made his case for natural selection with parallel illustrations from British domestic husbandry. He raises and answers a series of objections to his theory, giving the impression that any challenge can be answered, even though he freely admits there are major obstacles to be overcome. By redefining terms, and carefully building on the prior beliefs of his audience, Darwin uses the Victorian belief in nature as designed to move his readers to question whether that design was intelligently directed. Darwin was particularly adept in enlisting his reader's imagination to smooth over or explain away the sometimes enormous gaps in his evidence.

Professor Campbell admits he was raised a Darwinist and that his first reading of The Origin of Species impressed upon him the great act of intellectual courage that Darwin displayed. But after a lifetime of studying Darwin's works in detail, Campbell states "I'm prepared to believe that Darwinism was an impressive artifact of 19th Century thought. It remains a permanent monument to the courage of the human intellect. However, I'm increasingly of the opinion that it may not be true."

John Angus Campbell is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Memphis and is a past President of the American Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology. He received his bachelor's degree from Portland State University (1964) and his Master's and Doctoral degrees in rhetoric from the University of Pittsburgh (1967, 1968) and taught in the Department of Speech Communication at the University of Washington until 1995.

Dr. Campbell's research has focused on the rhetoric of science. He has published numerous technical articles analyzing the rhetorical strategy of Darwin's The Origin of Species and is widely regarded as the world's foremost expert on the subject.

Interview Questions:

  1. What is your background and how did you develop an interest in the study of origins?

  2. How was Darwin able to change the definition of design in nature for his 19th Century audience?

  3. What were the major objections to Darwin's Origin of Species and how did he respond to them?

  4. How have your views of Darwinian theory changed over the years?

  5. What is your opinion of Phillip Johnson's book, Darwin on Trial?

Produced by UCTV, University of California at Santa Barbara, 2002
Running Time: 1 hour 8 minutes

Recommended for ages junior high school and above
Recommended for Public School, Private School and Homeschool use

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