Saturday, September 29, 2007
Denouncing the Sacerdotal
It has been a while since I've had a mystery guest. This man was a soldier, who fought in the Crimean War and the Indian Mutiny, until he gave up soldiering for biology and geology. He eventually became a member of the Royal Society and a university lecturer and professor in New Zealand. Darwin himself commented on how our guest was one of the few people who realized and accepted that evolution cannot be directly proved and, instead, must be demonstrated through the ability of the theory to group and explain diverse phenomena.
David L. Hull, in his book, Darwin and His Critics: The Reception of Darwin's Theory of Evolution by the Scientific Community, points out that our guest's review of the Origin was notable for the way he attacked those who criticized Darwin's work on religious grounds, particularly taking on Adam Sedgwick. The following is from that review. It has all too much relevancy for today:
Time was, and not so long since, either, when fossils were enigmas even to the learned; when thoughtful and sapient men discussed with heat of temper and with angry tones whether such organic remains of past creations embedded in the soil were really shells, and bones, and plants, or whether they were plastic forms modelled in the dark recesses of the ground. Even now a-days some literary adventurers and crack-brained sages -- and we are sorry to say, some men too, of better note but mistaken views -- now and then attempt to palm off this long ago exploded whim under a specious guise upon an intelligent world. The danger from such productions is small, and few indeed of those worth caring for would think a fossil bone or shell aught else than the treasured fragment of some ancient living being.Now, who might that describe?
More dangerous, however, are the wilful perverters who argue with a specious show of knowledge; and such detractors Darwin's theory, like every other, is sure to bring forward against itself. "Species have been constant," says one, "ever since they first existed; change the conditions, and the old species would disappear. New species would come in and flourish. But how? by what causation? By creation. What is meant by creation? The operation of a power quite beyond the power of a pigeon fancier, a cross-breeder, or a hybridizer, in which one can believe by the legitimate conclusion of sound reason drawn from the laws and harmonies of nature, and, believing, can have no difficulty in the repetition of new species."
Dickens, in one of his novel, very shrewdly remarks that the advice given to street-boys about to fight "to go in and win" is very excellent if they only knew how to follow it; and when one naturally asks how new species which geology shows us appearing from time to time first began, the answer, by creation is as easy to give and about as useless as the advice offered to the street-boys. It is, after all, a mere assertion, an evasion of the question, a cloak for ignorance.
Labels: Hull: Darwin's Critics