Thursday, July 23, 2009


False Spring

Michael Barton has a very interesting post at his excellent blog, The Dispersal of Darwin about an instance of multiple quote mining of John Tyndall, the 19th century Irish physicist and prominent supporter of evolution and Darwin. In the usual fashion, a scientist is made to look like he opposes evolution when, in fact, the opposite is true. As John Wilkins says: "It seems that the dishonesty is unchanging."

What also is of interest is another example of a prediction of the imminent demise of "Darwinism." This one wasn't in Glenn Morton's collection so I passed it along to him. It involves a lecture, at the meeting house of the Society of Friends in New York on November 24, 1884, given by one Thomas Kimber, apparently an author of several works on the history and theology of Quakers. The anonymous article in the New York Times, “Turn in the Tide of Thought: Thomas Kimber’s Lecture on Science in Relation to Divine Truths,” a pdf copy of which can be found here, describes Kimber as saying:

[T]he lecturer spoke of evolution's failure as a strong theory and the downfall of Darwinism. When the theory came out it was seized upon with avidity, and most of the great scholars examined it and accepted it. Now they had given it up.
Not only is dishonesty unchanging, but hope against hope springs eternal.


Is that actually a valid candidate for Morton's list? In the late 19th and early 20th century most biologists did abandon the theory of evolution by natural selection in favor of various alternatives, including a revival of orthogenesis and (after the turn of the century and the re-discovery of Mendel) mutationism (saltationism). Darwin's hypothesis of common descent was widely accepted in more or less its original OoS form by the late 19th century, but not the mechanism Darwin invoked. It appears to me that Kimber's description was a reasonably accurate statement at the time it was made. (See here for a recent overview.)
Yes, I thought of that too. There are a couple of reasons that I don't think Kimber was just noting the scientific dispute over the cause of evolution. First of all, it is doubtful that "most of the great scholars examined [natural selection] and accepted it," as opposed to Darwin's evidence for common descent.

More important are such clues as the title of Kimber's lecture, “Turn in the Tide of Recent Thought and Expression in Regard to the Discoveries of Science and the Truths of Divine Revelation." Kimber went on to quote (or possibly quote mine) a "Prof. Virchow," as well as Tyndall himself, to the effect that evolution, not NS, was questionable. While we, knowledgeable about the history, may take the nuanced position, it seems clear to me that Kimber was confusing the difference between the evidence for evolution and its mechanisms, deliberately or not, much as modern creationists do.
Gee. Ya think I should have read Kimber's paper? :)
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