I’ve been discussing Thomas Henry Huxley’s attitude toward and use of William Paley’s Natural Theology (1803). So far, I’ve noted (in part 1 and part 2) that Huxley apparently came to Paley earlier, and stayed with him longer, than Darwin; that in the 1880s Huxley repeatedly invoked a passage from the twenty-third chapter of Natural Theology as endorsing the idea that what he calls “the wider teleology” is compatible with evolution because (as I put it) the fact of design, for Paley, isn’t committed to any particular account of how the design is effected; and that Huxley even went so far as to claim that Paley thereby “proleptically [i.e., in advance] accepted the modern doctrine of Evolution.” Before I say a little about the last of these claims, I want to take a moment to ask: why Paley? Why did Huxley (above) choose Paley (of all people) to make the point?
Is our children learning science?
If those children are being taught about climate from Florida’s 5th grade science textbook from publisher Scott Foresman (Pearson), then those children are learning from a text so riddled with glaring and obvious errors that it’s hard to know how such a book could see the light of day, much less be adopted by Florida public schools.
A basic understanding of evolution lets us know that we are all descended, with modifications, from a common ancestor. If we trace our lineage back far enough we will find our kinship with fish over 400 million years ago (mya). Moving forward in time from our formerly fishy selves, we find amphibian relatives (~350mya) and reptilian relatives (~300mya).
I woke up last Thursday morning to an NPR report on a new human fossil find. I’m not in any way a morning person, so not a lot of detail made its way into my sleepy head, but I heard enough to know one thing: I’d be writing a blog on this…after coffee.
I don’t always set out to trick you, honest. But this week, I totally did. When I took this photo I was all pleased with myself, and told my friend Jessica (the curator of the MCZ’s invertebrate collection) that it’d trick everyone. I was hoping that a lot of you would think that this critter was some kind of crinoid. And while I did get a fair share of crinoid responses, Dan Coleman was way too quick to see through the ruse. No one got genus species, but I think Dan comes closest to the win this week.
Like my last fossil, a common everyday trilobite, this specimen came from the Hunsrueck slate in Germany. You can see the fool’s-gold color typical of pyritization a bit better here. But what is it? I’ve told you the locality (and therefore the age), so I’m not going to feel bad that there is no sense of scale here.
Thomas Henry Huxley’s admiration of William Paley’s Natural Theology (1802) is relatively obscure, at least in comparison to that of Charles Darwin (who wrote to a friend just before the Origin was published, “I do not think I hardly ever admired a book more than Paley’s Natural Theology. I could almost formerly have said it by heart.—”). Yet Huxley’s admiration seems to have started earlier and continued later. In part 1, I quoted passages from Huxley (above) and his sometime student Henry Fairfield Osborn that together suggested that Huxley was a fan of Paley’s when he was a boy (regarding Natural Theology as a Sabbath treat) and when he was a middle-aged scientist at the height of his powers (keeping the book at his bedside). But Huxley invokes Paley for a specific purpose: to defuse the complaint that Darwin’s views “abolish Teleology.”
You know how they used to peddle orange juice by saying, “It isn’t just for breakfast any more?” That’s how I feel about informal science education. No, silly: not that it isn’t just for breakfast any more. That it isn’t just for kids any more. (Unlike Trix, silly rabbit, which are just for kids.)
Last Friday we took a look at a nicely preserved fossil from the Pennsylvanian. Since this is Answer Monday, I will drop the cagey act and tell you now that it is clearly a plant. Here you can see the fossil with scale.