Monday, May 25, 2009

Day 116/365 Speaking of Destiny

Happy Indictment Day to John T. Scopes...May 25, 1925

Can you believe he's only 24 years old? What a lucky guy....first job out of college, hired to teach algebra and physics, and occasionally substitute in biology.

Guess which one got him in trouble?

Yep, it's always the sub that gets blamed.

Eighty-four years ago today, at the beginning of what would prove to be a sweltering Tennessee summer, John Scopes was indicted for teaching Darwin's Theory of Evolution. (Never mind that in the jargon of science, a theory is a proven fact. Non-scientists often confuse a scientific theory with a hypothesis, an proposition that is not yet proven).

Of course Darwin himself was not available to testify at the trial, having died in 1882, but he himself might have quoted his actual theory of evolution:

As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

Dumbledore? NO!

Although it might as well have been, the way church elders immediately reacted, falling along the now familiar well-drawn lines of contention.

The distinguished gentleman above is the one and only Charlie Darwin himself.

While remembered mostly by non-scientists for his Theory of Evolution, Darwin published many books on various corners of research he was interested in, the last of which was the fascinating but lesser-known The Formation of Vegetable Mould through The Action of Worms .

As the daughter of a scientist, and in blatant support of John T. Scopes, who surely deserves a prize as Most Maligned Substitute Teacher in All of History, here are the top 10 things you probably didn't know about Darwin:

  1. The painting above is of the HMS Beagle, the ship that carried Darwin around the world as he researched the flora and fauna that led him to his eventual theory. (I LOVE the name of the ship - someone really treasured their pup)

  2. Charles married his first cousin Emma (apparently not practicing what he preached), and spent the rest of his life obsessing about his children's health and the results of such close in-breeding (note: marrying your cousin was very common among the upper class at that time, which, in retrospect, explains a great deal)

  3. Three of his sons went on to become great scientists: an astronomer, a botanist and civil engineer, and the last, Leonard, had multiple careers as a soldier, politician, economist, and lastly, a eugenicist (Leonard's career choices make a scary combination, particularily during the early 1940's)

  4. Darwin was never an atheist, irregardless of modern day claims. He regarded himself as an agnostic and played a promenient role in his village church (yes, even after he published his book). His view was that there was no reason any one religion should be more valid than any other. He was also an abolitionist, believing that no particular race was any better than any other race, or for that matter, any animal or being any more worthy than any other)

  5. Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, introduced and named the field of eugenics i.e. the idea that moral and mental abilities could and should be bred in humans and even in particular races. Eugenics spread around the world, including to its biggest proponent, Nazi Germany (and even had an interesting history here in Virginia, but that's another post)

  6. A famous article published in 1915 attempted to "redeem" Darwin by claiming he had reverted back to Christianity on his deathbed. He didn't. According to his children, his last words were to his wife, Emma: "I am not the least afraid of death – Remember what a good wife you have been to me – Tell all my children to remember how good they have been to me", then he repeatedly told his daughters "It's almost worthwhile to be sick to be nursed by you".

  7. Darwin was the one who figured out how coral atolls form and published the most authoritative work on barnacles to date, in addition to an entire book on plant movement (or why vines twine and climb)

  8. In 2008, the Church of England apologized to him posthumously: "for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still"

  9. In 2000 Darwin’s portrait appeared on the Bank of England's ten pound note, replacing Charles Dickens (not sure how I feel about that, couldn't they have made alternate versions, like TV Guide does, one with Darwin, one with Dickens?)

  10. Darwin was awarded Britain's highest scientific honour, the Royal Society's Copley Medal in 1864, and on the same day, the first meeting was held by the group that became the influential X Club, devoted to "science, pure and free, untrammelled by religious dogmas".

Pure, free, untrammelled. I like that.

(The line for cancelling your subscription is to the right, as is the line for leaving disagreeable comments about evolution).

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