06.16.2015

Robert E. Lee

In my very first post for the Science League of America—“Did Robert E. Lee Come from an Ape?”—I indulged my avocational interest in the American Civil War by discussing a scene in the 1993 film Gettysburg and the 1974 novel The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, on which the film was based. In the novel, the Confederate general James Longstreet tells a visiting British officer about a previous conversation: “Well, we were talking on that. Finally agreed that Darwin was probably right. Then one fella said, with great dignity he said, ‘Well, maybe you are come from an ape, and maybe I am come from an ape but General Lee, he didn’t come from no ape’” (emphasis in original). In the film, the words are put in the mouth of George Pickett (he of the famous bloody charge), and he’s expressing his own opinion, not that of a third party, but the joke is basically the same.

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06.12.2015

The Miracle of Theism cover

In part 1, I returned to David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779) to discuss a passage in which the character Cleanthes says, “All these various machines, and even their most minute parts, are adjusted to each other with an accuracy which ravishes into admiration all men who have ever contemplated them,” in part because I wanted to identify what may be a previously unnoticed influence on the passage, from Ralph Cudworth’s A Treatise concerning Eternal and Immutable Morality (1731).

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06.04.2015

Ralph Cudworth (via Wikimedia Commons)

A few months ago, I devoted a two-part post (part 1; part 2) to a particular argument and counterargument concerning the age of the world in David Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (1779). I’m returning to the Dialogues now to discuss a different passage, with two aims in mind. I want to identify, first, what may be a previously unnoticed influence on the passage, and second, what may be a previously unnoticed—and certainly is a fairly amusing—typographical error quoting the passage.

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05.27.2015

Arrival of the Fittest cover

The phrase “arrival of the fittest” is seen and heard from time to time, often contraposed with the phrase “survival of the fittest” (due to Herbert Spencer, but adopted by Darwin in the fifth and sixth editions of the Origin). Typically it is used in making the claim that natural selection cannot by itself account for evolution because selection must have variation upon which to act. Thus natural selection (it is claimed) explains the survival but not the arrival of the fittest. The rhyme between “arrival” and “survival” is catchy, and it’s not surprising that Google Scholar lists almost six hundred articles containing the phrase “arrival of the fittest,” with eighteen articles containing it in their title. There are also at least three books with the phrase in their title, of which the most recent is Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle (2014), by Andreas Wagner.

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05.21.2015

H. H. Newman, Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives

“Reluctant as he may be to admit it, honesty compels the evolutionist to admit that there is no absolute proof of organic evolution” (emphasis in original). That’s a passage from H. H. Newman’s essay “Is Organic Evolution an Established Principle?” published as chapter 4 in his 1921 collection Readings in Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics.

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05.12.2015

Frederick Bridge, via Wikimedia Commons

I don’t want to be morbid, so blame Dan Coleman, who, commenting on part 1 of “Darwin’s Pallbearers,” asked, “Will you also include the anthem that was specially commissioned and written for his funeral?” Well, okay.

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Downtown Columbus, Ohio. Photograph by  Derek Jensen (Tysto), via Wikimedia Commons.

A few times while reading about the history of the creationism/evolution controversy, I’ve noticed references to a policy adopted by the Columbus, Ohio, board of education in 1971 that provided for the teaching of creationism along with evolution. But there are rarely any details. In The Evolution Controversy in America (1994), for example, George E. Webb writes, “The board of education in Columbus, Ohio, passed a resolution in 1971 encouraging teachers to present special creation along with evolution,” and that’s all. As someone who was enrolled in Columbus, Ohio, public schools from kindergarten to high school, I find that irritating. As fate would have it, however, a copy of the resolution surfaced in NCSE’s archives recently, and a kindly colleague placed it on my desk.

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04.14.2015

Charles Darwin, 1855

Every year, in the last two weeks of January and the first two weeks of February, I have a busy time of it, reminding people about Darwin Day. As I wrote in 2012 (and repeated here in 2014), “Across the country and around the world, at colleges and universities, schools and libraries, museums and churches, people assemble around February 12 to commemorate the life and work of the British naturalist. But it’s not just about Darwin: it’s about engaging in—and enjoying—public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education.” There’s always a marvelous assortment of innovative ways of celebrating the occasion on display, but I was struck by the announcement from the Humanist Society of Redding, California, which mentioned: “This year’s featured entertainment will be a live production of ‘Charles Darwin, Vampire Slayer.’”

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