darwin: doubting the fixity of species

…The folklore of scientific invention and discovery has left no striking tale of the revelation to Darwin of the clue of the origin of species, like Newton’s apple, Stephenson’s kettle lid, or Galileo dropping weights from the leaning tower of Pisa. It was too gradual and subtle a process for that. Darwin had begun the voyage of the Beagle believing, like most people, in the fixity of species. During the voyage, and while writing up his notes on it, he underwent two conversions.

—A variety of artists active in Rubens’ immediate circle specialized in landscapes, still-lifes or animal paintings and were called on from time to time to add those elements to larger compositions by other painters. Best-known among these figures is Frans Snyders. His image of a Greyhound Catching a Young Wild Boar is a characteristic example of the dramatic animal paintings that were so successful in the 17th century.—Read More:http://www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/s/snyders/2/wildboar.html

Darwin became converted to Charles Lyell’s interpretation of geology, and he began to doubt the fixity of species. The latter, however, was to remain for years a secret confided only to a chosen few, as Darwin wrestled with objections, accumulated evidence, and prepared his friends for the revelation that- as he wrote Joseph Hooker in 1844:

I have read heaps of agricultural & horticultural books, & have never ceased collecting facts— At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense of a “tendency to progression” “adaptations from the slow willing of animals” &c,—but the conclusions I am led to are not widely different from his—though the means of change are wholly so— I think I have found out (here’s presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends.— You will now groan, & think to yourself ‘on what a man have I been wasting my time in writing to.’… ( to be continued)…

—Original Painter: Roelandt Jacobszoon Savery—Image:http://www.artoyster.com/roelandt-jacobszoon-savery-paintings_landscape-with-wild-animals_an62517.html


(see link at end)…Fate remains the enigma. Some chance event at the beginning of our lives keys in its plot. That this is so is the understanding of both folklore and the highest fiction. Dick Whittington’s cat, the stone embedded in a snowball and thrown in random mischief, the kite that caught on fire. There is a scene in Charles Darwin, John Bowlby’s abundantly detailed biography,  in which we see Darwin relaxing on a sofa at Down House. He is reading George Eliot. Around him are his meticulously catalogued library, his notebooks, microscope, stacks of scientific journals. He is the preeminent scientist of his century and of ours. The great theory which he began to suspect as a young naturalist on the long voyage of The Beagle (1832-1836) was one in which chance opened possibility after possibility over millions of years, so that the offspring of creatures now known only by fossils worked out a genetic fate. The bear, the wolf, and the dog are children of the same mother. Gratuitous modifications nudged each other toward divergent fates. George Eliot wrote about such things as they modified human lives in a few years; Darwin, as all of creation is modified over eons….

—To be sure, skepticism about the literal truth of the Bible did not begin with Charles Darwin. Spinoza in the middle of the 17th century had written a treatise, published anonymously, in which he had applied the cannons of critical reason to examine the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity. The Huguenot Pierre Bayle later carried this project forward, and soon many intelligent Europeans came to believe much of the Bible simply could not be taken literally—a healthy skepticism that became the hallmark of the European Enlightenment.—Read More:http://www.american.com/archive/2009/february-2009/why-we-still-argue-about-darwin-and-why-we-should/ image:http://latitudes.nu/raden-saleh-the-beginning-of-modern-indonesian-painting/

Darwin and his theory stand parallel to Marx and his. Their energies have radiated from the nineteenth century with something like the force of religious movements. They are theories with embattled histories. (Marx and Engels saw in Darwin a justification for their materialism, but a copy of Das Kapital, inscribed to Darwin by Marx, still sits in Darwin’s library, its pages uncut.)…

…And therefore sacred. Several students of Darwinian discourse have noted that Darwin, Spinoza-like and probably unintentionally, evolved a faith in the natural forces he found the mechanics of. In successive editions of the Origin, Nature acquires a capital and a gender (female). The Origin and the Descent are an Old Testament and a New. The structure of ideas easily wears a new mask while keeping its architecture unassailable….Read More:http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/john-bowlby-life-chance-and-charles-darwin-3487

—When Darwin proposed that human beings descended from an ancestor that we shared with apes and monkeys, he was playing the role of Copernicus. To accept Darwin’s new truth required a rejection of an enormous number of other hitherto established “truths” in a wide range of different fields. It was to gain one piece of knowledge a

e cost of jettisoning virtually everything else we thought we knew—hardly anyone’s idea of a fair exchange. No wonder Darwin, like Copernicus, faced such stiff resistance.—Read More:http://www.american.com/archive/2009/february-2009/why-we-still-argue-about-darwin-and-why-we-should/ image:http://130stephaniesexton.blogspot.ca/2011_02_01_archive.html


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