Darwin: The Mouthpiece of Satan

I don’t normally put book comments on this blog, trying to keep it focused more on politics and international activities.  In this case, however, Darwin has been made into a political issue, 150 years after his theory of survival of the fittest was propounded, by those for whom 150 years ago is still far in the future.

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Now here’s a book I have to read — Rebecca Stott’s new book about Darwin, and it’s not the first,  Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution.  I’d seen the Hugh Raffles review earlier in the summer and said, ‘remember this,’ and of course lost track of it in the magnetic pull of other books I’ve been reading.  Today’s interview with her, by John Williams, put it front and center again.

Q: The very first sentence of your book is: “I grew up in a creationist household.” How much did that drive your interest in Darwin?

A. Darwin was described as the mouthpiece of Satan in the fundamentalist Christian community in which I was raised. His ideas were censored, and of course censorship can act as a kind of provocation to curiosity. The school library had a good encyclopedia with several pages on Darwin. I can’t say I understood much of his ideas back then, but I understood enough to be mute with fascination. It was extraordinarily different from the biblical version of how things had come to be — but no less strange.

This particular book is about Darwin’s predecessors in the search to understand the accumulating evidence in fossils and in animal breeding, that living creatures changed through time.  Darwin was at the end of a long line of the earlier ‘gentlemen scientists’ who knew something remarkable was going on and wanted an explanation for it.  Darwin’s enormous contribution was not that there was change, but that changes in environment — through location change, climate change, soil change, other species change– altered the conditions of survival, and that those species which adapted, survived. and that adaptation over millennia, had both changed utterly everything in life, and remarkably, kept much the same — there were clear markers of common ancestry between fish and man.  As Stott says, it leaves one “mute with fascination.”

Darwin’s acknowledgement of the shoulders upon which he stood was a little tardy, and was changed in each successive edition; it is this which Darwin’s Ghosts details, and so a social-political history more than a history of science.  Promising interest, nonetheless.

I might personally be more interested in her 2004 Darwin and the Barnacle: The Story of One Tiny Creature and History’s Most Spectacular Scientific Breakthrough. It will be more about the history and methods of science and, as one blurb promises, a detective story to boot.

Darwin and the Barnacle at Powell's

As I’ve blogged before, Fundies can quote chapter and verse of their belief-stories, why can’t we realists have a good grasp of our foundational knowledge?

[cross posted at AllInOneBoat.org]

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