History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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The Darwin Conspriacy: The Emperor’s Clothes

August 3rd, 2013 · No Comments

Link to PDF of The Darwin Conspiracy: http://inerte.horabsurda.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/The_Darwin_Conspiracy.pdf
We have a lot of discussion of this book here: http://darwiniana.com/index.php?s=darwin+conspiracy
We are reposting the book here by chapter since it has a tendency to disappear from the net..

0. The Darwin Conspriacy: Introduction: http://darwiniana.com/2013/07/30/the-darwin-conspiracy-introduction/
1. The Darwin Conspiracy: CHAPTER 1 Windfall: http://darwiniana.com/2013/07/31/the-darwin-conspiracy-chapter-1-windfall/
This chapter goes over the views of Lyell which were the source of Darwin’s thinking after he returned from his voyages.
2. The Darwin Conspiracy: Chap 2 The man who stretched time http://darwiniana.com/2013/08/01/the-darwin-conspiracy-the-man-who-stretched-time/
3. The Darwin Conspiracy Chap 3: Formation of a Naturalist: http://darwiniana.com/2013/08/02/the-darwin-conspiracy-chapter-3-formation-of-a-naturalist/
The fourth chapter starts the discussion of people who became suspicious of Darwin in their scholarly research: Darlington could find no real development in Darwin’s views. Yet he suddenly had a full blown theory emerging after 1856 when he began to receive Wallaces’ letters.

Darlington pointed out that he could not find, in all the accounts of Darwin’s work published up to that time, any suggestion that some orig- inal germ in Darwin’s mind had led inexorably to the full development and enunciation of this big idea.

Emperor’s clothes
ON THE centenary anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species in 1959, scientists around the world sought appropriate ways to celebrate the book in which Darwin had presented his ‘discovery’ of the theory of evolution. For the most part, the activities were predictable: meetings were organised, new research instigated, and papers and books of quality written to mark Darwin’s brilliant insight.
One man, however, working barely a hundred miles from where Darwin had written of his great discovery, had stumbled upon a huge problem. Rather like the wicked stepmother at Snow White’s christening party, he chose to voice his concerns just before the centenary celebra- tions.1 Cyril Dean Darlington, Sherardian Professor of Botany at Oxford University, had a question: by what thought process had Charles Darwin actually arrived at his ideas about evolution?2
Darlington pointed out that he could not find, in all the accounts of Darwin’s work published up to that time, any suggestion that some orig- inal germ in Darwin’s mind had led inexorably to the full development and enunciation of this big idea.
For non-specialists, Darlington summarised the main points of Darwin’s Origin as follows. When bred, all kinds of things vary in char- acter. When humans breed animals they can, by careful selection, produce new varieties or even new species. Nature, over a vast period of time, does the same with all animals and plants. Nature’s selection depends in part on the removal of those least able to survive. In moving to new regions and occupying different habitats, animals and plants adapt to diverse conditions. By this process of adaptation, existing species are transformed into new species.3
This process, declared Darlington, explains common descent, similari- ties of structure and the development of living organisms. It also explains other things: why fossil forms within stratified rocks can be seen to change over time; why some species’ characteristics differ between the ‘old’ and

‘new’ worlds; and why there can be a great diversity of birds or molluscs in a chain of small islands, but much less diversity in a large continent. This theory meant that the habit of cross-breeding, the sterility of hybrids and dozens of other problems could be usefully discussed in a way that was not possible when people believed that species had been individually created by an inscrutable supernatural power.4
However, despite his enthusiasm for the theory, Darlington was not happy. He pointed out that the Origin did not contain any account of how Darwin had come by his ideas.5 The opening words of the Origin suggest that the Beagle voyage marked the beginning of the debate around the species question, whereas in fact natural historians had been discussing the problem for decades, if not centuries. Darwin referred constantly to
‘my theory’, but Darlington asked: ‘What exactly were Darwin’s ideas, his own distinctive ideas, and what do we mean by Darwinism?’,6 before accusing Darwin of simply collecting ‘the evidence of Lyell and his great friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker, and editing it as material for his own arguments’.7 He also argued, while mentioning no names, that ‘Darwin’s unawareness of what his contemporaries were thinking matched his unawareness of what his predecessors had written.’8
On the occasion of the centenary anniversary of On the Origin of Species, Darlington felt that he was entitled to ask some rather direct questions that went quite against the grain of conformist academic praise for Charles Darwin. He decided to be extremely direct: much more direct than scholars had been before, and more direct than most scholars have been since:

How is it, we may now ask ourselves, that so much obscurity overhangs the development of the greatest of modern ideas? After a hundred years we are almost as uncertain of the authorship or editorship of Darwin’s writings as we are of those attributed to Homer or Hippocrates. This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that people who investigate the history of science are historians who are not entirely clear about the meaning of its ideas. They also often believe what the discoverer writes about his own discoveries, which, as we see, is not a wise thing to do. On the other hand, among scientists there is a natural feeling that one of the greatest of our figures should not be dissected, at least by one of us. The myth should be respected.9

In fact, prior to 1959, accounts of Darwin’s life and work had been very much a family industry, and a limited one at that. Following Darwin’s death in 1882, a very brief autobiography, which had been written

Emperor’s clothes 21

towards the end of his life together with selected correspondence with family, friends and academic colleagues, was collated and edited by his son Francis, and published in 1887.10
Nearly twenty years later, Darwin’s first attempt at setting out a theory to solve the species question was discovered in a cupboard in Down House. Darwin had written a thirty-page sketch of the theory in 1842 and the new discovery was an expanded version of this. It ran to two hundred and thirty pages, and had been completed in 1844. This was the manu- script Darwin had instructed his wife to have published only in the event of his death. It had not been published, and had been read in its entirety only by his greatest friend, the botanist Joseph Hooker. In 1909, Francis Darwin published both sketch and essay as the Foundations of the Origin of Species.11
In his autobiography, Darwin never revealed what had led him to recognise the forces of divergence and modification, which lay at the heart of his world-changing book. He claimed no great insights from his time on the Beagle, except that after his return he had never stopped collecting facts
‘bearing on the origin of species; and I could sometimes do this when I
could do nothing else from illness’. He said that in October 1838 he had
‘chanced to read’ the political philosopher Thomas Malthus’s Essay on Population,12 and it was in that book that he had found the key to the idea of natural selection in the animal world. He went on:

Being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which every- where goes on, it at once struck me that under these circumstances, favourable variations would tend to be preserved and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work…13

However, one American – writing at the same time as Darlington and also with his eye on the centenary celebrations – was not convinced.14 For some time, the poet, anthropologist and science writer Loren Eiseley had been reading copies, some more than a hundred years old, of The Annals and Magazine of Natural History, which had been Darwin’s favourite scien- tific journal. The question that bothered him was simple, but the answer held profound consequences for Darwin’s reputation. If Charles Darwin did not chance upon Malthus (and form his ideas about natural selection) until October 1838, how was it that he was making notes on that very idea in the early months of 1837, shortly after opening his first notebook on transmutation?
It was a very pertinent question because those old copies of the Annals

22 17u Darwin Conspiracy

suggested that Darwin had relied for his inspiration not on the celebrated ideas ofThornas Malthus, but rather on an in1pecunious young naturalist, unknown and uncelebrated. who was living at the tirne in a srnall town just outside London. i

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