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February 12: Quotes on Darwin’s birthday


And God created Darwin

♦ “. . . God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.
“And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
“And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.
“. . . And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so.
“And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image,” (Genesis 1: 20-26)

♦ ” . . . individuals originally belonging to one species become at length transformed into a new species distinct from the first . . . the environment affects the shape and organisation of animals . . .” [but] “it does not work any direct modification whatever in their shape and organisation . . . It is the needs and uses of the parts, which have even given birth to them when they did not exist.” (Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, Philosophie Zoologique, 1809)

 “. . . each organism which the Creator educed was stamped with an indelible specific character, which made it what it was, and distinguished it from everything else, however near or like. I assume that such character has been, and is, indelible and immutable; that the characters which distinguish species from species now, were as definite at the first instant of their creation as now, and are as distinct now as they were then. If any choose to maintain, as many do, that species were gradually brought to their present maturity from humbler forms,–whether by the force of appetency in individuals, or by progressive development in generations – he is welcome to his hypothesis, but I have nothing to do with it. (Philip Henry Gosse, Omphalos – an attempt to untie the geological knot, 1857)

♦ “What rational man, who knows even a little of geology, will not be tempted to say, ‘If Scripture can only be vindicated by such an outrage to common sense and fact, then I will give up Scripture, and stand by common sense’?” (Rev Charles Kingsley, on reading Omphalos)

♦ “Every species has come into existence coincident both in space and time with a pre-existing, closely allied species”, [which] “clearly point[s] to some kind of evolution”. (Alfred Russel Wallace, On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species, 1855)

In mid-July 1837 Darwin started his "B&qu...

In mid-July 1837 Darwin started his “B” notebook on Transmutation of Species, and on page 36 wrote “I think” above his first evolutionary tree. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

♦ “As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in a manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principles of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.” (Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, November 24,1859)

♦ “Isn’t it striking, what clear boundaries there are between natural groups, with no transitional forms?” (T.H. Huxley to Darwin, in the British Museum) “Such is not altogether my view.” (Darwin)

♦ ” . . . the number of intermediate varieties, which have formerly existed on the earth [must] be truly enormous. . . Why then, is not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate links? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain; and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the fossil record.” (Origin of Species, 1st edition – a comment excised from all later editions)

♦ “The sudden appearance of eukarotes in the fossil record, and the absence of any intermediate forms, suggest that they were not the gradual result of genetic mutation but a technical innovation forged by communities of symbiotic bacteria.” (Lynn Margulis)

♦ “The history of life is not a continuum of development, but a record punctuated by brief, sometimes geologically instantaneous, episodes of mass extinction and subsequent diversification.” (Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, Hutchinson Radius, London, 1990, p. 54)

♦ “. . .  in Europe 35,000 years ago, where the archeological record is by far the clearest, what we see is abrupt transition – if transition it be. The skulls and bones of neanderthals, far more robust than the delicate frames of truly modern people, are abruptly replaced by those indistinguishable from our own. And it is not just the bones: the cultural kit bag, the stone implements, changes radically and suddenly as well. No transitions here. Cave art appears, also with no premonitory signs, no early development among the neanderthals.” (Niles Eldredge, Time Frames, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985, p.87) 

♦ “Interspecific competition is an ecological process, an inherently unstable, even intolerable situation which seems to be resolved very quickly — in tens of years, perhaps hundreds. There are two stable resolutions to such internecine, interspecific warfare. One species will soon drive the other out, in which case the pattern of mutual exclusion is maintained; or there will be an accommodation, a subdivision of resources that will allow members of both species to live in proximity, if not cheek by jowl. . .” (Time Frames, p. 83)

♦ “. . . it took three billion years to get from prokaryotes to eukaryotes, as against less than half a billion to form life itself. That doesn’t seem to make sense.” (Gordon Rattray Taylor, The Great Evolution Mystery, Harper & Row, New York, 1983)

♦ “Paleontologists should recognize that much of their thought is conditioned by a peculiar perspective that they must bring to the study of life: they must look down from its present complexity and diversity into the past; their view must be retrospective. From this vantage point, it is very difficult to view evolution as anything but an easy and inevitable result of mere existence, as something that unfolds in a natural and orderly fashion. Yet we urge a different view. The norm for a species or, by extension, a community is stability. Speciation is a rare and difficult event that punctuates a system in homeostatic equilibrium. That so uncommon an event should have produced such a wondrous array of living and fossil forms can only give strength to an old idea: paleontology deals with a phenomenon that belongs to it alone among the evolutionary sciences and that enlightens all its conclusions – time.” (Time Frames, p.223)

♦ “The probability of dust carried by the wind reproducing Dürer’s Melancolia is less infinitesmal than the probability of copy errors in the DNA molecule leading to the formation of the eye.” (Professor P.P. Grasse, Evolution of Living Creatures, Academic Press, London, 1977)

♦ “To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances . . . could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” (Charles Darwin, Origin of Species, chapter VI, “Difficulties”, p. 136 in the Thinker’s Library Edition, Watts, London, 1929)

♦ “Natural selection cannot possibly produce any modification in a species exclusively for the good of another species, though throughout nature one species incessantly takes advantage of and profits by the structures of others. . . If it could be proved that any part of the structure of any one species had been formed for the exclusive good of another species, it would annihilate my theory, for such could not have been produced through natural selection.” (Charles Darwin, 1859)

♦ “Darwin’s book was misnamed, because it is a book on evolutionary changes in general, and the factors that control them (selection, and so forth), but not a treatise on the origin of species. . . Any pronounced evolutionary change of a group of organisms was to him the origin of a new species”. (Ernst Mayer, Systematics and the Origin of Species,1942) 

♦ “Paleontologists should recognize that much of their thought is conditioned by a peculiar perspective that they must bring to the study of life: they must look down from its present complexity and diversity into the past; their view must be retrospective. From this vantage point, it is very difficult to view evolution as anything but an easy and inevitable result of mere existence, as something that unfolds in a natural and orderly fashion. Yet we urge a different view. The norm for a species or, by extension, a community is stability. Speciation is a rare and difficult event that punctuates a system in homeostatic equilibrium. That so uncommon an event should have produced such a wondrous array of living and fossil forms can only give strength to an old idea: paleontology deals with a phenomenon that belongs to it alone among the evolutionary sciences and that enlightens all its conclusions — time.” (“Punctuated Equilibria — an alternative to phyletic gradualism”, in Models in Paleobiology, ed. T.J.M. Schopf, 1972, qu. Time Frames, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1985, p. 223)

♦ “Darwin, by the way, whom I am just now reading, is quite splendid. There was one aspect of teleology that had not yet been destroyed, but now that has been done. Never before has such a wonderful attempt been made to prove historical development in nature, and certainly never with such success. . ” .(Friedrich Engels, letter to Karl Marx, December 12, 1859)
I accept from the Darwinian theory the theory of evolution, but accept Darwin’s method of proof (struggle for life, natural selection) only as the first, provisional, imperfect expression of a newly discovered fact. . .” (Friedrich Engels, letter to Pjotr Lawrowitsch Lawrow, November 1875)

♦ “. . . it would appear that all nature exists in a state of perpetual improvement by laws impressed on the atoms of matter by the great Cause of Causes; and that the world may still be in its infancy, and continue to improve forever and ever”. (Erasmus Darwin, 1794)

These quotations are from a work in progress, About Religions: Unnatural Selection.

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4 thoughts on “February 12: Quotes on Darwin’s birthday

  1. Dangerously close to strip quotes, or “quote mining,” of Eldredge, Gould, Darwin and Huxley. In your entire column of quotes here, there is not a clear explanation of evolution.

    May I assume you don’t really have a good idea how and why it works?

    Let me suggest a couple of other volumes and authors you should consult. First, check out Jonathan Weiner’s 1995 Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Beak of the Finch, a story of evolution in our time. Great history, clear and expansive review of the science, and a lot of reporting on clear evidence of evolution that remains under-reported and over-denied today.

    Second, get a copy of Neal Shubin’s Our Inner Fish.

    Third, Jerry Coyne’s Why Evolution is True is a good one.

    And fourth, Stephen Jones’s Darwin’s Ghost is a good introduction.

    Good luck in your quest to understand natural selection and other processes of evolution.

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  2. Sorry my post upset you so. I intended no polemic, just a celebration of the great man’s birthday, where he was coming from and responses over the years. Perhaps it was my playful headline, “And God created Darwin” that prompted such an ill-tempered comment. I’m not setting out to explain how natural selection works. As you say, there are plenty of books that do that (though none satisfactorily, in my view). But what does concern me is the tendency to regard every word Darwin wrote to be carved on tablets of stone. He himself developed a continual critique of his findings over the years, a process which continues today. I commend to you the words of the Tenth Century Arab philosopher, Abū ʿAlī al-Ḥasan ibn al-Ḥasan ibn al-Haytham (Alhacen), which stand at the head of my RealityNow blog: “The duty of the man who investigates the writings of scientists, if learning the truth be his goal, is to make himself an enemy of all that he reads, and, applying his mind to the core and margins of its content, attack it from every side.”

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