04.03.2015

Cover of Byron Nelson's "After Its Kind"

Do I tire of skimming through creationist books from the Scopes era? I do not. And to prove it, I’ve been perusing “After Its Kind”: The First and Last Word on Evolution (1927), by Byron C. Nelson. According to his grandson Paul Nelson, who edited a reprint volume of his writings in a series entitled Creationism in Twentieth Century America, Nelson was born in 1893 and attended George Washington University and the University of Wisconsin before serving in the Army (after having attempted to evade the draft) during the First World War. After the war, he trained as a minister, receiving a B.D. from the Luther Theological Seminary in 1922 and a Th.M. from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1926. “After Its Kind” was based on his Th.M. thesis; his grandson describes it as “a critique of theories of biological evolution and a defense of the biblical account of creation.”

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Ronald L. Numbers

Strange to say, but it wasn’t until May 2012, when he spoke at a conference marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of Edwards v. Aguillard that the Stanford Constitutional Law Center and NCSE organized, that I met Ron Numbers in person for the first time.

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Eugenie Clark, via Wikimedia CommonsThe recent death of Eugenie Clark, the famous ichthyologist, was sad news, though not unexpected. After a very full and productive life, she died at 92. Her passing reminded me of an article I wrote back in 2011 that I thought I might share with you on the Science League of America. Read on.


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02.12.2015

Title page of On Growth and Form. Via Wikimedia Commons.

I was asked to give a Darwin Day talk in Manteca, California, on February 7, and with my habitual foresightedness I began to draft the talk on the afternoon of February 6. Still, since I was covering familiar territory—under the title “Ninety Years after Scopes”—it wasn’t especially difficult to write the talk. And to make matters a little easier for myself, I began with two famous lines about evolution: Daniel Dennett’s “If I were to give an award for the single best idea anyone has ever had, I’d give it to Darwin,” from his Darwin’s Dangerous Idea (1995), and Theodosius Dobzhansky’s “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution,” from his famous essay of the same name in The American Biology Teacher (1973). (After quoting the former line, I added, “I was once inclined to agree with Dennett. Then Trader Joe’s started selling sweet sriracha uncured bacon jerky.” At least two people in the audience made a point of writing it down.)

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Groundhog Day poster (1993)On this Groundhog Day, I found myself thinking about the Harold Ramis/Bill Murray classic film of the same name, and the dangerous way that climate change policy has been stuck in a loop.

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01.29.2015

The title page of Vernon Kellogg's Headquarters Nights

When I was writing not so long ago about the enigmatic figure of the Gentleman with a Duster—whose animadversions on Darwinism in the preface to the American edition of The Glass of Fashion (1921) were invoked by Arthur I. Brown and William Jennings Bryan—I quoted the Gentleman as complaining that Darwinism “justifies Prussianism at the cannon, and Bolshevism at the prison-door.”

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"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." —John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

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01.15.2015

Huxley in a dunce cap“How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” was Thomas Henry Huxley’s reflection on reading Darwin’s Origin of Species. What might elicit such a reaction from a contemporary biologist? Today the question is answered by David P. Mindell.

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