In his pamphlet “Monkeyshines: Fakes, Fables, Facts Concerning Evolution” (1926), the creationist Harry Rimmer claims that he studied “under men who were strong believers in the theory of monkey ancestry of man,” yet “it is quite common today to meet folks who will say that the evolutionists never claimed that man was descended from the monkey family at all.” To refute these folks, as I explained in part 1, he cites “a noted authority, W. P. Barbellion,” who in fact is W. N. P. (for Wilhelm Nero Pilate) Barbellion, born Bruce Frederick Cummings (1889–1919), famous for his authorship of a diary he kept from the age of thirteen, eventually published as The Journal of a Disappointed Man (1919). What he was disappointed by was the fact that his early death loomed.
Not so long ago, when I was writing about the original Science League of America’s essay contest in 1925, I digressed in order to discuss a lawsuit launched in 1940 by William Floyd, the freethought writer who proposed the topic of the contest (“Why Evolution Should Be Taught in Our Schools Instead of the Book of Genesis”) and provided a prize of $50 for the best essay. The creationist Harry Rimmer, I explained, had offered first $100, and later $1,000, to anyone who could demonstrate a scientific error in the Bible. Floyd tried to claim the prize, citing five or fifty-one (accounts vary) such errors, but the case was dismissed on the grounds that Floyd had failed to prove that the advertisement with the challenge to which he responded was placed or approved by Rimmer.
One of the common objections to evolution goes something like this: “If evolution is true, then every living thing got here by random chance. But I’m too awesome (or this tree is too awesome, or this animal is too awesome, or this bacterial flagellum is too awesome, etc.) to have been brought about by random chance. Ergo, evolution isn’t true. So there.” Awesomeness is as awesomeness does, I suppose, but the crux of the argument—that evolution is random—is the topic of today’s post.
Misconception: Evolution is random.
Correction: Evolution is neither entirely random nor entirely non-random.
Last week on Fossil Friday, I gave you a nearly full skull! Surely you could figure this one out in no time. It was a Borealosuchus sternbergii, an early crocodile.
From the Prehistoric Wildlife site:
This week’s Fossil Friday features the skull of an animal that is a little scary to me—let’s just say I wouldn’t want to come face to face with this fellow. According to my sources, this species was one of the lucky few to survive the K-T extinction.
What was I maundering about? Oh yes, the Science League of America’s essay contest in 1925, on the evergreen topic, “Why Evolution Should Be Taught in Our Schools Instead of the Book of Genesis,” with a top prize of $50. In part 1, I discussed the contest, its funder the freethought writer William Floyd (who, fifteen years later, attempted to collect $1,000 from the creationist Harry Rimmer for finding scientific errors in the Bible), its judges (including Miriam Allen deFord, the third wife of the Science League of America’s founder Maynard Shipley), and the three winning entries. A fourth entry, which cleverly appealed to the precedent of Jesus’s rejection of tradition to argue for the rejection of the Genesis account, taken literally, in favor of evolution, was published in Shipley’s The War on Modern Science (1927)—but not because it won. Why, then?
In addition to running the Creation Museum in Kentucky, Ken Ham writes a blog. I regularly read this blog because it provides me with a joyful cornucopia of mirth as well as unintentional revelations about how creationists think. Reading it is like eavesdropping on a conversation from an alternate universe.
You remember the Science League of America, don’t you? Founded by the polymath Maynard Shipley (shown here) in 1924, it fought antievolution legislation, helped teachers discharged for teaching evolution, argued for evolution in articles and letters to the editor in magazines and newspapers, lectured and organized meetings all over the country, and basically served as “a vast clearing-house and information bureau” with respect to the teaching of evolution—the NCSE of its day, really, which is part of the reason that NCSE’s blog is named in its honor. Additionally, in 1925, the Science League of America conducted a prize contest on the evergreen topic, “Why Evolution Should Be Taught in Our Schools Instead of the Book of Genesis.” And thereby hangs a tale, which Shipley (partly) tells in The War on Modern Science (1927).
Quick! What’s the definition of “evolution”? Don’t think, just answer! Got it? Okay. Did you say, “change over time”? I bet that most of you did. It’s the classic, benign definition. But the problem is that it can feed into a classic, not-so-benign, misconception. Which one? This one:
Misconception: Individuals evolve over their lifetimes.