Darwinian We Are Not: Counterfactualism as the Natural Course of History

This article considers Peter Bowler's recent contribution to the genre of counterfactual history as exemplifying a “restrained” counterfactual framework, one that must downplay the role of contingency in the historical process in order to present what Bowler calls a more “natural course” of historical development. This restrained counterfactual methodology is discussed with reference to analogous debates within evolutionary science about the competing roles of contingency and convergence in the history of life, along with recent work done within the humanities about the more subtle nuances of counterfactual reasoning. Although there is little doubt that Bowler's study will help legitimize the genre of counterfactual history, it is argued that the role of contingency—once thought to be integral to the counterfactual—has been necessarily minimized in order to construct a narrative that is a plausible counterfactual history of science. It is in this way that Bowler's world without Darwin sheds light on our historiographical preconceptions about what makes for a plausible historical narrative.