Content The Origin of the Origin of Species: Revolution, or More of the Same?


Hiram Caton

Queensland Institute of Medical Research Seminar Series
22 June 2005

Introduction

My warm thanks to Nick Martin for his generous introduction and for the invitation to test a key premise of my present research before a knowledgeable audience that prefers facts to the warm sensitivity of postmodernism.

The invitation arose from a recent conversation in which we exchanged the latest on our endeavours. His attention was captured by a few of my commentaries on the development of evolution theory prior to the publication of The Origin. The first half of this seminar title, which he authored, expresses his keenness to know more. The second half of the title is a blunt declaration of heterodoxy. Since it might get me into trouble, let me hasten to divert the blame even though I authored it. Here's my excuse. When I retired, Nick observed that I was now free to speak my mind since I had divested of the obligations that academic employment foists on us. Having nothing to loose, he urged me to get busy exposing hallowed nonsense. I therefore call on Nick's encouragement to justify today's challenge to what most of us take to be historical fact.

Evolution telecast screenshot in September 2001There are many portrayals of it, but one of special relevance is the PBS seven part series, Evolution, telecast in September, 2001. When I learned of it I was teaching an undergraduate course titled The Darwinian Revolution. The pre-broadcast promos aroused my interest because the series was designed to assist secondary and tertiary teaching. It was, the promos promised, a no cost spared production (funded by the former Microsoft wizard Paul Allen) that recruited the support of major names in contemporary evolutionary thought. It would address, fairly and impartially, the great vexed question in U.S. evolutionary instruction, Intelligent Design vs Natural Selection. Nor was that all. The documentary was supported by a multimedia apparatus of teacher training, teaching tools, student exercises and projects, electronic texts and visuals. So I was primed and ready for the telecast of this flagship teaching tool.

The first instalment establishes the bias that controls the series. It does not begin with the initial phase evolutionary theory. It begins with the youthful Charles Darwin, who has no doubts about the Creationist scheme of things he learned at Cambridge, but who is keen to make something of himself. His Cambridge teacher and friend, the botanist Rev John Henslow, recommended him as the naturalist for the voyage of the Beagle. Henslow also recommended that he take with him Charles. Lyell's just published Principles of Geology, which became Darwin's golden thread for the interpretation of natural history during the five-year voyage. The depiction of the voyage as Darwin's personal journey to the discovery of momentous things culminates in the Beagle's six-week visit to the Galpagos Archipelago.

Galpagos ArchipelagoThe Archipelago is a geographical isolate whose flora and fauna originated from Ecuador. Darwin observes the variance of the fauna, especially turtles and finches, not only from continental species, but also between the islands. The pattern of distribution (or adaptive radiation in evolutionary language) prompts the youthful naturalist to open his species notebooks on his return to England . He keeps them secret because he is playing with a ‘dangerous idea' — the notion that species can evolve from a common ancestor over time. In a bare seven years, Darwin has made the transition from Creationism to evolution. So says the PBS dramatization.

This account faithfully depicts the first episode of the Darwin legend as told by many science history teachers. Alas it is bogus history from start to finish. Let us look at particulars.

1. The most egregious error is the pretence that Darwin's personal journey of discovery is of any significance. By 1831 evolutionary theory and evidence had been developed to a sophisticated pitch. Indeed Darwin equipped himself with a library of the evolution literature. One title worthy of note is the evolutionist Bory de Saint-Vincent's seventeen-volume Dictionnaire classique d'historie naturelle. Another is Lyell's Principles of Geology, volume 1, which contains a lengthy summary of Lamarck's theory. As it happens, an event significant for the development of evolutionary thought occurred a year prior to the Beagle 's departure: the debate between Georges Cuvier, the founder of paleontology, and Geoffroy Etienne Saint-Hilaire about Geoffroy's unity of type principle. A re-enactment of this debate would be a suitable beginning for the PBS documentary. The young Darwin would be nowhere in sight, but the principles of evolutionary thought would be prominent. Cuvier, defending catastrophic geology, mass extinctions, and discontinuity of the fossil record vs Geoffroy, defending uniformitarian geology and continuity of the fossil record.

2. The Beagle's naturalist was Robert McKormick. Darwin was the gentleman companion to Captain Robert FitzRoy, on the recommendation of Henslow. Darwin paid all his expenses throughout the five-year voyage and was never a servant of the Admiralty. This is an embarrassment because in the first sentence of the Origin Darwin claims to have been the Beagle's naturalist. The embarrassment is covered by styling Darwin an ‘unofficial naturalist' or ‘unpaid naturalist'. This is a historians' ‘just so' story.

3. Young Darwin's specimens and commentaries made a favourable impression back home, but his supposed insight into evolution based on adaptive radiation in the Galapagos is a tale of failure converted to success. The data required for this insight was labelling each specimen by location, but Darwin labelled all specimens ‘Galapagos'! Only later, in England, when the taxonomist John Gould assigned specie status to his finch specimens did he realize his blunder. He attempted to correct it by asking other crew members, who had also collected specimens, whether they had labelled the place of the collection. His effort resulted in some augmentation of information, but it was insufficient to support an argument for their evolution from a common mainland ancestor. Nevertheless, Darwin claimed this insight in the opening sentences of Origin:

‘When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America . . . These facts seemed to throw some light on the origin of species—the mystery of mysteries…'

4. Even if Darwin had produced such evidence, it would have amounted to no more than a new contribution to the literature on adaptive radiation, which had been a natural history theme for at least a half century, and which had been invoked as evidence of evolution since about 1790. Indeed, he needed only to open Bory's Dictionnaire in his library to find discussions of it.

5. The PBS personalization of evolution to the career of the young Darwin is shaped to culminate in his great personal discovery of evolution's mechanism, natural selection. This, we are assured, distinguishes Darwin from the pre-Origin evolutionists mentioned ever so briefly in the documentary. Here we come upon a major cover-up needed to groom Darwin for his destiny as evolution's hero. As the cruel irony of history would have it, 1831, the year that the Beagle sailed, happened to be the year that the natural selection concept was launched. Patrick Matthew, a Scottish arboriculturist, published On Naval Timber and Arboriculture, which promoted the breeding of quality trees for the construction of Royal Navy ships. In an appendix to the book, Matthew set out his theory of plant cultivation. Its basic law he styled ‘the natural law of selection'. Here is his description:

‘The self-regulating adaptive disposition of organised life may, in part, be traced to the extreme fecundity of nature …, much beyond . . . what is necessary to fill up the vacancies caused by senile decay. As the field of existence is limited and preoccupied, it is only the hardier, more robust, better suited to circumstance individuals, who are able to struggle forward to maturity, these inhabiting only the situations to which they have superior adaptation and greater power of occupancy than any other kind; the weaker and less circumstance-suited being prematurely destroyed. This principle is in constant action; it regulates the colour, the figure, the capacities, and instincts; those individuals in each species whose colour and covering are best suited to concealment or protection from enemies, or defence from inclemencies or vicissitudes of climate, whose figure is best accommodated to health, strength, defence, and support; whose capacities and instincts can best regulate the physical energies to self-advantage according to circumstances--in such immense waste of primary and youthful life those only come forward to maturity from THE STRICT ORDEAL BY WHICH NATURE TESTS THEIR ADAPTATION TO HER STANDARD OF PERFECTION and fitness to continue their kind by reproduction.'

Patrick Matthew (1790 - 1874)

The key Darwinian terms—superfecundity, struggle, selection, adaptation, fitness—occur in Matthew's essay. Moreover, he tells us that his insight was prompted by Malthus' argument that a selective struggle for existence was the necessary implication of superfecundity, as was the case with Darwin, Wallace, and Herbert Spencer. The congruence between Matthew and Darwin extends yet another step, because Darwin said that his mind was prepared for the Mathusian insight by immersion in the selection practices of domestication. Was Matthew's tract among those that Darwin read? Darwin admitted that Matthew ‘gives precisely the same view on the origin of species as that . . . propounded by Mr Wallace and myself' and that he ‘clearly saw the full force of the principle of natural selection'. Accordingly, Darwin says that ‘The differences of Mr. Matthew's views from mine are not of much importance'. Notwithstanding this remarkable concordance, Darwin assures us that he did not know of Matthew's book until Matthew raised the priority question shortly after the publication of Origin.  

The plot has now become as convoluted as the Da Vinci Code. As I mentioned, Darwin 's journey of discovery is made out to be of great historical importance despite the fact that the evolution literature was by then well developed. The point of departure in effect dismisses that literature as of little or no importance. The one discovery attributed to him is the adaptive radiation of finches on the Galapagos. This we have seen is incorrect, since Darwin not only did not recognize this pattern at the time, but also failed to label his specimens according to their location so that the pattern might be recognized later. Now we have another incongruous twist. His Copernican-sized discovery had nothing directly to do with adaptive radiation. It was prompted by Malthus' interpretation of the struggle for existence, in the context of study of trait selection by breeders. And by an amazing coincidence, the same discovery had been made seven years previously by a Scottish arboraculturalist.  

The PBS series purports to be a thoughtful, accurate instructional aid for a troubled and important field. Unfortunately, it is committed to the idea that the vindication of evolution against Creationism requires the valorization of Darwin as evolution's hero. This, I believe, is a grave misrecognition of how science works, and thus is a bad lesson for students. Let us repeat it six times before breakfast: science does not depend on authority. On the contrary, clinging to authority is another way evading the force of evidence.  

Ernst Mayr and the Darwin Cult  

The PBS series comes with the endorsement of leading evolutionists. I wondered whether anyone, scientist or historian, had challenged its egregious disregard for fact. A Goggle search turned up criticisms, but all were from the Intelligent Design and Creationist camp. The sample I read complained of misrepresentations of their case; they did not touch on the issues I am raising. The negative result of the Google search is of course no proof of the absence of criticism by scientists or historians in the evolution camp. The circumstance that such criticism is liable to be appropriated by religionists in their on-going struggle with science would tend to discourage pro-evolution critics from going public. Who wants to be quoted by a Creationist, against evolution, at the next meeting of the Kansas Board of Education? However that may be, I know from the printed word and from personal knowledge that some senior evolutionists concur with the PBS baloney. I shall discuss one case, chosen because of this scholar's golden credentials, because of his numerous publications on the history of evolutionary thought, and because he is the paradigm of Darwin worship. I refer to the recently deceased Agassiz Professor of Zoology at Harvard, Ernst Mayr.

Ernst Mayr (1905 - 2005)

Mayr's claims on behalf of Darwin's discoveries and his transformative effect on culture are the familiar credo of the Darwin cult. They are distinguished only by Mayr's emphatic and categorical assertion of the creed despite his historical knowledge that every article of faith is false. This state of mind, though psychologically exotic, is common. It's the dogmatist mind, like those Young Earth Creationists who champion the literal Genesis chronology despite familiarity with geophysics and planetary science. Here are some of Mayr's contentions.  

1. ‘Darwin founded a new branch of life science, evolutionary biology'. He credits Darwin with the discovery of the mutability of species, meaning ‘the modern conception of evolution itself'.  

2. He discovered natural selection and the concept of constant and gradual evolutionary change, ‘with no major breaks or discontinuities'.  

3. ‘Darwinism is now almost unanimously accepted by knowledgeable evolutionists. In addition, it has become the basic component of the new philosophy of biology'.  

4. ‘Darwin developed a new view of humanity …. Of all of Darwin's proposals, the one his contemporaries found most difficult to accept was that the theory of common descent applied to Man. For theologians and philosophers alike, Man was a creature above and apart from other living beings'.  

5. ‘But furthermore - and this is perhaps Darwin's greatest contribution - he developed a set of new principles that influence the thinking of every person: the living world, through evolution, can be explained without recourse to supernaturalism'.  

My principal concern is to challenge the credo on one particular point — that the evidence and argument of the Origin was perceived by his contemporaries to present a completely new world view whose key premise is the natural mutability and common descent of organisms. But first I shall address Item 1. Just when evolutionary biology may be said to have commenced is a matter of interpretation. Mayr identifies it with the Origin because he believes that the basic parameters of evolutionary science have not changed since. In a recent interview he flatly declared that today everyone is either a Creationist or a Darwinian. If so, we should expect Darwin to have solved the problem of species origin: that, after all, is what the book is about. However, there were critics in Darwin 's time, some of them ardent Darwinians, who believed that Darwin's species concept was confused and that owing to this confusion he did not explain speciation. There are also contemporaries who hold the same view, among them, oddly enough, Ernst Mayr. In his 1963 masterpiece Animal Species and Evolution , he noted that Darwin was a species nominalist, that is, taxonomic nomenclature is said create the appearance of a type with distinct reproductive or morphological boundaries, whereas the reality is reproductive and morphological gradients between types. Darwin couldn't clarify the question, Mayr argued, because he lacked a concept of population structure and of isolating mechanisms, which were first identified by Theodosius Dobzhanski in 1937. Closely related to Darwin's faulty species concept was his inability to distinguish between stabilizing and directional selection. And this he could not do because he did not know Mendelian genetics, the Hardy-Weinberg law, and so forth. On this showing Neo-Darwinism makes a conceptual change so profound that it warrants a designation that suggests transition rather than continuity. Neo-Mendelism would be closer to the mark.  

Mayr is unable to maintain his thesis about Darwin's conceptual hegemony even for Victorian England, for he feels obliged to distinguish authentic Darwinian evolutionary theory from a bogus imitator—Social Darwinism and its pernicious ‘survival of the fittest' doctrine. This draws our attention to Herbert Spencer.

Spencer coined the phrase ‘survival of the fittest' in his 1851 book, Social Statics. It occurs in a discussion of industrial competition in which he analyses business success and failure. ‘Survival of the fittest' encapsulates his diagnosis. The implicit evolutionary assumption of Social Statics was made explicit in the following year in two articles, ‘A Theory of Population, deduced from the general law of animal fertility', and ‘The Development Hypothesis'.
Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903)
Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903)

The second essay begins with a terse observation about evidence for and against evolution: 

‘Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution as not being adequately supported by facts, seem to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all. Like the majority of men who are born to a given belief, they demand the most rigorous proof of any adverse belief, but assume that their own needs none'.

Spencer then adduces examples from biology and physical sciences of gradual continuous change by imperceptible degrees. He strongly commends these testable phenomena in contrast to unobservable creation. Thus:  

‘That by any series of changes a protozoon should ever become a mammal, seems to those who are not familiar with zoology, and who have not seen how clear becomes the relationship between the simplest and the most complex forms when intermediate forms are examined, a very grotesque notion. Habitually looking at things rather in their statical aspect than in their dynamical aspect they never realize the fact that, by small increments of modification, any amount of modification may in time be generated'.  

He concludes his essay with a significant psychological observation:  

‘We have, indeed, in the part taken by many scientific men in this controversy of "Law versus Miracle," a good illustration of the tenacious vitality of superstitions. Ask one of our leading geologists or physiologists whether he believes in the Mosaic account of the creation, and he will take the question as next to an insult. Either he rejects the narrative entirely, or understands it in some vague non-natural sense. Yet part of it he unconsciously adopts; and that, too, literally. For whence has he got this notion of "special creations," which he thinks so reasonable, and fights for so vigorously? Evidently he can trace it back to no other source than this myth which he repudiates. He has not a single fact in nature to cite in proof of it.... Catechize him, and he will be forced to confess that the notion was put into his mind in childhood as part or a story which he now thinks absurd. And why, after rejecting all the rest of the story, he should strenuously defend this last remnant of it, as though he had received it on valid authority, he would be puzzled to say'.  

This astute observation helps understand how the British science establishment came to accept the evolution thesis in the 1860s and 1870s. It is this: Their activity as scientists was based on the premise that miraculous agency comprises no element of causal explanation. This methodological precept they understood to be an essential constituent of science. It is a trivial consequence that the origin of living things cannot be ascribed to special creation. Yet the logically trivial step was emotionally stupendous. Literature, the arts, biography, and media of the day are replete with stories about the personal turmoil of transition to a fig leaf Deism or outright unbelief. It is indeed an abiding theme of the evolution debate.  

The identification of the transition to unalloyed secularism was a momentous cultural shift worthy of comparison with the Copernican revolution. Mayr's version of this shift is saltationist on the scale of special creation. He writes: ‘In spite of the valiant efforts of various philosophers and such perceptive biologists as Lamarck, the concept of a created and essentially stable world continued to reign supreme until one man, Charles Darwin…, destroyed it once and for all'. I have pondered how best to characterize this extraordinary claim. Let me try this. I recently stumbled across a Creationist website claiming to represent the TRUE fundamentalist doctrine in contrast to many compromised versions. The key to authentic faith, we are told, is recognition that the Earth does not move . That's right: it is suspended motionless in space. Mayr's extreme claim, for which he offers no evidence, extracts Darwin and his book from its cultural context of all-sided change—economic, social, cultural, scientific—which made the word ‘revolution' a tabloid cliché in those days. Everyone but Mayr knows this fact about Victorian culture. But for him it's a simple post hoc, ergo propter hoc: evolution was generally accepted after 1859, therefore it must have been due to the influence of Origin. Returning the Origin to its context, we recognize that it was a late-comer in a well-established secularist movement in which Spencer was on the leading edge. Spencer's advocacy of evolution made sense of capitalism by integrating the stupendous growth and wholesale social change with natural processes, such that evolution was progress and progress was evolution. ‘Survival of the fittest' was its summarizing catch-phrase. Darwin associated himself with this passion for improvement when, in the fifth edition of Origin , he adopted ‘survival of the fittest' as alternative name for natural selection. At that time he was in correspondence with Spencer about his theory of pangenesis. And he commented to a correspondent about Spencer: ‘It has also pleased me to see how thoroughly you appreciate … H. Spencer; I suspect that hereafter he will be looked at as by far the greatest living philosopher in England.'  

Mayr's categorical distinction between Darwin and Spencer was not the perception of the Victorian public, who tended to see them as two sides of the same coin. Their reputations rose together. By the mid-1870s, Spencer had acquired an international reputation as the leading exponent of evolutionary positivist philosophy propagating ‘the creed of science'.

Evidence that the secularist movement was deeply entrenched well before 1859 is found in a book published just months after the appearance of the Origin, Essays and Reviews. It consists of seven essays by leading Anglican clergymen whose common theme is that Scripture should be interpreted as a historical document like any other. This means that divine inspiration is not credited as an authorial source and that miraculous stories are treated as superstitions or moral allegories. It also means that inconsistencies are identified and that damage done to authoritative meanings by textual variants and corruptions are acknowledged. In short, Biblical theology is to be brought into line with the creed of science.

Essays and Reviews Contents
Essays and Reviews Contents

Essays and Reviews ignited fury within the Anglican Church. The authors were styled ‘Seven Against Christ'. After angry and aggrieved complaints, especially against the contributor who denied eternal punishment, the Lord Chancellor agreed to put the case for excommunication before the Privy Council. The Council decided that it was no part of its duty to pronounce judgment on the book. As for the denial of the doctrine of eternal punishment, the Council declared that it did not ‘find in the formularies of the English Church any such distinct declaration upon the subject as to require it to punish the expression of a hope by a clergyman that even the ultimate pardon of the wicked who are condemned in the day of judgment may be consistent with the will of Almighty God'. Of this judgment it was quipped that the Privy Council had ‘dismissed hell with costs'.  

Despite the perception of the Essays and Reviews as a revolutionary and impious book, it was merely a summation of the results of a century of rational historical scholarship. An important event in the growth of this rationalism was David Friedrich Strauss's The Life of Jesus Critically Examined , published in 1835 and translated from the German original into English in 1846. The book's assignment of the sacred to myth caused it to be styled ‘the most pestilential book ever vomited out of the jaws of hell.'

The English translator was Marian Evans, aka, the novelist George Eliot, who was closely associated with Herbert Spencer in editing the Westminster Review. They in turn were part of an intellectual circle that included Thomas Huxley, George Lewes, JS Mill, HG Atkinson, and Harriet Martineau. It bears mention that Martineau, who translated August Comte's Positive Philosophy , published in 1851 Letters on the Laws of Man's Nature and Development, which projected humanist unbelief as the end point of millennia of cultural improvement.  

These comments show, I hope, that insofar as the Origin ‘destroyed', as Mayr would have it, the God of traditional faith, it was a superfluous parricide. The job had already been done.  

Let me conclude by making good on my claim that the essentials of evolutionary theory were in place by 1844. What is the significance of that date? That was the year in which Darwin wrote a summary of his investigations, which were to be published in the event of his decease before he might fashion his thoughts into a publishable tract. It was also the date of the publication of a book advocating evolution, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. It was published anonymously by Robert Chambers, who was a publisher, an amateur geologist, and a prolific popular writer. Vestiges was a full-scale naturalistic account of the world. It began with the origin of the solar system, using the then current nebular hypothesis to explain its origin. From this event of great antiquity, the author passes to the cooling of the Earth, to the abiotic origin of life by spontaneous generation, the diversification of life over eons of time, the upward lift of living organisms to ever high complexity through diversification, the formation of geological strata and the build up of fossil deposits on uniformitarian principles, and the gradualist evolution of vertebrates, mammals, primates, and humankind. The point of the exercise was to argue, as evolutionists were wont to do, that living nature, like inanimate nature, operated under natural law without the intervention of the Deity who set it all in motion. In other words, Vestiges meant to refute the doctrine of special creation and intelligent design. Chambers addressed this question in discussions of the detail about biogeography, paleontology, morphology, sexual reproduction, limitless variation, adaptation, and the chemistry of organisms. He also addressed it in more abstract discussions of principles. His most telling plea can be styled the Inevitability Argument. It runs as follows. Let it be admitted that reason works, that is, when the mind is directed to understanding the world according to natural law, it finds regularities and understands causes. In the brief period in which this effort has been carried out, there has been an immense accumulation of knowledge at ever-more rapid pace. Conversely, the unknown parts of nature are constantly shrinking. Living nature still remains to be understood, and it will be understood if we don't obfuscate nature and distract ourselves by appealing to divine intervention and intelligent design. Q.E.D.

The response to Chambers' manifesto divides neatly into halves: the expert and the public. The expert, lead by the then President of the British Association Sir John Herschel, quickly organized a show of force to denounce it as impious, a grave threat to good order, and a travesty of the facts. But the public loved it. Vestiges went through four printings in just seven months. There were ten ed itions in nine years. By 1860 it had sold 23,750 copies. Its readership crossed the social spectrum, from the Prince Consort and the Queen, to progressive intellectuals and free thinkers, to the commercial middle class, and to working class readers who accessed England 's many public reading rooms. It was much talked about in gentlemen's clubs, fortnightlies, the tabloid press, and among working class radicals.  

The double response is a benchmark for England 's transition to secularism. The solidary of the expert in 1844 signalled their allegiance to ecclesiastical leadership when questions vital to orthodoxy were at stake. But the defection of the public was a telling message of its impatience with an anachronous notion of the sacred precariously imposed on a way of life in which the constant experience of change, the challenge of self-reliance, and the exhilaration of novelty made life meaningful. Although Chambers' scientific knowledge was woefully inadequate to his task, he conveyed a clear formulation of all the principles of the Origin except natural selection. Above all, he must be credited with having stated as forcefully as Darwin the key principle that Darwin claimed for himself: that special creation and intelligent design are unnecessary and gratuitous for explaining the origin of living nature.  

The meaning of evolution as philosophy of life received many articulations in the post-Origin decades. I conclude with a statement by the British Association President W. R. Grove, a physicist, at the 1866 annual meeting, where evolution was a major theme. He said that ‘the revolution of ideas of the so-called natural rights of man … are far more unsound … than the study of the gradual progressive changes arising from changed circumstances, changed wants, changed habits. Our language, our social institutions, our laws, the constitution of which we are proud, are the growth of time, the product of slow adaptations, resulting from continuous struggles. Happily in this country practical experience has taught us to improve rather than remodel; we follow the law of nature and avoid cataclysms'.  

Let me complete this seminar by commenting briefly on how the teaching of evolution might benefit from the criticisms I have put. I shall not address the issues of the secondary curriculum in the U.S. because it is too complex an issue, and besides I am not close enough to it. My comments concern only introductory tertiary teaching in the history and philosophy of science mode. That mode commits us attending at once to the internal logic of science and to the relation of science and scientists to the public.

Public readiness for evolutionary science in the Nineteenth Century sprang from a widespread, spontaneous fascination with the exotic flora and fauna and with the geography of the non-European world. There was a large and steady market for books on these subjects, and this taste expressed itself in the founding of many natural history museums and display of specimens.
Kew Gardens
Kew Gardens

Moreover, the expert botanist, zoologist, and geologist were often an unpaid amateur. This cluster of circumstances provides a wonderful passage to conduct students into t he world of the naturalist and his or her public. Thanks to the graphics capability of today's internet, students can easily be shown what these publics saw and read. This, I believe, is a major pedagogical plus. Secondly, the fascination with the natural world included exotic indigenous peoples, who figured as strange but alluring, or, as the case might be, appalling Others to the civilized European. This too is an outstanding teaching opportunity, since Nineteenth Century ethnography is simultaneously a conscious meditation on the distinction between the Civilized and the Savage. Thirdly, the Nineteenth Century was the era when ‘natural philosophy' transformed into science and became a professional, salaried cadre. A status hierarchy with physicists at the top and naturalists at the bottom was generated. By mid-Nineteenth Century, zoology and botany had been transformed into laboratory sciences using experimental equipment and quantitative methods. The prestige biological sciences were cellular biology and microbiology, both of which made highly visible contributions to medicine and public health. These circumstances substantially influenced the reception of evolutionary science by scientists. Phylogeny was of no relevance to experimental biology. Its contribution to the evolution debate is largely negative, eg, in disproving candidates for the abiotic origin of life. The most celebrated of these men, Louis Pasteur, disproved spontaneous generation but otherwise ignored evolution. Fourthly, my criticisms of the distorting effects of the Darwin cult does not imply dismissal of it. On the contrary, it should be made an object of the history of the reception of evolutionary thought, showing how science creates heroes. It also doesn't imply dismissal of the notion that the Origin may be ranked as the equivalent of the Copernican revolution. The analogy is indeed apposite. In postulating heliocentrism, Copernicus did not innovate but rescued from obscurity a theory canvassed by Aristarchus, Eudoxus, and Archimedes. Moreover, Copernicus' model of the universe was rapidly overtaken by Kepler's discovery of the elliptical path of planetary orbits, by the displacement of the solar system from the center of the universe, and by Newton's discovery of gravitation. By 1700, Copernicus' system had been displaced by Newton's. Similarly, by 1900 Darwin's theory had been overtaken by the cellular theory of inheritance, ie, genetics, and natural selection had lost its glitter under the criticisms of T.H. Morgan and William Bateson. This fact is painful to the likes of Ernst Mayr, but it is a fact, and a fact of historical significance, so it must be taught. Finally, a comment on the science vs religion issue. It is a blunder of major proportions to derive this conflict from the evolution debate. Leaving aside the testimony of antiquity, it begins in earnest with the rise of science in the Seventeenth Century and bursts heavily into the public space with the French Enlightenment. It reached an acute phase when the Vatican, perceiving the grave threat of secularism, counter-attacked with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, launched a critique of the separation of Church and State in the Syllabus of Errors (1864), and instigated what in Germany was called ‘the culture war' ( Kulturkampf ). The residue of this conflict, circa 1900, was organized humanism and a search for alternative forms of spirituality. It is very much a part of the cultural story of evolution that Thomas Huxley found a spiritual refuge in Buddhism and that Alfred Wallace was a spiritualist who also authored the first statement of the anthropic principle. Francis Galton and Karl Pearson worried about the dysgenic trends of society and hoped to inspire a eugenic religion. Some evolution scientists committed to reform movements, such as conservation, women's equality, or socialism. In view of the current prominence of the science vs religion issue, a suitable stopping point for the end of the century would be to sample William James' Varieties of Religious Experience.

 

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