Archive for June, 2011
In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin used “imaginary illustrations” to develop his case for natural selection: “In order to make it clear how, as I believe, natural selection acts, I must beg permission to give one or two imaginary illustrations.”
The use of imaginary tales can be traced back to Greek mythology. Thales of Miletus (640–545 BC) reasoned that “all things are water,” and that the Earth rests on water and life originates from water. Anaximander (610–546 BC), a student of Miletus, extended his theory by claiming the “life had evolved from moisture”; and that “man developed from fish”—the origin of the mermaid myth. Continue Reading
When the platypus, nicknamed the “watermole,” was first discovered in 1797 by early European settlers near the Hawkesbury River, outside Sydney, it triggered a lasting controversy. The perplexed local governor, Captain John Hunter, sent specimens back to Mother England for study.
The “watermole” was equally mystifying in England. Zoologists George Shaw suggested it was a “freak imposture” sold to gullible seamen by Chinese taxidermists. Suspecting fraud, they tried to pry the “duck’s bill” off of the pelt, leaving marks on the bill that are still visible today at the British Museum in London.
In The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin explains how “external resemblances [of moths]… has been gained for the sake of protection” giving the moth “a better chance of escaping destruction from predaceous birds”… “So that we have an excellent illustration of natural selection.”
Bernard Kettlewell in the early 1950’s was the first to design an experiment to test Darwin’s “excellent example of natural selection” in two types of wooded areas in England—polluted and nonpolluted. Kettlewell demonstrated light colored peppered moths survived better than darker colored moths in areas where the tree trucks were of lighter color, and conversely— darker colored moths survived better than lighter colored moths in areas where the tree trucks were of darker color.
In a letter to botanist Joseph Hooker in 1871, Charles Darwin attempts to explain how life originated from materials, “we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present, that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes”
While not specifically address origin of life issues in The Origin of Species, Darwin clearly wrestled with the issue. At the time, concepts of spontaneous generation, the animate arising from the inanimate, dominated the evolution movement. Continue reading