darwin: dispensing with adam

…Darwin took with him on his voyage, besides his own knowledge and aptitudes, one indispensable tool for interpreting what he saw. Before sailing, Henslow pressed upon him the recently published first volume of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology., with instructions to read but on no account to believe it. Darwin obeyed the first injunction but not the second. Lyell was foremost among those geologists who refused t accept that the crust of the earth had been formed in a few thousand years by earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions far more vast than anything now observable.

—Artist: Lucas Cranach the Elder
Completion Date: 1533
Place of Creation: Germany
Style: Northern Renaissance
Series: Adam and Eve
Genre: religious painting
Technique: oil
Material: wood
Dimensions: 47 x 35 cm
Gallery: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany—WIKI

Lyell insisted that changes in the earth’s formation must be accounted for only by geological events similar to those with which men were familiar, which entailed an increase in the estimated age of the earth of many millions of years. There are few more dramatic episodes in the history of thought, not even the acceptance of Darwinism itself, than the change within a few decades from a prevailing view of geological time that could be imaginatively grasped to one that, like astronomical distances, could be comprehended only scientifically and mathematically.

The corresponding debate in biology, however, remained unsettled. Could biology, like geology, dispense with the sudden interventions of Providence, accountable for by no natural law, and explain the formation of species by the ordinary laws of nature? Noah’s Flood was no longer a necessary scientific hypothesis. Could Adam be similarly dispensed with?

—Origin: Italy, 16th century
Author of Origin: Bachiacca
Personage: Adam
Style: Mannerism
Source of entry: via the State Museum Fund from the collection of Countess E. I. Mordvinova, Petrograd, 1923
School: Florence
Theme: The Bible and Christianity—Read More:http://www.arthermitage.org/Painting/Adam-and-Eve.html


(see link at end)…Lyell was obsessed with the implications of the evolutionary theory of J.B. Lamarck. In Lyell’s view, if Lamarck was right then religion was a fable, Man was just a better beast, and the moral fabric of society would crumble to dust. A concerted refutation of Lamarck’s theories of progress and evolution became a central part of the Principles. However, by devoting such extensive treatment to Lamarck, Lyell paradoxically made Lamarck’s views better known in the English-speaking world than they ever had been. (Lamarck’s evolutionary work was not translated into English until 1914.) For example, the oft heard remark that Lamarck believed that a giraffe’s neck was long because each generation stretched its neck to reach higher branches and passed on its stretched neck to its offspring is a mocking example from Lyell, not from Lamarck himself.

Lyell’s methods and style greatly influenced a number of important men of science in Victorian Britain, perhaps most famously the young Charles Darwin on the voyage of the Beagle. Read More:http://www.victorianweb.org/science/lyell.html

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Art History/Antiquity/Anthropology, Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>