Darwin, evolution & science books for holiday gift giving (2018)

‘Tis the season for holiday gift giving (to others or to yourself, no shame there), so I thought I’d share about some recent books about evolution and related topics that might strike in you a desire to spread the good news (of science!).



Rebecca Stefoff and Teagan White (illustrator), Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: Young Readers Edition (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2018, 176. pp.) ~ As she has done for other books (Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, Jared Diamond’s The Third Chimpanzee, and Charles C. Mann’s 1493), Stefoff has taken an important book and adapted it for a younger audience, using more accessible language and including copious illustrations and photographs, and while remaining true to Darwin’s chapter structure, has provided updated information on topics that have, well, evolved since Darwin’s time. If On the Origin of Species continues to be a book that everyone has an opinion about yet have never actually read (it can be a challenging read), perhaps they can start with this handsome large format edition. It surely deserves a place on the shelves of middle and high school libraries. Order Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: Young Readers Edition: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Grandmother Fish

Jonathan Tweet and Karen Lewis (illustrator), Grandmother Fish (New York: Feiwel & Friends, 2016, 32 pp.) ~ This fantastic book about evolution for preschool-aged kids is not new, but I shared about it previously and it is worth mentioning again! Order Grandmother Fish: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

One Iguana, Two Iguanas

Sneed B. Collard III, One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution (Thomaston, ME: Tilbury House, 2018, 48 pp.) ~ I have not looked at a copy of this book myself, but Greg Laden has. Here’s the publisher’s description: “Natural selection and speciation are all but ignored in children’s nonfiction. To help address this glaring deficiency, award-winning children’s science writer Sneed Collard traveled to the Galapagos Islands to see for himself, where Charles Darwin saw, how new species form. The result is this fascinating story of two species of iguana, one land-based and one marine, both of which developed from a single ancestor that reached the islands millions of years ago. The animals evolved in different directions while living within sight of one another. How is that possible?” Geared toward upper elementary and middle grade readers. Order One Iguana, Two Iguanas: A Story of Accident, Natural Selection, and Evolution: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Stuff of Stars, The.jpeg

Marion Dane Bauer and Ekua Holmes, Ekua (illustrator), The Stuff of Stars (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 2018, 40 pp.) ~ Going further back that biological evolution, this book puts the Sagan-esque notion of everything being made of “star stuff” – that all the matter that makes up every organism, including humans, was first created in the furnaces of stars billions of years ago – into a beautiful presentation of words and art. For some science-minded people who live without religion, appreciating our elemental connection to the universe can serve as a secular spirituality, and The Stuff of Stars serves as a perfect introduction of this idea. Order The Stuff of Stars: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.


Ince, Martin, Continental Drift: The Evolution of Our World from the Origins of Life to the Future (Blueprint Editions, 80 pp.; titled Drift in the UK for WeldonOwen Publishing) ~ It is difficult to discuss the evolution of animals on Earth without bringing in geology: how plates of earth’s crusts moving around the globe over millions of years has had a major effect on the evolutionary lineages of organisms. Continental Drift by science writer Martin Ince, begins with the formation of Earth 4.5 billions years ago and the formation of land around 3.4 bya, and then passes through periods of geologic time (Cambrian, Devonian, Permian, Jurassic, Cretaceous, Paleogene, Anthropocene, etc.), describing the movement of plates and evolution of organisms during those periods. Copiously illustrated with drawings and photographs, as well as large maps showing how the earth’s land appeared in each period, this book is perfect for upper elementary and middle grade students wishing to learn more about the history of our planet and its life. In fact, curious adults will find value in pouring through its pages. Order Drift: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

When the Whales Walked

Dougal Dixon and Hannah Bailey (illustrator), When the Whales Walked: And Other Incredible Evolutionary Journeys (London: words & pictures, 2018, 64 pp.) ~ I have not seen a copy of this book yet, but it looks like an important one to teach readers about transitional fossils. The publisher’s description: “Step back in time and discover a world where whales once walked, crocodiles were warm-blooded and snakes had legs! Meet terrifying giant birds, and tiny elephants living on islands in this fascinating creature guide like no other. Learn how whales once walked on four legs before taking to the oceans; how dinosaurs evolved into birds; and how the first cats were small and lived in trees. Featuring a stunning mix of annotated illustrations, illustrated scenes and family trees, evolution is explained here in a captivating and novel style that will make children look at animals in a whole new way.” Order When the Whales Walked: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Galapagos Girl

Marsha Diane Arnold and Angela Dominguez (illustrator), Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña (New York: Lee & Low Books, 2018, 40 pp.) ~ This is a charming picture book about a young girl born and raised on Floreana island in the Galápagos, who grew up among its unique animals and has made a life of researching, protecting, and educating about the Galápagos and its wildlife. Her name is Valentina Cruz, and through her story readers will learn about what it means to spend time in nature and value protecting it. The publisher’s description: “For Valentina, living on the Galápagos islands means spending her days outside, observing the natural world around her. She greets sea lions splashing on the shore, scampers over lava rocks with Sally-lightfoot crabs, and swims with manta rays. She is a Galápagos girl, and there is no other place she’d rather be! But this wondrous world is fragile, and when Valentina learns her wild companions are under threat, she vows to help protect them and the islands. Whimsical illustrations by Pura Belpré Honoree Angela Dominguez transport readers to the unique Galápagos islands, which shelter a number of diverse plant and animal species that can be found nowhere else on the planet. Come discover this beautiful world with Valentina and her animal friends!” The book is presented in both English and Spanish, and Mr. Darwin only receives a single mention, in a note at the end of the book about finches. This book is, after all, about Valentina, not Charles, as there are many persons connected to the history of these islands. Order Galápagos Girl/Galapagueña: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.



Unnatural Selection

Katrina von Grouw, Unnatural Selection (Princeton University Press, 2013, 304 pp.) ~ This book came out in the summer, but I shared about it previously and it is worth mentioning again! Order Unnatural Selection: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Life on Earth (1)

David Attenborough, Life on Earth: The Greatest Story Ever Told (London: William Collins, 2018, 352 pp.) ~ A classic, updated. From the publisher: “David Attenborough’s unforgettable meeting with gorillas became an iconic moment for millions of television viewers. Life on Earth, the series and accompanying book, fundamentally changed the way we view and interact with the natural world setting a new benchmark of quality, influencing a generation of nature lovers. Told through an examination of animal and plant life, this is an astonishing celebration of the evolution of life on earth, with a cast of characters drawn from the whole range of organisms that have ever lived on this planet. Attenborough’s perceptive, dynamic approach to the evolution of millions of species of living organisms takes the reader on an unforgettable journey of discovery from the very first spark of life to the blue and green wonder we know today. Now, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the book’s first publication, David Attenborough has revisited Life on Earth, completely updating and adding to the original text, taking account of modern scientific discoveries from around the globe. He has chosen beautiful, completely new photography, helping to illustrate the book in a much greater way than was possible forty years ago. This special anniversary edition provides a fitting tribute to an enduring wildlife classic, destined to enthral the generation who saw it when first published and bring it alive for a whole new generation.” Order Life on Earth: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Darwin's Most Wonderful Plants

Ken Thompson, Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants: Darwin’s Botany Today (London: Profile Books, 2018, 256 pp.) ~  In five chapters Thompson takes a look at Darwin’s seven books that cover botanical topics, from his first on orchids in 1862 to The Power of Movement in Plants in 1880. From the publisher: “Ken Thompson sees Darwin as a brilliant and revolutionary botanist, whose observations and theories were far ahead of his time – and are often only now being confirmed and extended by high-tech modern research. Like Darwin, he is fascinated and amazed by the powers of plants – particularly their Triffid-like aspects of movement, hunting and ‘plant intelligence’. This is a much needed book that re-establishes Darwin as a pioneering botanist, whose close observations of plants were crucial to his theories of evolution.” Order Darwin’s Most Wonderful Plants: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Tangled Tree, The.JPG

David Quammen, The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018, 480 pp.) ~ Currently making my way through this new offering from one of the best science writers we have. Quammen tells the intriguing story of how molecular biologists rewrote the tree of life, centering on the work of Carl Woese (billed as one of the most important biologists of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of) but including Lynn Margulis and a great many others. Quammen blends science with storytelling in such a fashion that one feels as if they are witnessing science at work as it is happening – it’s ups and downs, its triumphs and lesser moments. With plenty of Darwin to start the narrative off. Highly recommended. Order The Tangled Tree: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Wall of Birds, The

Jane Kim and Thayer Walker, The Wall of Birds: One Planet, 243 Families, 375 Million Years – A Visual Journey (New York: Harper Design, 2018, 224 pp.) ~ Ever since I first saw social media posts showing the work in progress for a mural on a wall at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s office, I have been in awe of Jane Kim’s bird and other scientific illustrations. They are absolutely gorgeous, and this new book by Kim shares her experience doing the mural and about all the birds presented, including dinosaurs! Order The Wall of Birds: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound. More info about the wall here, and Jane’s website here.

Cruisin' the Fossil Coastline

Kirk Johnson and Ray Troll (artist), Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline: The Travels of an Artist and a Scientist along the Shores of the Prehistoric Pacific (Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2018, 290 pp.) ~ A follow up to Johnson and Troll’s Cruisin’ the Fossil Freeway: An Epoch Tale of a Scientist and an Artist on the Ultimate 5,000-mile Paleo Road Trip (2007), which followed the author and artist through the American West in search of fossils and paleontologists, Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline does the same for the stretch of coastline from southern California up north into Alaska. Johnson is a fine writer, and Troll’s unique art style never disappoints. Order Cruisin’ the Fossil Coastline: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Galapagos Life in Motion.jpeg

Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg, Galápagos: Life in Motion (Princeton University Press, 2018, 208 pp.) ~ For someone who hopes to visit the Galápagos in their lifetime but is not sure if it will happen, this book of photographs by Walter Perez is an antidote to waiting for such an opportunity. From the publisher: “The Galápagos Islands are home to an amazing variety of iconic creatures, from Giant Tortoises, Galápagos Sea Lions, Galápagos Penguins, and Ghost Crabs to Darwin’s finches, the Blue-footed Booby, and Hummingbird Moths. But how precisely do these animals manage to survive on―and in the waters around―their desert-like volcanic islands, where fresh water is always scarce, food is often hard to come by, and finding a good mate is a challenge because animal populations are so small? In this stunning large-format book, Galápagos experts Walter Perez and Michael Weisberg present an unprecedented photographic account of the remarkable survival behaviors of these beautiful and unique animals. With more than 200 detailed, close-up photographs, the book captures Galápagos animals in action as they feed, play, fight, court, mate, build nests, give birth, raise their young, and cooperate and clash with other species.” Order Galápagos: Life in Motion: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

Charles Darwin - A Reference Guide to His Life and Works

J. David Archibald, Charles Darwin: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018, 232 pp.) ~ I have yet to view a copy of this book, but I have liked Archibald’s other books about Darwin and evolution so I expect this to serve as a useful resource. Here is the publisher’s description: “Charles Darwin: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works provides an important new compendium presenting a detailed chronology of all aspects Darwin’s life. The extensive encyclopedia section includes many hundreds of entries of various kinds related to Darwin – people, places, institutions, concepts, and his publications. The bibliography provides a comprehensive listing of the vast majority of Darwin’s works published during and after his lifetime. It also provides a more selective list of publications concerning his life and work.” Order Charles Darwin: A Reference Guide to His Life and Works: Amazon, Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound.

My Darwin talk at OHSU, April 4th

Guest Lecture

Perhaps I should let folks here know that I will be giving a talk at the Oregon Health & Sciences University here in Portland on Wednesday, April 4th, at 12:30pm in the Old Library Auditorium. It will be for a reception to the small exhibit now on display in the OHSU Library, Rewriting the Book of Nature (see my post here).

Darwin Exhibit

My talk will be “Charles Darwin: Myth vs. History,” an overview of myths about Darwin and corrections of them. I will talk about both what I think are unintentionally created myths (events or characteristics that find their way into popular history, science textbooks, etc.) and those that are indeed intentional, and meant to smeer the reputation of a historical character (mainly, creationist misuse of history).

Reception at 12:00, my talk at 12:30, free and open to the public!

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

A: There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.

[This is from historian David Leeson, shared on Facebook]

Sir Charles?

“… but Wren and Sloane owed the honour to their public work rather than to their eminence in science. England was slow to reward scientific achievement by this distinction and I believe that Davy, in the early years of the nineteenth century, was the next to receive royal recognition; and even during that century such physicists as Faraday and Maxwell, and such a biologist as Darwin, were not knighted.”

– Louis Tenchard More, Isaac Newton: A Biography (1935)

A few days ago Rebekah Higgitt (@beckyfh, Whewell’s Ghost) tweeted:

Came across this yahoo Q&A on Darwin & lack of knighthood. That this wrong answer ‘resolves’ Q is dispiriting http://j.mp/eBdCFs #histsci

Here is the question and the various answers:

Question (Nick.391): How come Charles Robert Darwin never received a knighthood?

Answer 1 (Will): You must remember that Queen Victoria was not only the head of state, she was also the head of the Church of England. As Darwin’s theories were denounced by leading churchmen, it would have been virtually impossible for the Queen to have honoured him. He was simply too controversial at the time.

Answer 2 (Michael B): It was not common in the 19thC to knight men outside the service of the Crown. Soldiers and sailors who had done well and politicians or civil servants were knighted or even ennobled; the fashion for ladling out honours to entertainers, academics and sportsmen is comparatively recent. Controversy had nothing to do with it. Some of the political and military figures who were promoted to a K or even a peerage were, in their way, just as controversial. Simply, academics and scientists did not expect, and did not get, that type of recognition.

Answer 3 (NC): Church of England made sure of that. Many of its notable members (both clergymen and laymen) were openly hostile to Darwin.

Noted by the asker as the “Best Answer” is… #1, and he also commented “Great answer, thanks. Michael B [no, this is not me!] must be on drugs or something because none of that is even accurate” (referring to the second answer). So, the favored answer is that science versus religion tensions kept Darwin from receiving a knighthood, while the possibility of a more nuanced explanation is not possible because such a suggestion could come only from someone whose mind is not properly functioning. Dispiriting, indeed! (I’ll note that another Yahoo Q&A asks the same question, with the answer: “When deciding on who to knight not only must the nominee have done something notable but “usually” must also have a character that does not upset the status quo of the country or upset the citizens in general. Charles Darwin was such a controversial figure that there was “no way” that the monarch of the time could even have considered him for a knighthood.”)

Becky’s tweet started a short exchange between her, myself, Ian Hesketh (@ianhesketh, author of Of Apes and Ancestors: Evolution, Christianity, and the Oxford Debate, and Greg Good (@HistoryPhysics).

@darwinsbulldog – Interesting, any resources abt this? Seeing online that Wilberforce stepped in & stopped a proposal in ’59, don’t know if factual

@ianhesketh – Desmond and Moore (1991: 488) have a brief paragraph about this but cite a secondary source: Bunting (1974)

@ianhesketh – Desmond and Moore go on to say that they could not themselves locate Bunting’s sources (and he is now deceased).

@darwinsbulldog – So, Palmerstone suggests CD for knighthood, Wilberforce steps in and he doesn’t get it… Nothing in Browne’s biography

@beckyfh – Think Wilberforce thing a myth. Myth that establishment against CD. Wrong that people like him got knighthoods.

@beckyfh – Unless CD was sitting on govt advisory boards etc (like Brewster, Airy or Kelvin) honours wd be very unlikely.

@ianhesketh – Interesting! I also doubt the story about Wilberforce’s intervention given that no one can find Bunting’s sources

@beckyfh – I think all 19thc men of science with knighthoods get them for direct public work, not their science per se.

@HistoryPhysics – What is the primary record for reasons for knighthood? Personal corr? Prime Minister papers?

@beckyfh – Citations for honours are a matter of public record, I think, but also in newspapers etc.

@beckyfh – Eg Brunel: “For *public* services in the profession of Civil Engineering”, naming dockyard work

@darwinsbulldog – Was not Joseph Dalton Hooker, Lyell, and John Lubbock also knighted? Gov’t service? Def. for Hooker…

@beckyfh – Hooker govt employee, Lubbock MP & Uni VC, Lyell lawyer, prof & employed on geological survey.

@beckyfh – Obv doesn’t mean their status in scientific world irrelevant, bt I thnk explains the Darwin case

@ianhesketh – This subject (scientists and knighthood) would make for a great article (clearly it’s needed)!

@darwinsbulldog – So how do you explain McCartney and Elton John? What’s the criteria there?

@beckyfh – The criteria changed in 20thc! Scientific & creative work now rewarded

Let’s take a look at what Adrian Desmond and James Moore wrote, in Darwin: The Life of a Tormented Evolutionist (1992):

This Anglican censure had more personal repercussions. Darwin may even have lost a knighthood. Lord Palmerston, the incoming Liberal Prime Minister in June 1859, had apparently mooted Darwin’s name to Queen Victoria as a candidate for the Honours List. Prince Albert concurred; he was a friend of science, a friend of Owen’s, President of the British Association in September 1859, where Lyell had spoken of Darwin’s forthcoming work, and he had seen Sir Charles similarly honoured. Darwin would have been delighted and astonished. But then came the Origin. The Queen’s ecclesiastical advisers, including the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce, scotched it. The honour would imply approval, and Palmerston’ request was turned down. (488)

As Hesketh noted, Desmond and Moore cite the short 1974 biography of Darwin by James Bunting:

Bunting, Charles Darwin, 88-89, based on evidence apparently found while researching Parliamentary history. The sources have not been located and the author is deceased.

So, we have two ways of looking at a little bit of history. For one, the historical documents purporting to show that indeed Darwin’s lack of a knighthood was due to religious criticism of his work on evolution are lacking. For the other, as Becky has nicely shown, there is good reason to suggest that Darwin did not receive a knighthood (was he even really suggested for one by Palmerston?) because he did not carry out work in service of the British government, as was the case for many of the scientists who did receive royal honours. For now, I will go with the latter. But one’s willingness to go with Wilberforce on this one is perhaps to insist on there having been an absolute science versus religion conflict in nineteenth-century Britain (the conflict thesis, or warfare thesis). Surely there were those who perceived it as such (Tyndall, for example), and classic books devoted to it (John W. Draper’s 1881 History of the Conflict between Religion and Science and Andrew Dickson White’s 1896 History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom), but we must understand this time as one of not a simple dichtomoy of views but of plenty of in-betweens (such as Charles Kingsley). Moore addressed this in The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America, 1870-1900 (1979). He dispelled the notion that religion was strictly separated from science in the nineteenth century. He notes that, although not the best way to describe what was actually going on in nineteenth-century exchanges between science and religion, the military metaphor of “conflict” or “warfare” was a common trope within the post-Darwinian controversies and that “testifies to its symbolic importance” (13).

Just as the Oxford debate between Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley has been demythologized, by Hesketh and Gould (and Brian Switek, too!), it seems – pending some graduate student tasking him or herself with finding the documents Bunting says are there and doing a deeper analysis of this moment – that Desmond and Moore, although acknowledging the sketchy documentation, like to tell a good story. What sounds more exciting: Darwin not a public servant, or evolution-hating Wilberforce knighthood-blocking Darwin?

Joseph Dalton Hooker, one of Darwin’s supporters and botanist to the British government, did receive several honours. In his case, however, he did not really care to receive them. When in 1869 Lyell and Murchison urged the Duke of Argyll to suggest Hooker for recognition of his service in India, Hooker’s response to Darwin was:

I do not think there is the least chance of my getting the offer of it. The K.C.S.I. is so rare an honour that I might well be proud to have it, for my Indian services; but I really do not desire Knighthood, and would infinitely rather be plain
Dr. Hooker with C.B. to testify to my having done my duty as well as others who have that certificate. So if it comes I shall be proud of it; if not, I shall be as well content. Please say nothing about it. The fact is the Duke might do it with a stroke of the pen, but he don’t like my Darwinism and my Address and I am right proud of that! [emphasis mine]


New book of interest, The Species Seekers: Heroes, Fools, and the Mad Pursuit of Life on Earth by Richard Conniff, comes out in November. Richard has a blog for the book, and he tweets @RichardConniff

Rush Limbaugh “tackles evolution” – here’s a sneak peek:

RUSH: Of course creationism is — but Darwinism is faith, too. That’s my whole point. Darwinism is presented as absolute science, inarguable science, and it’s faith as well. CALLER: It is science. It is science, Rush. There’s a lot of evidence — RUSH: Well, then I’m going to say creationism is a science, intelligent design is a science. If you say my faith isn’t a science, I’m going to say yours isn’t.

And again!

Niles Eldredge: How Systematics Became “Phylogenetic” [pdf]

Nature: The Lost Correspondence of Francis Crick (review)

Whewell’s Ghost (@beckyfh): Government funding for ‘pure’ research: an extremely brief and gappy history

Whewell’s Ghost (Will Thomas): Good History and the Virtue of Sisyphus

All You Need to Know About Dinosaurs, courtesy of the ICR

NCSE shares: images of an intelligent design vs. evolution board game from Ray Comfort – go to their Facebook page; Darwin and Scopes in new poll on knowledge of religion; and a Blast From the Past video, “The Case of the Texas Footprints”:

Dinosaur Tracking: The Dinosaurs of Industry

Laelaps: Giraffes – Necks for food or necks for sex?

Paleontology and history of science blogger Mike Bertasso looks like he’s back to blogging since summer is over…

Kele’s Science Blog: Personal Beliefs’ Impact Upon the Synthesis

Read More http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/09/giraffes-necks-for-food-or-necks-for-sex/#ixzz117yR2LJL

Darwin and Gender: Darwin, Henrietta and Tennyson & Female Censorship?

David Quammen: Being Jane Goodall

Info on a (potentially free) book about the postal Darwin (stamps, that is), here

Down the Cellar: Shoehorning science: Darwin and group selection

Darwin has “manly notebooks”

JF Derry: Rich Pickings (about Darwin and whether or not he had Victorian sensibility) & Wars of the Words

The Bubble Chamber: Is Sam Harris on to something? Can science answer moral questions?

Another video, “About the British Geological Survey | 175 years of geoscience”:

And to end, I thoroughly enjoyed this tweet from @theselflessmeme:


WORKSHOP: Revisiting Evolutionary Naturalism: New Perspectives on Victorian Science and Culture

From Situating Science | Science in Human Contexts:

Revisiting Evolutionary Naturalism: New Perspectives on Victorian Science and Culture

Node Workshop
May 6 – 7th, 2011
York University, Toronto, Canada

Ever since the 1970’s, when Robert Young and Frank Turner treated T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, and their allies as posing an effective challenge to the authority of the Anglican clergy, scholars have found the term “scientific naturalism,” or “evolutionary naturalism,” to be a useful shorthand for referring to an influential group of like-minded elite intellectuals. But over the years, questions have been raised about the cohesiveness and the cultural status of scientific naturalism. Is the term elastic enough to include both the idealist and romantic Karl Pearson as well as the hard-nosed materialist Charles Bastian? Just how powerful were the scientific naturalists if they disagreed amongst themselves on key issues, and if, as many recent studies have suggested, they were confronted by a host of effective opponents in addition to Anglican clergymen, including North British physicists, Oxbridge trained gentlemen of science, self-trained popularizers of science, philosophical idealists, spiritualists, feminists, anti-vivisectionists, and socialists? Indeed, how far were the practices and writings of scientific naturalists actually shaped by their interchanges with such myriad opponents?

In this workshop we hope to explore new perspectives on the British scientific naturalists, re-examining their interactions with each other and with other groups within the larger culture. Speakers include Ruth Barton, Peter J. Bowler, Gowan Dawson, James Elwick, Jim Endersby, George Levine, Bernard Lightman, Ted Porter, Evelleen Richards, Joan Richards, Michael Reidy, Jonathan Smith, Robert Smith, Matthew Stanley, Michael Taylor, Frank Turner, and Paul White. The workshop will take place at 320 Bethune College, York University, Toronto, Canada on May 6th and 7th, 2011. It is sponsored by York University, SSHRC, and by Situating Science.

Barton, Dawson, Elwick, Lightman, Reidy, and Stanley are all part of the John Tyndall Correspondence Project. I’m hoping to attend.

Two Darwin/evolution issues of ‘Science & Education’

The journal Science & Education is devoting two 2010 issues to “Darwin and Darwinism: Historical, Philosophical, Cultural and Pedagogical Studies” [Volume 19 (3-8), 2010, PDF], including the following articles (click the links for their abstracts):

Science & Education Volume 19 Nos. 3-5 March-May 2010, “Darwin and Darwinism: Historical, Philosophical & Cultural Studies”:

DAVID W. RUDGE & KOSTAS KAMPOURAKIS / Darwin and Darwinism: An Introduction

Science & Education Volume 19 Nos. 6-8 June-August 2010, “Darwin and Darwinism: Pedagogical Studies”:

MIKE U. SMITH / Current Status of Research in Teaching and Learning Evolution: I. Philosophical and Epistemological Issues

MIKE U. SMITH / Current Status of Research in Teaching and Learning Evolution: II. Pedagogical issues

MARINA L. TAVARES ,MARÍA PILAR JIMÉNEZ-ALEIXANDRE, & EDUARDO F. MORTIMER / Articulation of Conceptual Knowledge and Argumentation Practices by High School Students in Evolution Problems

MARIA FÁTIMA MARCELOS & RONALDO L NAGEM / Structural Models of Similarities and Differences between Vehicle and Target in Order to Teach Darwinian Evolution

PAUL THAGARD & SCOTT FINDLAY / Getting to Darwin: Obstacles to Accepting Evolution by Natural Selection

KOSTAS KAMPOURAKIS & WILLIAM F. MCCOMAS/ Charles Darwin and Evolution: Illustrating Human Aspects of Science

ESTHER MARIA VAN DIJK & THOMAS A.C. REYDON / A Conceptual Analysis of Evolutionary Theory for Teacher Education

TONIE L. STOLBERG / Teaching Darwinian Evolution: Learning from Religious Education

THOMAS GLICK / The Comparative Reception of Darwinism: A Brief History

C MACKENZIE BROWN / Hindu Responses to Darwinism: Assimilation and Rejection in a Colonial and Post‐Colonial Context

DENIZ PEKER, GULSUM G COMERT & AYKUT KENCE / Three Decades of Anti-Darwinism in Turkey and Its Results: Turkish Undergraduates’ Acceptance and Understanding of Biological Evolution Theory

ROBERT PENNOCK / The Postmodern Sins of Intelligent Design Creationism

ANYA PLUTYNSKI / Should Intelligent Design be Taught in Public School Science Classrooms?

JOACHIM ALLGAIER / Scientific Experts and the Controversy about Teaching Creationism in the UK Press

JOURNAL: Darwin Special Issue of ‘History of Science’

The December 2009 issue of History of Science (Vol. 47, No. 4) is devoted to Darwin:

Iwan Ryhs Morus

Charles Darwin Solves the “Riddle of the Flower”; or, Why Don’t Historians of Biology Know about the Birds and the Bees?
Richard Bellon

Darwinian Struggles: But Is There Progress?
Michael Ruse

The Eclipse of Pseudo-Darwinism? Reflections on Some Recent Developments in Darwin Studies
Peter J. Bowler

The Undead Darwin: Iconic Narrative, Scientific Controversy and the History of Science
Amanda Rees

Darwin Online and the Evolution of the Darwin Industry
John van Wyhe

Essay Reviews

Origins: Selected Letters of Charles Darwin, 1822–1859(Anniversary edition), edited by F. Burkhardt, and other works by Charles Darwin
Jim Endersby

Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution, and Worlds Before Adam: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Reform, by Martin J. S. Rudwick
Adelene Buckland

Darwin Round-Up

Monday, November 16th is the deadline for submissions to Charlie’s Playhouse’s “Ask the Kids” [about evolution] project.  More information here.

I somehow neglected to share Ben Fry’s very cool digital rendition of the six editions of On the Origin of Species and the changes therein: “The Preservation of Favoured Traces.”

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences blog that accompanies their new Darwin as a geologist exhibit (my pics) has a short write up on the “Darwin in the Field” conference I attended last July, here. Also, the newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (they provided funding for the conference, including travel money for myself and a post-doc at the Smithsonian) has a report of the conference written by, well, me! You can see it at the bottom of page 56 in this PDF.

Two freely available articles from Bioscience: “The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea” [PDF] by James Costa and “Ten Myths about Charles Darwin” [PDF] by Kevin Padian [previous posts with Padian].

Nature has started a series on Darwin and culture called “Global Darwin”: “Darwin and culture,” “Global Darwin: Eastern enchantment,” and “Global Darwin: Contempt for competition.” These pieces explore a variety of reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Also titled “Global Darwin” is a 2009 lecture by Jim Secord. Access it here. At the same site are lectures by Janet Browne and Rebecca Stott.

Here is a page for the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory, and two sets of pictures on Flickr showing a Darwin exhibition (Darwin’s Legacy) at the National Museum of Natural History, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Darwin Online has put up the annotated copy of On the Origin of Species owned by Darwin’s third son, and experimental assistant, Francis.

Videos of many lectures from the University of Cambridge’s Darwin Festival in July are up on YouTube.

Darwinfest: Bold Ideas Change Worlds, at ASU, has its own website. Darwin biographer Janet Browne will give a lecture on November 13th. Previous lectures from throughout 2009 are available for download.

Historian of science Jim Endersby will talk on “Darwin, Hooker, and Empire” on November 18th  in conjunction with the American Philosophical Society’s exhibition Dialogues with Darwin: An Exhibition of Historical Documents and Contemporary Art. Website here, and a fun Flickr photo set of post-it notes that visitors filled out and placed on a tree of life diagram. Another recent lecture of Endersby’s, “Smashing Species: Joseph Hooker and Victorian Science” for the Royal Society, can be downloaded as an mp3.

Christ’s College, Cambridge has a website for Darwin, with lots of resources.

“Who can head the words of Charlie Darwin…”

Cambridge Library Collection’s Life Science series offers reprints of many historically important books (71 titles), many of which are on Amazon.

Via Genomicron, “This View of Life: Evolutionary Art for the Year of Darwin”:

Evolutionary art is the topic of many books this year: Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture by Jonathan Smith; Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts by Jane Munro; Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture by Barbara Larson and Fae Bauer; Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution by Phillip Prodger; Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia by Jeanette Hoorn; and Darwin’s Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837-1874 by Julia Voss.

In Evolution: Education and Outreach is an article by U. Kutschera called “Darwin’s Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus: “In 1859 Charles Darwin submitted a manuscript entitled “An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection” to John Murray III, who published the text under the title On the Origin of Species. On many pages of this book, Darwin contrasts his naturalistic theory that explains the transmutation and diversification of animals and plants with the Bible-based belief that all species were independently created. On the last page of the first edition, published in November 1859, where Darwin speculated on the origin of the earliest forms of life from which all other species have descended, no reference to “the Creator” is made. In order to conciliate angry clerics and hence to tame the erupted furor theologicus, Darwin included the phrase “by the Creator” in the second edition of 1860 and in all subsequent versions of his book (sixth ed. 1872). However, in a letter of 1863, Darwin distanced himself from this Bible-based statement and wrote that by creation he means “appeared by some wholly unknown process.” In 1871, Darwin proposed a naturalistic origin-of-life-concept but did not dare to mention his “warm little pond hypothesis” in the sixth definitive edition of the Origin (1872). I conclude that the British naturalist strictly separated scientific facts and theories from religious dogmas (Darwin’s “philosophical imperative”) and would not endorse current claims by the Catholic Church and other Christian associations that evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible.”

EEO also has a piece about the traveling Darwin exhibition by Chiara Ceci, “Darwin: Origin and Evolution of an Exhibition”: “Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin, originated by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is the most important exhibition about the English scientist ever organized for the general public. This traveling exhibition has appeared in many versions worldwide, and a study of the relationships between local developers of the various editions of the exhibition underlines how a scientific exhibition and, more generally, science communication can succeed in striking a good equilibrium between universal content and cultural determinants.”

“Discover the principles of evolution through animations, movies and simulations” at Evolution of Life.

Several articles have appeared this year in the Journal of the History of Biology touching on Darwin and evolution in general: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” (M.J.S. Hodge); “The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner” (Charlotte Weissman); “Edward Hitchcock’s Pre-Darwinian (1840) ‘Tree of Life'” (J. David Archibald); “Tantalizing Tortoises and the Darwin-Galápagos Legend” (Frank J. Sulloway); “‘A Great Complication of Circumstances’ – Darwin and the Economy of Nature” (Trevor Pearce); “Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and ‘The Gradual Birth & Death of Species'” (Paul D. Brinkman); “Darwin and Inheritance: The Influence of Prosper Lucas” (Ricardo Noguera-Solano and Rosaura Ruiz-Gutiérrez); and “Of Mice and Men: Evolution and the Socialist Utopia. William Morris, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw” (Piers J. Hale).

A Darwin article in Plant Biology: “From Charles Darwin’s botanical country-house studies to modern plant biology”: “As a student of theology at Cambridge University, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) attended the lectures of the botanist John S. Henslow (1796-1861). This instruction provided the basis for his life-long interest in plants as well as the species question. This was a major reason why in his book On the Origin of Species, which was published 150 years ago, Darwin explained his metaphorical phrase `struggle for life’ with respect to animals and plants. In this article, we review Darwin’s botanical work with reference to the following topics: the struggle for existence in the vegetable kingdom with respect to the phytochrome-mediated shade avoidance response; the biology of flowers and Darwin’s plant-insect co-evolution hypothesis; climbing plants and the discovery of action potentials; the power of movement in plants and Darwin’s conflict with the German plant physiologist Julius Sachs; and light perception by growing grass coleoptiles with reference to the phototropins. Finally, we describe the establishment of the scientific discipline of Plant Biology that took place in the USA 80 years ago, and define this area of research with respect to Darwin’s work on botany and the physiology of higher plants.”

And another in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences: “Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875”: “The traditional characterization of Charles Darwin as a strong advocate of physiological experimentation on animals was posited in Richard French’s Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian England (1975), where French portrayed him as a soldier in Thomas Huxley’s efforts to preserve anatomical experimentation on animals unfettered by government regulation. That interpretation relied too much on, inter alia, Huxley’s own description of the legislative battles of 1875, and shared many historians’ propensity to foster a legacy of Darwin as a leader among a new wave of scientists, even where personal interests might indicate a conflicting story. Animal rights issues concerned more than mere science for Darwin, however, and where debates over other scientific issues failed to inspire Darwin to become publicly active, he readily joined the battle over vivisection, helping to draft legislation which, in many ways, was more protective of animal rights than even the bills proposed by his friend and anti-vivisectionist, Frances Power Cobbe. Darwin may not have officially joined Cobbe’s side in the fight, but personal correspondence of the period between 1870 and 1875 reveals a man whose first interest was to protect animals from inhumane treatment, and second to protect the reputations of those men and physiologists who were his friends, and who he believed incapable of inhumane acts. On this latter point he and Cobbe never did reach agreement, but they certainly agreed on the humane treatment of animals, and the need to proscribe various forms of animal experimentation.”

“Darwinism Comes to Penn” [PDF], in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “A century-and-a-half after the November 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, a Penn microbiologist looks back at how Darwin’s ideas were received by some of the University’s leading thinkers.”

In the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, “WWDD? (What Would Darwin Do?)” [PDF], looks at evolution research and publishing: “We have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. While I hope we all rejoiced in the success of evolutionary biology and its continued growth, we should not become complacent. Although these are indeed events to celebrate, we still face the real threat of general ignorance of Darwin’s ideas. World leaders (or would-be world leaders) still promote superstition, stories and unthinking acceptance of dogma over scientific evidence. Evolutionary biologists have succeeded in investigating the magnificence, the wonder, the complexity, and the detail of evolution and its role in generating biodiversity. Evolutionary biologists have been less successful in making this relevant to those who are not biologists (and even, alas, some biologists). Is evolutionary biology likely to thrive when governments demand an immediate return on their research investment? How do we begin to educate others as to the value and importance of evolutionary research? I do not begin to claim that I can fathom the mind of Darwin, but I cannot help wondering – what would Darwin do today? Would he respond? How would he respond? And, what would be the form of his response?”

Jerry Coyne on “Why Evolution is True”:

Daniel Dennett on “Darwin and the Evolution of Why”:

A new book “offers a primer in the history of the development of evolution as a discipline after Darwin’s book and in how evolution is defined today”: The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009) by UCR biologist David Reznick. You can read the introduction on the publisher’s page for the book.

Richard Dawkins closes his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by going through and detailing each line of the famous closing paragraph (“There is grandeur in this view of life…”) of On the Origin of Species. It’s available online, for you, to read, and ponder.

“The Evolution of Charles Darwin,” a 4-part series on CBC Radio One: “Ideas pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his transformational and contentious book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution through Natural Selection completely changed how we think about the world. In this 4-part series, Seth Feldman guides us through the life and ideas of Charles Darwin, a creative genius. The series is produced by Sara Wolch.” Via Adrian.

Via The Evolution List, The Darwinian Revolutions Video Series: “This series of six online videos is a brief introduction to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications.” The short videos are: Darwinian Revolutions, Evolutionary Ancestors, Lamarck’s Theory, One Long Argument, Mendel-Eclipse of Darwin, and The Evolving Synthesis.

The November 2009 issue of Naturwissenschaften is devoted to Darwin. The articles are “Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, directional selection, and the evolutionary sciences today” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera); “Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: From molecules to the origin of life” [PDF] (Hartmut Follmann and Carol Brownson); “Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics” [PDF] (Rolf G. Beutel, Frank Friedrich and Richard A. B. Leschen); “The predictability of evolution: Glimpses into a post-Darwinian world” [PDF] (Simon Conway Morris); and “Evolutionary plant physiology: Charles Darwin’s forgotten synthesis” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera and Karl J. Niklas).

Two more articles consider Darwin and the origin of life. In Endeavour James E. Strick offers “Darwin and the origin of life: public versus private science”: “In the first twenty years after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an intense debate took place within the ranks of Darwin’s supporters over exactly what his theory implied about the means by which the original living organism formed on Earth. Many supporters of evolutionary science also supported the doctrine of spontaneous generation: life forming from nonliving material not just once but many times up to the present day. Darwin was ambivalent on this topic. He feared its explosive potential to drive away liberal-minded Christians who might otherwise be supporters. His ambivalent wording created still more confusion, both among friends and foes, about what Darwin actually believed about the origin of life. A famous lecture by Thomas H. Huxley in 1870 set forth what later became the ‘party line’ Darwinian position on the subject.” In Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, Juli Peretó, Jeffrey L. Bada and Antonio Lazcano offer another analysis in “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life”: “When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species 150 years ago he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. However, analysis of some other texts written by Darwin, and of the correspondence he exchanged with friends and colleagues demonstrates that he took for granted the possibility of a natural emergence of the first life forms. As shown by notes from the pages he excised from his private notebooks, as early as 1837 Darwin was convinced that “the intimate relation of Life with laws of chemical combination, & the universality of latter render spontaneous generation not improbable”. Like many of his contemporaries, Darwin rejected the idea that putrefaction of preexisting organic compounds could lead to the appearance of organisms. Although he favored the possibility that life could appear by natural processes from simple inorganic compounds, his reluctance to discuss the issue resulted from his recognition that at the time it was possible to undertake the experimental study of the emergence of life.”


PZ Myers live-blogged on Pharyngula talks given at Chicago’s big Darwin festival, Darwin/Chicago 2009. Science Life also has a piece about the conference.

From the August 24, 2009 issue of Significance, two Darwin articles: “Darwin, Mendel and the evolution of evolution” by R. Allan Reese: “The history of science is full of myths. Darwin has his fair share; but Gregor Mendel, his fellow scientist and contemporary, has suffered even more. R. Allan Reese disentangles what we like to believe about Mendel from what we should believe—and finds a modern species whose origin was not by conventional evolution;” and “Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics” by Nicholas W. Gillham: “Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”

In Archives of Natural History of October 2009 is a short article, “Letters from Alfred Russel Wallace concerning the Darwin commemorations of 1909” by Henry A McGhie.

GUEST POST: Review of “Creation” by science educator James Williams

James Williams, a lecturer in science education at the University of Sussex, had thoughts about the new Darwin film Creation, and I invited him to share his review here. James, if you remember, gave this nice talk about creationism for the British Humanist Association:

And to James’s review of Creation:

Creation – the ‘myth’ of Darwin’s life

2 October 2009

It promised so much, yet delivered a turkey! The BBC (one of the backers/makers) of the film Creation, starring Paul Bettany, can be relied upon, usually, to deliver a quality account of scientific ideas and concepts, yet in the latest and highly publicised cinema release Creation they failed miserably. It was, in my view, a waste of a good film.

Granted the actors and actresses, especially the girl who played Annie Darwin (Martha West) were very good, they played their parts well and I could appreciate their characterisations. But what let the film down was its attention to the chronology of Darwin’s life. There is no excuse for this. There are probably more Darwin biographies published than exist for any other scientist. Scholars such as Peter Bowler, Janet Browne, James Moore and many others have written the great man’s life in more intricate detail than many people care to have knowledge of.

Granted, the film did give some excellent and accurate portrayals of events, but why deliver them out of sequence and why leave out some important details, yet include others?

Most people, for example, are unaware of Emma Darwin (Charles’s wife) except that she was his first cousin (mentioned in the film) and that she was ‘ultra’ religious – a Unitarian in fact. Very few people know that she was an accomplished pianist (this was evident in the film) who had studied at the Paris Conservatorie under Chopin. Yet in the film also, we are left with the impression that the Darwin family consisted of 5 children when in fact there were ten (not all survived early childhood). Their eldest child – who would have been nearly twenty years of age – didn’t merit a mention.

Annie was the central focus of the film. Annie was, indeed, the apple of Charles’s eye. He adored her. That much is true. The film is based on the book ‘Annie’s Box’ by Randal Keynes (Charles’s great grandson) and I use the term based in loose terms! Annie was born in 1841 and died in 1851 aged nine. The film is set in 1858-59, seven years after Annie’s tragic death. Yet the filmgoer is left firmly with the impression that she is alive in 1858 and dies sometime in 1858/9. This is unforgivable – even granting poetic/dramatic licence. Darwin is portrayed as having ‘given up religion’ while Annie was still alive when it is well documented that he gave up going to church with Emma and the children after the death of Annie. There is also an allusion to some form of steel box which contains the ‘secrets’ that Charles was to unleash on the world – secrets that would lead to the ‘death of God. But this is not Annie’s box, her box was a small personal one, in which she stored precious (to her) items she collected.

Where do I begin to point out the flaws and errors – there were so many. Darwin being ‘urged’ to write his book on evolution – which he apparently names ‘On the Origin of Species’ when he had in fact been writing a very large book on evolution for many years. ‘Origin’ was just an ‘abstract’ of this magnum opus and its full title was conferred not by Darwin but by the publisher John Murray.

At least Alfred Russel Wallace (my personal hero) did get a mention – but only just. It was the receipt of Wallace’s letter by Darwin that prompted Charles Lyell and Joseph Hooker to urge Darwin to write Origin, not a visit by Huxley.

Darwin was distraught by the letter he received from Wallace (accurate in the film), but what put pressure on him was not Annie’s health (she was already dead at this point remember) but the health of his newborn son Charles – who did actually die during the period of his receipt of Wallace’s letter – and the fact that children in the village were sick and dying. Just how Emma could be pregnant with Charles junior, at the same time as worrying about Annie’s health, defies biological understanding.

The film makers were determined to make Annie the focus of Darwin’s angst during the writing of ‘Origin’ and deemed this to be the dramatic ‘device’. When you look at the REAL story of how Darwin was almost forestalled and what was happening in his life during June/July of 1858 and through to the publication of ‘Origin’ in 1859 – there was drama enough without having to destroy historical accuracy.

In some ways I’m glad that Creation has not found a major distributor in the USA [Michael: it now has]. People who see this film who know little or nothing about Darwin will learn some trivial facts about him. They will not uncover the true story of  Darwin during this period and will learn little about the events surrounding the discovery of the greatest scientific idea of the 19th, 20th and 21st century – the theory of evolution by means of natural selection. Unlike the film ‘Inherit the Wind’, which fictionalised the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s, where some details were changed for dramatic effect, yet the main thrust of the events remained relatively intact, Creation will serve only to mis-educate the people who see the film, but never delve any deeper into Darwin the man and the true story behind the development of the theory of evolution.

You may think that I am a pedant, but to me such historical distortion is like shifting the start of the second world war to 1950 for no good reason. This was not ‘whiggish’ or revisionist history it was just a melange of historical events.

If you are presenting a movie as anything approaching historical fact, ate least you should get the facts right!

Roy Davies’ “The Darwin Conspiracy” freely available as PDF

Roy Davies published The Darwin Conspiracy: The Evolution of a Scientific Crime in 2008. This book claims that Darwin stole his ideas from Alfred Russel Wallace, an idea that is not really new. James Lennox, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Pittsburgh, responded to a piece by Davies in The Wall Street Journal:

Your page-one article “Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle” (Dec. 20) fails to mention a couple of obvious problems for those who allege that Charles Darwin stole any of his key insights from Mr. Wallace.

First, those insights can be found in notebooks dating to 1838, and a preliminary draft of “On the Origin of Species” was completed in 1844, twelve years before Messrs. Darwin and Wallace began corresponding. Second, scholars who have carefully compared their joint publications of 1858 are struck by how very different the two theories are, given Mr. Darwin’s initial reaction to the essay Mr. Wallace sent him.

A good place to start, if one is serious about this topic, is an essay published in 1985 by Malcolm Jay Kottler “Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace: Two Decades of Debate Over Natural Selection.” Mr. Kottler points out that by Mr. Wallace’s own admission Mr. Darwin’s journal from the HMS Beagle, published in 1842, was a constant inspiration and may have led him to read Thomas Malthus’s “Essay on Population,” the work that gave Mr. Darwin a key to the puzzle of natural selection in 1838, and to Mr. Wallace, 20 years later.

Work such as this, rather than the allegations of a former BBC producer and a lawyer, will help interested readers understand the complicated relationship between these two great naturalists.

And John Wilkins, a philosopher of science, had this to say in his post “Darwin worship, and demonisation” on his blog Evolving Thoughts:

Mostly they report the old saw that Darwin “stole” from Wallace all his grand ideas that we now remember him from. In particular the article reports on Roy Davies, a former BBC producer of science documentaries, who has written a book titled The Darwin Conspiracy. Davies was kind enough to send me a copy of his book, and while I have not been able to check out all the sources due to my imminent move, I must comment on it now, as it has been a while.

First a word about historical writing. I’m not exactly a historian myself, although my book on species is historical in character. But I did do a history minor, and I am well aware that if any narrative is going to be turned to polemic ends, it is the historical narrative. Historians call it Whiggism when history is turned to do duty to convince someone that some outcome is inevitable, progressive and heroic. But when the opposite is asserted, that there is a conspiracy aimed at hiding the real heroes, well we need a name for that. I will call it Toryism to balance out.

Davies book is the very model of Toryism. From a bare possibility that Darwin refined some of his ideas upon reading Wallace’s letter in 1858, Davies, and his intellectual antecedents Arnold Brackman and Loren Eiseley (who replaces Wallace with Blyth), develop the notion that Darwin was not really all that original, and in fact there was a major under-the-table bit of prestidigitation to ensure that Darwin and not Wallace got the credit for the theory of evolution.

The book is replete with the sort of breathless language no historian would use injudiciously, like “scientific crime”, “one of the greatest crimes in the history of science” (what, up there with Nazi eugenics or the lobotomy fad?), and so on. He even says “I am convinced that Charles Darwin – British national hero, hailed as the greatest naturalist the world has ever known, the originator of one of the greatest ideas of the nineteenth century – lied, cheated and plagiarised in order to be recognised as the man who discovered the theory of evolution” (p162). And this raises flags of concern. The sources used are authentic, in particular Dov Ospovat’s excellent study on Darwin’s development, but since all scholars have used these same sources for decades now, how is it that it took a journalist and producer to identify the crime? The obvious answer is, it didn’t, and he hasn’t.

Davies interprets any kind of possibility as evidence that Darwin stole. From listing the famous Brackman argument of the supposed delay in the receipt of the letter from Wallace to Darwin being evidence that Darwin rewrote his earlier manuscripts, and Hooker and Lyell were in on the game, to suggestions that Darwin was not clear on the difference between species and varieties (did it escape Davies’ attention that Darwin never sorted that out?) anything that could indicate Wallace’s priority is taken as hard evidence it did. And that is not unlike the theist’s God of the Gaps – any place where God might act beneath the notice of science, is where He does. It’s equally bad argument in either case.

And the tragedy here is that it actually detracts from the importance of Wallace. There have been several recent biographies of Wallace, such as Peter Raby’s, that deal with his achievements, and he is in many ways more radical a thinker than Darwin. But trying to do this Toryist revisionism does nothing for him. Wallace himself never claimed the slightest credit – if anything he continued, long after Darwin died, to assert that he merely kicked Darwin along a bit.

Read all of Wilkins’ post here.

I point out these responses to the book because the book is now freely available [PDF]. From the book’s website:

The success of The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime means that the publishers are now able to offer the entire book as a free download to anyone wishing to see how Darwin plagiarised the work of Alfred Russel Wallace.

That sounds odd – because of its success we will make the book free? Wouldn’t success lead a publisher to want to make more money from the book? The publisher, Golden Square Books, seems to have only published one book (to my knowledge), The Darwin Conspiracy. Paul Hannon, the publisher, even offers a 5-star review on Amazon (UK):

The London Natural History Society recently reviewed “The Darwin Conspiracy – Origins of a Scientific Crime” and described it as:

“A thorough, engaging, historically and academically grounded presentation of the mostly uncredited contributions made by some of the forgotten heroes of the theory of evolution”

“Davies argues that Darwin was driven by a personal quest for glory, to be credited as THE author of the theory of evolution, which led him to commit the `crime’ to which Davies refers in the title of this book: that of plagiarism through a failure to acknowledge the contributions of his contemporaries in his published works.”

Paul Hannon,
Publisher, Golden Square Books

Hannon also responds to a 1-star review:

This book contains detailed evidence backing up the claim that Darwin did not come up with the idea of evolution by himself but passed off the work of others as his own. If you have read the book, I respect your views on the content; but if you have not read it, then you have adopted the knee-jerk reaction of so many Darwin supporters, who refuse to look at the facts. The book contains the facts, whether you like them or not.
Paul Hannon, publisher, Golden Square Books

Seems weird that a publisher is offering praise and responding to critique on Amazon. I’ve never seen that before.

We need more imagery of the young Darwin

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

Darwin portrait by Jeffrey Morgan, on the cover of "Charles Darwin's Letters" (CUP, 1998)

That popular imagery of Darwin too often portrays him as old and bearded has been discussed much recently (and acted upon!), and there seems to be an effort to bring in the image of a young Charles Darwin to academic and popular audiences. A smattering of the young Darwin:

Blog posts: Tetrapod Zoology: Why I hate Darwin’s beardThe Ethical Palaeontologist: Darwin’s ImageBeagle Project Blog: An Open Letter to Simon Gurr: more hair please; “Darwin’s not a stuff-shirted Nigel Bruce”; Young Darwins in February: Bora 1, Greg 0; Got evolution?; Young Darwin sculpture by a young Darwin sculptorDispersal of Darwin: Beagle-Bobble; Darwin Portrait by Carl Buell; This one’s for you, Karen; Pictures of the Young Darwin.

Recent books: The Young Charles Darwin by Keith Thomson; Darwin in Cambridge by John van Wyhe; Young Charles Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle by Ruth Ashby; The Voyage of the Beetle by Anne Weaver; The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; The True Adventures of Charley Darwin by Carolyn Meyer; One Beetle Too Many: The Extraordinary Adventures of Charles Darwin by Kathyrn Lasky; Animals Charles Darwin Saw by Sandra Markle; What Darwin Saw: The Journey That Changed the World by Rosayln Schanzer; Darwin by Alice B. McGinty; What Mr Darwin Saw by Mick Manning; Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure by A.J. Wood and Clint Twist; Charles Darwin, the Discoverer by Vargie Johnson; and The Darwin Story: A Lifetime of Curiosity, a Passion for Discovery by H.M. Ahn and T.S. Lee.

Performance: A Glimpse of the Young Darwin; biology instructor Greg Bole’s impersonation of a young(ish) Darwin.

Films: The Young Charles Darwin (trailer on YouTube; review at The Friends of Charles Darwin); Creation (forthcoming Darwin biopic featuring Paul Bettany as a young and middle-aged Darwin).

Art: Young Darwin’s evolution adventures; the logo for The HMS Beagle Project; Anthony Smith’s bronze sculpture of a young Darwin (hanging out with me! & a mini version of this sculpture makes its own voyage); Charles Darwin as a graduate student; Russian paintings of a young Darwin; a new Dover colouring book; Darwin and Galapagos; a young Charles Darwin; young Darwin image for The Great Plant Hunt; Young Charles Darwin (comic illustration); set of images from The Curious Mind of Young Darwin; statue of a young Darwin in Portugeuse exhibit.

Darwin was, for much of his life, unbearded and not an old man. He was only 22 when he embarked on HMS Beagle (he did, however, grow a beard during the voyage – Darwin wrote in his diary while in Tierra del Fuego: “They received us with less distrust & brought with them their timid children. — They noticed York Minster (who accompanied us) in the same manner as Jemmy, & told him he ought to shave, & yet he has not 20 hairs in his face, whilst we all wear our untrimmed beards”). Darwin was 50 when he published On the Origin of Species. So why is it that he is more often than not portrayed like this?

Old, bearded Darwin

Old, bearded Darwin

And not like this?

Young, adventurous Darwin

Young, adventurous Darwin

Probably because an image of an old man shows more respectability. And the beard shows his wisdom. But a young Darwin shows a curious mind, and, I think, can enable a younger generation to follow his story, as many of the recent books about Darwin for young readers seem to grasp on. What prompted this post, however, was coming across a book in a small Montana town toy store this past weekend. The book is part of the Who Was? series, telling the lives of notable historical figures (others include Einstein, Franklin, Magellan, King Tut, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare). Who Was Charles Darwin? by Deborah Hopkinson (Grosset & Dunlap, 2005) features illustrations by Nancy Harrison. Harrison also painted the image on the front of the slim book. This is it:

Time-traveling Darwin

Time-traveling Darwin


Here we have Darwin, writing in one of his notebooks on the Galapagos Islands, amongst the tortoises with HMS Beagle hanging out in the background. This image has to be in 1835, when the Beagle visited the islands. Yet pictured here is an anachronistic Darwin from the 1870s, iconic beard in hand, er, on chin. Please, illustrators for children’s Darwin books, be accurate. If we are to see Darwin as a person, then let’s see him as he was in a particular time.

The cover of this book was too good not to spend the five bucks on it. As for the text of it, overall a nice treatment of Darwin for children.

If you know of any other neat examples of young Darwin art, books, or blog posts, let me know so I can add them.

ARTICLE: ‘Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and “The Gradual Birth & Death of Species”’

Online first from the Journal of the History of Biology:

Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and “The Gradual Birth & Death of Species”

Paul D. Brinkman

Abstract The prevailing view among historians of science holds that Charles Darwin became a convinced transmutationist only in the early spring of 1837, after his Beagle collections had been examined by expert British naturalists. With respect to the fossil vertebrate evidence, some historians believe that Darwin was incapable of seeing or understanding the transmutationist implications of his specimens without the help of Richard Owen. There is ample evidence, however, that he clearly recognized the similarities between several of the fossil vertebrates he collected and some of the extant fauna of South America before he returned to Britain. These comparisons, recorded in his correspondence, his diary and his notebooks during the voyage, were instances of a phenomenon that he later called the “law of the succession of types.” Moreover, on the Beagle, he was following a geological research agenda outlined in the second volume of Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which implies that paleontological data alone could provide an insight into the laws which govern the appearance of new species. Since Darwin claims in On the Origin of Species that fossil vertebrate succession was one of the key lines of evidence that led him to question the fixity of species, it seems certain that he was seriously contemplating transmutation during the Beagle voyage. If so, historians of science need to reconsider both the role of Britain’s expert naturalists and the importance of the fossil vertebrate evidence in the development of Darwin’s ideas on transmutation.

Darwin at Cambridge & Myth Perpetuation

Cambridge News Online has a short video up about Darwin’s time a Cambridge. His quarters at Christ’s College have been restored for the bicentennial. In the video is John van Whye, historian of science, the man behind Darwin Online, and a Darwin myth-buster. I was surprised then when in the video the interviewer said something about Darwin having been sought out to be naturalist aboud HMS Beagle, and van Whye saying that Darwin, through his Cambridge connections, was seen as the right man for the job. Huh?

Darwin was not brought aboard HMS Beagle as ship’s naturalist but rather as a gentleman companion for Captain Robert Fitzroy. Read more about it at So Simple A Beginning.

And see the video at Cambridge News Online here.

Imperial College Lecture with authors of ‘Darwin’s Sacred Cause’

Tim Jones)

Discussing Darwin's Abolitionism (photo: Tim Jones)

Over at Zoonomian, a science communication blog, Tim Jones discusses a program with Adrian Desmond and James Moore discussing their book Darwin’s Sacred Cause with Olivia Judson of The New York Times. He links to the audio/video of the program as well. Thanks Tim!

Steve Jones: Contradicting Himself on Darwin

Brian Switek of Laelaps deftly notes that geneticist Steve Jones’ recent article, “Can we please forget about Charles Darwin?” runs counter to the fact that Jones has recently published a whole book about Darwin. Brian:

The fact that Jones has a new book out about Darwin, Darwin’s Island, and has previously written Almost Like a Whale as an update to On the Origin of Species, seems incongruous with the point he’s trying to make.

I have ordered Darwin’s Island already because I am interested in Darwin’s experimental work at Down, especially his floating seeds in artificial sea water, and questions of space and place in the conduct of science. Not sure yet what insights Jones will have to offer, but I am a little irked by his saying that he

would be even happier if the squabbles about the social, moral, legal, political, historical, ethical and theological implications of his work were to find, at last, their long-delayed demise. In 2009 we should celebrate the science rather than the man – the fact rather than the anecdote.

Doesn’t learning about science better from understanding the development of that science and the forces behind it? (see this post at Stranger Fruit)

Darwin Scholars

I’ve added a link section on this blog (2nd column) for the webpages of Darwin scholars, and not necessarily just historians of science. Help me fill it in with suggestions. I decided to do this after I was on Robert J. Richards’ webpage, where he provides a lot of access to articles and book chapters he has written, especially these two pieces that we can find useful:

“The Moral Grammar of Narratives in History of Biology—the Case of Haeckel and Nazi Biology,” Cambridge Companion to the Philosophy of Biologyed. Michael Ruse and David Hull (Cambridge: Cambridge UniversityPress, 2007). 

“Myth: That Darwin and Haeckel were Complicit in Nazi Biology,” in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion, ed.Ronald L. Numbers (Cambridge:  Harvard University Press, 2009).

Also, Richards has on his site the audio and video from a course he taught in Fall 2008 on Origin and Descent. So much to listen to, so little time!

Radio show on “Darwin’s Sacred Cause”

As part of BBC’s Darwin season, you can listen to Adrian Desmond and James Moore discussing their new book, Darwin’s Sacred Cause, on Radio 4’s Leading Edge. Go here, then click on “Listen to the latest edition” above the photo of the show’s host. This aired on January 22nd…

“Darwin: shaped by slavery” by Adrian Desmond

In the Times Online (Jan. 22, 2009):

Darwin: shaped by slavery

The evolutionary ideas explored in On the Origin of Species may have been fostered by its author’s abolitionist beliefs

Adrian Desmond

Enormous strides have been made recently in understanding Charles Darwin. The latest evidence suggests that Darwin’s anti-slavery beliefs helped to shape his theory of evolution. He became an evolutionist in 1837, after the Beagle voyage, but did not publish On the Origin of Species until 1859. The unique theory that he devised after stepping ashore rested on the “common descent” of all animals and plants – an approach that spawned the “tree of life” image that was Darwin’s distinctive way of looking at nature.

Historians have wondered why he adopted such a genealogical perspective with its joined bloodlines. The answer, it now seems, is to be sought in his anti-slavery heritage. Darwin’s grandfather was Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the 250-year-old chinaware company that collapsed only weeks ago. Wedgwood’s cameo, depicting a kneeling slave begging “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” is a highly recognisable icon. It suggests the very “brotherhood” image of race relations that may have influenced Darwin’s thinking on “common descent”. If black and white people can look so different yet share the same umpteenth grandparent, perhaps all animals could be similarly related.

To assess the Darwin family’s commitment to anti-slavery, Professor James Moore, from the Open University, has burrowed into the Wedgwood archives. He discovered an abolitionist obsession. Darwin’s aunt, Sarah Wedgwood, gave more to the anti-slavery movement than any other woman in Britain. Darwin’s mother and wife were Wedgwoods and anti-slavery was what Darwin called a “sacred cause”. He was taught to see the oppressed black as a “brother”. This explains why, when he went to Edinburgh University at 16, he could apprentice himself to a freed Guyanese slave to learn the art of bird preservation without thinking it infra dig. That former slave became an “intimate” friend.

Nowhere was Darwin more outraged by slavery than in South America. During the Beagle voyage he saw the aftermath of slave revolts and the instruments of torture, and heard of a planter who threatened to sell the children of recalcitrant slaves. “It makes one’s blood boil, yet heart tremble,” he wrote. Slave trading was ubiquitous here. State documents show that, on her previous journey, even Beagle’s supply ship was a former slaver – and after being sold it returned to slave-smuggling while Darwin was in South America.

White masters considered slaves subhuman. They were assumed to be another species. It is no coincidence that Darwin, fresh off the Beagle, took an opposite tack. In his first evolution notes he railed against this view and extended the Darwin-Wedgwood motto, making the black person a “Man and a Brother”. He joined the races by giving them a common ancestor, uniting all “animals, our fellow brethren in pain, disease death & suffering … our slaves in the most laborious work” by means of trillions of “common descents”. Each animal and plant had a pedigree that ultimately united it with every other one.

The “common descent” image is so common now that we have lost sight of its racial roots. Those who execrate Darwin may be staggered to learn that humanitarianism lay behind his profoundest achievement.

Darwin’s Sacred Cause: Race, Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, is published by Allen Lane on January 29, £25

See also a review of this book at The Friends of Charles Darwin.

Darwin, Wallace, and Historical Accuracy (or lack thereof)

Two biology/history of science bloggers have brought attention to the misuses of history relating to Darwin and Wallace:

Evolving Thoughts: Darwin worship, and demonisation

Stranger Fruit: Darwin and Wallace … here we go again.

Also of note, another book on Alfred Russel Wallace

Reminder: Mark Pallen’s list of Ten Darwin Myths

Ten Myths about Charles Darwin

Mark Pallen, author of The Rough Guide to Evolution, has posted ten myths about Charles Darwin. There are a lot of mistakes that continue to circulate in books and online about Darwin (for example, see this photo of a Darwin misquote etched into the floor of the California Academy of Science’s new building). Pallen will cover the ten myths in more detail through the Darwin Year. Here they are:

Myth 1. Darwin lost his Christian faith because of the death of his daughter Annie.

Brief response: There is no direct documentary evidence for this in anything Darwin or his contemporaries wrote. Darwin certainly never said anything about it. It is a hypothesis formulated by Darwin biographer Jim Moore. Darwin describes his own loss of faith in his Autobiography and brings in plenty of other good reasons that explain his loss of faith that have nothing to do with Annie’s death. See earlier posting.

Myth 2. Darwin delayed publication of his work on evolution fearful of its consequences for religion and the reception it would receive.

Brief response: He didn’t delay. He was busy working on lots of other projects. Plus there is little or no evidence for this myth from anything Darwin or his contemporaries wrote. It is a modern invention. See van Wyhe’s paper. [covered in the book]

Myth 3. Marx offered to dedicate Das Capital to Darwin.

Brief response: No he didn’t. This myth is the result of a mix-up in letters assigned to Marx and his common-law son-in-law Aveling. [covered in the book]

Myth 4. Darwin lied about the timing of when Wallace’s package arrived and stole some of his ideas.

Brief response: No he didn’t. This issue is explored in the introduction to the relevant section of Darwin’s correspondence.

Myth 5. Darwin was scooped by the Baghdad scholar Al-Jahiz, who hit on the idea of evolution a thousand years earlier than Darwin did; Darwin learnt Arabic from his Cambridge friend Samuel Lee and then stole ideas about evolution from the Islamic tradition.

Brief response: There is little or no evidence in English as to what Al-Jahiz actually wrote, but a lot of uncritical acceptance of material misrepresented in the Wikipedia. There is no evidence that Darwin ever knew anything of Al-Jahiz and other Islamic scholars and evidence for only one brief dinner party meeting with Lee. [covered in the book]

Myth 6. Huxley and science trounced Soapy Sam Wilberforce and religion at the BA meeting in Oxford in 1860

Brief response: there are few contemporary accounts of what happened here and at least three participants claim to have won the day (Wilberforce, Hooker and Huxley). Huxley did not deliver any decisive knock-out blow and Wilberforce argued against Darwin on scientific not religious grounds. [covered in the book]

Myth 7. Darwin underwent a deathbed conversion to Christianity.

Brief response: no he didn’t. This myth starts with the accounts of certain Lady Hope, who claimed to have visited Darwin during his final illness. The family strongly denied that she was ever there and if she was, she never claimed that Darwin underwent a conversion.

Myth 8. Darwin abandoned a belief in God as a direct consequence of his discoveries in the field of evolution.

Brief response: as noted above, in his Autobiography, Darwin put forward plenty of other reasons for abandoning his belief in conventional Christianity and on several occasions stated that he saw no incompatibility between evolution and religion. He never became an atheist and even well into middle age claimed that “the conclusion was strong in my mind” [that] “I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man; and I deserve to be called a Theist”. See earlier posting.

Myth 9. Darwin was responsible for the Holocaust.

Brief response. There is no direct link between Darwin and Hitler. Darwin never advocated anti-semitism or genocide. Hitler never cited Darwin as an influence. Even if it could be established that Darwin’s view had any kind of impact on Nazism, attaching personal blame to a historical individual for the unforeseen consequences of their work is fraught with difficulty. Should we blame Jesus for the Inquisition or Mohammed for 9/11? A more obvious historical figure to blame for the Holocaust is Martin Luther, who advocated the burning of synagogues. [covered in the book]. See this earlier posting.

Myth 10. Darwin experienced a eureka moment while visiting the Galapagos, where on glimpsing the resident finches and tortoises he immediately hit upon his theory of evolution.

Brief response: no, he didn’t. His notebooks reveal that it was only months later, during the journey home in the summer of 1836, that the Galapagos mocking birds (not finches) raised his first doubts as to the fixity of species. Darwin’s finches played only a minor role in his thinking and only well after his return to England. He does not specifically mention the Galapagos finches in The Origin. [covered in the book]

Wall Street Journal: Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle

From The Wall Street Journal (December 20, 2008):

Alfred Russel Wallace’s Fans Gear Up for a Darwinian Struggle
Anniversary of ‘Origin of Species’ Nears; Rival Is Touted, Charges of Plagiarism

MAKASSAR, Indonesia — In January, Stanford University is conducting a $60,000-a-head journey around the world by private jet to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.” Taking in the Galapagos Islands and other sites of Mr. Darwin’s research, the trip is one of several big events planned world-wide to honor him as the father of evolutionary theory.

But a vocal group of revisionists — including a British cockroach expert, a former BBC journalist and a human-rights lawyer — say the spotlight should be on another man: Alfred Russel Wallace.

Mr. Wallace, a naturalist who spent many years collecting bird and insect specimens in the jungles of Indonesia, was famed in the Victorian era as the co-discoverer with Mr. Darwin of evolution by natural selection. But his reputation languished in the mid-20th century as scholars focused their attention on Mr. Darwin. More recently, several books have attempted to resuscitate Mr. Wallace’s name, and most mainstream scientists now regard him as the co-founder of modern evolutionary theory.

Hardcore Wallace backers say that isn’t good enough. In a new book, “The Darwin Conspiracy: Origins of a Scientific Crime,” Roy Davies, a former producer of science programs for the BBC, accuses Mr. Darwin of stealing ideas about evolution from Mr. Wallace — who was corresponding with him from Indonesia — and passing them off as his own. “Once you change the focus from Darwin to Wallace, you start to realize what a genius Wallace was,” Mr. Davies says.

Read the rest of the article, which features George Beccaloni of the Alfred Russel Wallace Memorial Fund, here.

Interview with Adrian Desmond and James Moore about "Darwin’s Sacred Cause"

From the publisher’s page for the book (hat-tip to Peter though):

What was the initial spark that inspired you to write a book arguing such a revolutionary thesis?

We asked the big question in our 1991 Darwin biography: “Why did such a rich and impeccably upright gent go out of his way to develop such a subversive and inflammatory image of human evolution? He had everything to lose!” But we only partially answered it, showing how Darwin covered his tracks and kept ominously quiet for thirty years on the subject, before publishing The Descent of Man in 1871. The question kept niggling: `Why did he do it – and why did he wait so long?’ We knew that contemporary radicals, Christian and otherwise, had opposed slavery, and then it dawned on us that the Darwin family’s anti-slavery brotherhood beliefs could have driven the ‘common descent’ approach of Darwin’s particular brand of evolution. About ten years ago our thesis began to jell. Jim was particularly interested in The Descent of Man, which no one seemed to have read. Why was two-thirds of a book supposedly about human evolution devoted to beetles, butterflies, birds and furry mammals? Darwin’s answer was: to prove his theory of `sexual selection’. But why was sexual selection so important to Darwin? Jim’s answer: because it was his prize explanation of racial common descent – why black people and white people looked different but were still members of the same family, not separately created species, as pro-slavery demagogues were arguing. Meanwhile Adrian realized how Darwin’s work on fancy pigeons and hybrids, leading up to sexual selection, also served to undermine pro-slavery science. What’s more, Darwin had originally intended all of this to go into his great work on evolution, which was finally published as The Origin of Species – a book that everyone knows `omits man’. No Eureka moment for us, then, but a lot of loose ends came together to tie a gloriously satisfying knot.

2009 is the Darwin Bicentenary, as well as the 150th anniversary of the publication of his Origin of Species. Why has it taken so long to discover the moral motivation behind Darwin’s theories of sexual selection and human origins?

The Descent of Man hasn’t been read, much less read carefully. Over and over, scholars have called it `two books’ crushed together (and it is unwieldy, over 900 pages). That’s one reason. Another is this: only in the last generation have Darwin’s private notebooks, letters and marginal jottings become fully available. Without these, it was difficult to trace the development of his views on human origins. Above all, though, there has been great reluctance to see Darwin as more than a heroic `genius’ uncovering pure gems of `truth’ beyond the vision of ordinary mortals. To most of his admirers, Darwin was a `great scientist’ getting on with a great scientist’s proper job, not a Victorian gentleman with a moral passion making all life kin by solving that contemporary `mystery of mysteries’, how living species originate. But historians today see Darwin quite differently: they emphasize the social and historical context that made it possible for Darwin or anyone to craft a theory from available cultural resources. One such resource in Darwin’s world was anti-slavery, the greatest moral movement of his age. Our thesis is that the anti-slavery values instilled in him from youth became the moral premise of his work on evolution. Many scientists and philosophers think that explaining genius and its insights as we do saps the power of science and, given the challenge of creationism, is an act of treachery. The reluctance to dig beneath the surface of Darwin’s books into the social and cultural resources of his times is as dogged as ever.

And why is Darwin’s moral motivation important?

This is perhaps the most radical and upsetting idea: that there was a moral impetus behind Darwin’s work on human evolution – a brotherhood belief, rooted in anti-slavery, that led to a ‘common descent’ image for human ancestry, an image that Darwin extended to the rest of life, making not just the races, but all creatures brothers and sisters. In his family `tree of life’, all share a common ancestor. It’s vital to realize that Darwin’s science wasn’t the `neutral’, dispassionate practise of textbook caricature; it was driven by human desires and needs and foibles. Even our most vaunted theories – such as human evolution by a common descent with apes and all other creatures – may be fostered by humanitarian concerns. This throws all Darwin’s work – so vilified for being morally subversive – into an entirely different light.

How long did it take for the book to come to fruition?

Our gestation goes all the way back to Darwin in 1991, and to our separate but parallel interests in anti-slavery beliefs (in Adrian’s case) among radical anatomists, and (in Jim’s case) among the evangelical ethnologists that helped Darwin make his case for sexual selection. But we didn’t really get going on the project until ten years later, when we started writing the introduction to (and editing) the Penguin Classics edition of The Descent of Man. This was published in 2004, and by then we knew that we had only scratched the surface of a very deep subject. As the 2009 Darwin bicentenary approached, our work took on a life of its own, and after starting Darwin’s Sacred Cause about two years ago, we clinched the ‘common descent’ angle and pieced together how Darwin’s research for the book that became The Origin of Species effectively combated the rising `scientific racism’ in America and Britain.

What sort of research did the book involve?

Loads. That’s number one. Everything we’ve done separately and together for decades got poured into Darwin’s Sacred Cause. But our new research was prodigious. Jim spent weeks one scorching summer in the English Potteries, ploughing through faded, cross-written, semi-decipherable Darwin family correspondence, literally thousands of letters and other archival materials. Most of his other digging was local, in the vast Darwin archive at Cambridge University Library, but a trawl of the National Archives at Kew netted the logbooks of HMS Beagle and other ships, which shed fresh light on Darwin’s face-to-face encounter with slavery in South America. Adrian meanwhile ransacked the esoteric breeders’ literature that Darwin read, on cattle, pigeons, poultry and the like; and he tackled the racist propaganda that riled Darwin, and much else besides. Darwin’s Sacred Cause may be one of the first historical studies to exploit the rich nineteenth-century sources recently made available on-line: for instance, newspapers from the British Library and the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers yielded wonderfully fresh contextual material for our thesis.

What do you think is the most surprising element of this book?

Our revelation that much of Darwin’s research over many years was about race. There was no ultimate difference for Darwin between a `race’ and a `species’, so his work on `the origin of species’ was also about the origin of races, including the human races – `man’ was never an exception for him. And while most of Darwin’s research was implicitly about human origins, the extent of his explicit interest in combating racist science is a real surprise. The fact that his most intense phase of work on racial questions came as the United States hurtled towards civil war, a war that the humanitarian Darwin dreaded, adds poignancy to the moral dimension of his research.

What sort of reaction are you anticipating from the scientific community? The history community? The evangelical community?

Many scientists will welcome a `moral’ Darwin’ to confound his religious critics; others will resent our polluting Darwin’s pure science with `extra-scientific’ factors and will declare his anti-slavery beliefs irrelevant. Historians may be more positive, if only because Darwin’s Sacred Cause locates Darwin for the first time on the well-trodden historical fields of transatlantic slavery, slave emancipation and the American Civil War. And those who study the history of `scientific racism’ will have a new Darwin to reckon with. Evangelicals may feel distinctly queasy, not least because William Wilberforce, the Clapham `Saints’ and others they revere as religious ancestors once supped happily with the freethinking Darwins and saw them as allies in the anti-slavery crusade. Darwin’s words, `More humble & I believe true to consider [man] created from animals’, will pose a challenge to every creationist.

What lessons does this book contain for the relationship between religion and science?

That `the relationship between religion and science’ never existed; that religion in science was the norm in Darwin’s day, and he never escaped its aura; that biological theorizing about human nature inevitably poses moral questions, and in so far as these questions have religious answers, to that extent `religion and science’ are inseparable.

When readers close Darwin’s Sacred Cause after finishing it, what do you hope they will be thinking?

`Gee, I didn’t know that about Darwin.’ `I never dreamt he cared.’ `Maybe evolution has something going for it after all.’ `Next time at the zoo, maybe I’ll drop in on the relatives.’