Glenn Branch's picture

One More Moore

Andrew C. Moore

What is it with the surname Moore? It’s common, of course: the eighteenth most common surname in the United States according to the census results for 2000. Even so, the creationism/evolution controversy seems to attract more than its share of Moores: James Moore, the author (with Adrian Desmond) of Darwin (1991) and Darwin’s Sacred Cause (2009); John A. Moore, the author of Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology (1999); Randy Moore, the author (with Mark Decker and Sehoya Cotner) of No Prospect of an End: Chronology of the Evolution-Creationism Controversy (2009); Robert A. Moore, who wrote “The Impossible Voyage of Noah’s Ark”; and—batting for the other team—John N. Moore, the author (with Harold Slusher) of the creationist textbook Biology: A Search for Order in Complexity (1977).

But wait, there’s Moore: Andrew C. Moore (above). I know about him now thanks to William D. Anderson Jr., a biologist at the College of Charleston. After he read my posts on the views of Woodrow Wilson and his uncle James Woodrow on evolution (part 1, part 2), Anderson wrote to ask whether I had seen a paper he published a dozen years ago—“Andrew C. Moore’s ‘Evolution Once More’: The Evolution–Creationism Controversy from an Early 1920s Perspective,” Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History 2002;22:1–35—which, he said, contained considerable information on Woodrow. I hadn’t, and Anderson was kind enough to mail me a copy. As promised, there were about three pages about Woodrow, including a portrait that I hadn’t seen in my research and interesting details unknown to me—I hadn’t known, for example, that the poet Sidney Lanier was a student of Woodrow, let alone his favorite student.

Why mention Woodrow in a paper about Andrew C. Moore? Well, the main point of the paper, Anderson explained, was to present and comment on “an unpublished manuscript on the evolution–creationism controversy written by Andrew Charles Moore (1866–1928), a little-known biology professor at the University [of South Carolina]”; in order to “place Moore’s composition in the context of the intellectual history of South Carolina, I present commentaries on Moore and on two of his predecessors in Columbia, Thomas Cooper (1759–1839) and James Woodrow (1828–1907).” Cooper, he relates, “proclaimed that the Mosaic version of the creation of the Earth was incorrect…scoffed at the Noachian Flood, and authoritatively asserted that it was impossible for the Earth to have been created in six days.” For his trouble, he was investigated by legislative and educational authorities: although exonerated, he was exhausted by the ordeal.

As for Moore, he never encountered the sort of resistance to science encountered by Cooper or Woodrow, in part because he was mindful of their experiences. Anderson quotes his 1909 advice to a visiting lecturer about commenting on evolution: “Though we have made progress…toward evolution since Dr. Woodrow’s time…we have hardly reached the point where we could make the subject too prominent.” But in 1923, Moore gave a talk, “Evolution Once More,” to the Kosmos Club, which Anderson describes as a “town-and-gown organization in Columbia.” Moore might have felt less apprehensive about airing his views to the club, “certainly a group more sophisticated and open to unconventional views than the general public.” Anderson located a draft of the manuscript in the South Caroliniana Library at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, and the full (lightly edited) text is contained in his paper.

“Moore’s analytical examination of the assertions made by the antievolutionists is as germane today as the day it was written,” Anderson writes. That might seem like a stretch, but consider, for example:

The author seeks to discredit the theory of evolution by quoting multitudes of isolated, unconnected statements selected from the writings of a large number of scientists whereby he shows inconsistencies and points out that where there is no agreement among the doctors, there can be no true diagnosis…he mistakes recent criticisms of Darwin’s views on the origin of the species as criticism of evolution, while, as a matter of fact, the critics of Darwin are as thoroughgoing evolutionists as ever Darwin was. The debate among modern evolutionists is not over the fact of evolution, but over its causes, its methods[,] and its course.

This isn’t a criticism of Jonathan Wells’s Icons of Evolution (2000) or even Duane Gish’s Evolution: The Fossils Say No! (1973), although it might as well be; rather, it’s Moore’s criticism of Alexander Patterson’s The Other Side of Evolution (1903).

Compared to the Smithsonian Institution’s statement on evolution from 1925, which really doesn’t stand the test of time very well, Moore’s account of evolution and the failings of creationism is remarkably applicable today. Part of it is remarkably forward-looking as well. Here is Moore speaking to a lay audience in 1923—before the advent of the Modern Synthesis—emphasizing the importance of natural selection: “Bryan next makes the statement that natural selection is being increasingly discarded by scientists. In this he displays lamentable ignorance of the facts...No, natural selection is not being discarded, it is a fact, a law of life.” Anderson observes that Moore’s emphasis of natural selection’s importance is all the more impressive since his “graduate training and research interests were more in the sphere of the geneticist than in that of the naturalist,” although he jibs slightly at Moore’s choice of the word “fact” to describe it.

In late July 1925, after the Scopes trial was completed, Moore wrote to his wife, “I fear the fundamentalist agitation has gone too far and harm will be done. Mr. Bryan in his zeal has set going forces that he knew not of and that I fear will do incalculable harm…it is no less than criminal for a man to denounce the findings of science when he knows nothing about it & glories in his ignorance.” It’s a shame that Moore, who was clearly capable of delivering effective and compelling challenges to the fundamentalist agitation against the teaching of evolution, limited his efforts to his teaching and to the friendly audience at the Kosmos Club. Gray’s line about “Some mute inglorious Milton” springs to mind. Kudos to Anderson, though, for rescuing “Evolution Once More” from archival obscurity! The issue of Bulletin of the Alabama Museum of Natural History containing his paper is apparently still available from the museum, for $20.