Sunday, August 05, 2007


Creationism Conundrum

Well, there's been no takers on my last mystery guest (time for a clue: he was an embryologist -- and if you can't get it now you need to brush up on your history of science). This one also is tough and, I think, un-Googleable, so I'll give a hint up front. He supervised the first translation of the Origin into a major European language, although he wasn't Darwin's first choice. Darwin didn't like the translation and arranged for another one later.

[P]roof or disproof is not immediately available. It is impossible to prove either that varieties, in the commonly accepted sense of the word, are limited and do not transgress certain boundaries or that they are unlimited. Since the latter is the positive formulation, proof of a sufficiently conclusive kind can be provided only for it, and to do that a century would have to be devoted to a series of systematic experiments. In the meantime, however, natural scientists will align themselves into two camps -- the believers and the non-believers. The author seems to have the same doubts over unlimited variability as he has over the previously mentioned assertion about the number of basic types. But there are really only two possibilities. Either his theory is false (and cannot be extended beyond the field of common varieties) or else it is true. If it is true, then variability is unlimited, which means that the organic world was not created, which means that the natural force through which the organic world originated has been found and the assumption of Creation is unnecessary. If there are 10, 5, 3 or even 2 different prototypes of plants and animals, then Creation is necessary. Otherwise, the only origin for the organic world would have to be something like Priestley's green matter, a substance which is not representative of any organic species. Since the author has already accepted so many bold ideas, why does he draw the line at this one? ... If Priestley's or some such organic matter could be generated from inorganic matter and if a faultless proof could be provided to show that organic species can arise in the manner suggested by Darwin, then his theory would receive the strongest possible support in the shortest possible time. But as long as neither possibility is confirmed, we still need a creative force. It matters little to our exposition or to science in general whether the Personal Creator placed 200,000 or 10 species of plants and animals on the earth or whether man alone is specially created.

Incidently, "Priestley's green matter" refers to Joseph Priestley, who had a hand in the discovery of oxygen but attempted to interpret it in the context of the phlogiston theory. As David Hull describes the mystery guest's point:

Priestley discovered that the green substance often found in ponds and stagnant water restored "vitiated" air and made it suitable again for respiration and combustion. Priestley was a gross materialist, going so far as to propose a materialist theory of psychology. Accord to Priestley, green matter was neither of an animal nor of a vegetable nature but was a thing sui generis.


Heinrich Georg Bronn
Very good!

See how that major in the history of science comes in handy! ;-)
See how that major in the history of science comes in handy! ;-)

So does Google 8-)
So does seeking the information on Darwin Online:
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