The Centre for the History of European Discourses was incorporated in the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities in August 2015.

The information in this website is therefore out of date but retained for archival and staff purposes.

Science, Progress and History

Evolution and Historical Explanation: 
Contingency, Convergence, and Teleology
CHED-IRC Conference, Oxford, 17-20 July


As part of the “Science, Progress and History” project, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, the Centre for the History of European Discourses, University of Queensland (CHED), and the Ian Ramsey Centre (IRC), Oxford, will be convening a joint conference at St Anne's College, Oxford, 17-19 July 2014 on the theme of Evolution and Historical Explanation: Contingency, Convergence, and Teleology. 

Plenary Speakers:

  • Simon Conway Morris (Cambridge)
  • John Beatty (University of British Columbia)
  • Allan Megill (University of Virginia)
  • Betül Kacar (Georgia Tech)
  • Michael Ruse (Florida State University)

This is an interdisciplinary conference that seeks to bring together scholars from a wide range of disciplines in both the humanities and the sciences.  We are interested to explore questions at the interface of history and the natural sciences, particularly by focusing on laws, patterns and narrative structures in human history, evolutionary history, and cosmology.

The conference will begin at 4pm on Thursday 17 July (registration from 2pm) and finish with dinner on Saturday 19 July, with final departures after breakfast on Sunday 20 July 2014.

Registration for this conference is online via the Oxford University online store - CHED/IRC conference.


There will be opportunities for short paper presentations of 20 mins duration, followed by 10 mins of questions. The organisers are happy to consider any proposals that deal with the broad themes of the conference. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:


  • How have conceptions of historical purpose or directionality influenced the emerging historical sciences (geology, evolutionary biology, cosmology)? These might include religious ideas (providential and eschatological), philosophical ideas (Hegelianism) sociological conceptions (Comte, Marx), or economics (Hayek). 
  • In what sense was natural history a historical discipline, and what significance can be attached to its gradual displacement by biology?


  • Are there patterns, or evidence of directionality in evolutionary history?
  • Do the biological sciences, and evolutionary biology in particular, have ‘laws’ or allow for predictability in any strict sense? 
  • What relationship, if any, is there been contingent or random processes, and the appearance of order, regularity, or directionality?

General and Bridging Issues

  • If historical conceptions of directionality and order in history did in fact influence the development of the historical sciences, can the vestiges of these influences still be discerned? 
  • Does the popularization or communication of the sciences to a general public require that they be given some kind of narrative structure – e.g. ‘big history’,  ‘the epic of evolution’? Does this structure distort these sciences or might it be an essential ingredient?
  • Is ‘counterfactual history’ a useful explanatory tool in both spheres (history and the historical sciences)?
  • Are there similarities between the ways in which contingency and order are understood in these two spheres?
  • Has teleological explanation found its way back into biology and history?
  • What is the significance of recent philosophical critiques of evolutionary theory mounted by philosophers Thomas Nagel and Jerry Fodor?

Send paper proposals of 200–300 words to Ian Hesketh at along with a one-page CV. 

Closing date for abstract submissions: Wednesday 30 April 2014. 

Notification of accepted papers will take place via email by 9 May 2014.

There will be a subsidized conference registration fee and a modest subsidy for accommodation at St Anne’s College for those whose papers are accepted.


Previous Workshops