A Cognitive Semantics Approach to Darwin’s Theory of Evolution

Introduction For some, Darwin’s theory of evolution is the only scientific theory that can explain the history of life, for others, it is a lie from the pit of hell. Few ideas have triggered so many debates and so much contention. The only indisputable thing about evolution is that it has exerted a tremendous influence on Western thought, widely beyond the biological sciences. As Lakoffand Turner observe, the theory of evolution in its folk understanding as a competitive struggle “is everywhere in our culture. It is used metaphorically to justify forms of free-market economics, educational reforms, the basis for legal judgements, and the conduct of international relations” (Lakoff & Turner 1999: 557). While fully acknowledging the scientific value of the theory of evolution, we want to argue that its structure and logic depend heavily on conceptual metaphors and blends used to frame its major tenets. Moreover, the combination of metaphors and blends into a coherent whole enables them to function as a template for reasoning, not only about the organic world but also about any complex system. Consequently, the objective of this study is, in the first place, to identify the conceptual metaphors manifested in the text of The Origin1 and to determine how they are integrated into the network of ideas known as the evolutionary theory. Another aim of this study concerns the role that specific metaphors play in the theory of evolution: in framing the theory and its expression in language, in reasoning about organic evolution, and even in determining the directions of scientific research. For these reasons, the analysis also covers samples of popular science literature on evolution and discusses the current use of Darwin’s original metaphors. We believe that Cognitive Semantics is best suited for this purpose because it offers a systematic and principled methodology for analyzing metaphors. Next, we also hope that the findings about the metaphorical underpinnings of the theory of evolution will make it possible to formulate some generalizations about the functions of metaphors in scientific discourse. It is not the objective of this book to argue for the metaphorical nature of scientific discourse, because this has successfully been done by many philosophers of science and linguists whose work is discussed at length in the next chapter. We do not claim to discover metaphors in Darwin’s language either. The first person 1 Full title: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservarion of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life by Charles Darwin (1859), henceforth The Origin.