Darwin Day 2015 is approaching; Darwin lecture in Portland

It’s that time again, when fans of Darwin, science, and reason celebrate Darwin’s birth on February 12th. This year marks the 206th anniversary of his birth.

The Darwin Day website from the American Humanist Association has been revamped, and of course is the place to check for any events planned for your area:


Another way to find events in your area is to check with the biology or history departments at local universities as well as science centers or natural history museums, and to inquire with any humanist or freethought groups.

And like the Darwin Day Facebook page!

Here in Portland, I hope to attend this lecture on January 26, put on by the local chapter of the FFRF: Darwin’s Dice: The Idea of Chance in the Thought of Charles Darwin. It is open to the public!

Children at Nature Play – my t-shirt fundraising campaign

Some of you may know that I also blog at Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. I get my two kids outside and exploring in nature as much as possible, and love to share information for other parents, mentors, and educators.

Right now I have a Teespring t-shirt fundraising campaign to raise funds to order and then sell signs with my Children at Nature Play design (David Orr was my graphic designer). The t-shirts for sale have the same design!

sign and shirt

To learn more about this project of mine, check out this blog post.

To order a t-shirt (or more!), click here.

Even better, share the Teespring link with anyone you think might be interested.

Thank you!

BOOK: Darwin the Writer

Darwin the Writer

George Levine, Darwin the Writer (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 272 pp.

Publisher’s description Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, arguably the most important book written in English in the nineteenth century, transformed the way we looked at the world. It is usually assumed that this is because the idea of evolution was so staggeringly powerful. Prize-winning author George Levine suggests that much of its influence was due, in fact, to its artistry; to the way it was written. Alive with metaphor, vivid descriptions, twists, hesitations, personal exclamations, and humour, the prose is imbued with the sorts of tensions, ambivalences, and feelings characteristic of great literature. Although it is certainly a work of “science,” the Origin is equally a work of “literature,” at home in the company of celebrated Victorian novels such as Middlemarch and Bleak House, books that give us a unique yet recognisable sense of what the world is really like, while not being literally ‘true’. Darwin’s enormous cultural success, Levine contends, depended as much on the construction of his argument and the nature of his language, as it did on the power of his ideas and his evidence. By challenging the dominant reading of his work, this impassioned and energetic book gives us a Darwin who is comic rather than tragic, ebullient rather than austere, and who takes delight in the wild and fluid entanglement of things.

BOOK: Huxley’s Church & Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science

Matthew Stanley, Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon: From Theistic Science to Naturalistic Science (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), 336 pp.

Publisher’s description During the Victorian period, the practice of science shifted from a religious context to a naturalistic one. It is generally assumed that this shift occurred because naturalistic science was distinct from and superior to theistic science. Yet as Huxley’s Church and Maxwell’s Demon reveals, most of the methodological values underlying scientific practice were virtually identical for the theists and the naturalists: each agreed on the importance of the uniformity of natural laws, the use of hypothesis and theory, the moral value of science, and intellectual freedom. But if scientific naturalism did not rise to dominance because of its methodological superiority, then how did it triumph? Matthew Stanley explores the overlap and shift between theistic and naturalistic science through a parallel study of two major scientific figures: James Clerk Maxwell, a devout Christian physicist, and Thomas Henry Huxley, the iconoclast biologist who coined the word agnostic. Both were deeply engaged in the methodological, institutional, and political issues that were crucial to the theistic-naturalistic transformation. What Stanley’s analysis of these figures reveals is that the scientific naturalists executed a number of strategies over a generation to gain control of the institutions of scientific education and to reimagine the history of their discipline. Rather than a sudden revolution, the similarity between theistic and naturalistic science allowed for a relatively smooth transition in practice from the old guard to the new.

BOOK: The Universe Verse

Last year I posted about a rhyming graphic guide to the history of the universe and evolution on Earth called The Universe Verse, by James Lu Dunbar. At the time he was still working on the third part, and now it is complete.


James Lu Dunbar, The Universe Verse (James and Kenneth Publishers, 2014), 110 pp, hardcover.

Description The Universe Verse is a scientifically-accurate rhyming comic book about the origins of the universe, life on Earth and the human race. It introduces and illuminates the most fundamental features of our existence in a way that is engaging and accessible to a wide audience, including young children.

Dunbar is offering a free PDF download for the month of December! You can see a bunch of images from the book here.

I think The Universe Verse would make a unique holiday gift for a science lover in your life, young or old!

BOOK REVIEW: Terra Tempo: The Academy of Planetary Evolution

I reviewed the second of the Terra Tempo graphic novel series for kids for the Portland Book Review in 2013:

In the first Terra Tempo graphic novel, Ice Age Cataclysm!, twins Jenna and Caleb and their know-it-all friend Ari find themselves, with the aid of a special map owned by their adventurous naturalist uncle, time traveling into the Ice Age of 15,000 years ago. They came across prehistoric mammals and witnessed the grand Missoula Flood, caused when a gigantic ice dam burst and Glacial Lake Missoula (in Montana) drained, its gushing torrent flowing west and sculpting the channeled scablands of the Pacific Northwest. The trio saw that the flood’s waters had covered their home – present day Portland, Oregon. Author David Shapiro, illustrator Christopher Herndon, and colorist Erica Melville continue the time traveling adventures in The Four Corners of Time, bringing the kids through several older time periods represented throughout the American southwest. They pass out in the Cambrian because of low oxygen levels, meet early tetrapods in the Devonian, get chased in the Carboniferous by humans, dodge pre-dinosaur reptiles in the Triassic, and face the tyrant lizard king in the Cretaceous. Those humans, by the way, are men out to abuse time traveling for profit, seeking to steal the maps the kids possess. A lesson in geology and paleontology, the Terra Tempo series so far has proved that learning science does not have to be boring. It can be – and perhaps should be – an adventure!

The third in the series has just been published, and when we got it in the mail, my eight-year-old son grabbed it and read it completely before I could even take a look at it!

terra tempo

David Shapiro, Christopher Herndon (illustrator), and Erica Melville (colorist), Terra Tempo: The Academy of Planetary Evolution (Portland, OR: Craigmore Creations, 2014), 168 pp.

In their latest adventure through time and space, Jenna, Caleb, and Ari find themselves as students in a summer program at the prestigious Academy of Planetary Evolution. Their classroom: environments millions of years old across what is now the western United States and classic American natural history museums. Their subject: various topics in geology – such as plate tectonics – and paleontology – such as mammalian evolution. Their instructors: paleontologists and naturalists from the past, like Alfred Russel Wallace, Herman Melville (he was a student of nature as well as a writer), and Winifred Goldring (a paleontologist from New York).

The conflict in the story is how the kids – who are joined by two other female students – are intertwined in the struggle between the geosophists (those who want to use the maps to time travel in order in add to humanity’s knowledge of science) and the treasure hunters (others who wish to time travel in order to exploit earth’s natural resources to get wealthy). Obvious as a statement about our current society’s issues with things like oil, climate change, etc., this third installment ends with the suggestion of a continuing series with an increasingly environmental theme.

Dinosaurs, a nod to Alfred Russel Wallace, and stressing the importance of learning knowledge for knowledge’s sake and taking care of our planet? All in one graphic novel? Terra Tempo: The Academy of Planetary Evolution not only entertained my son and made him think. Adults can get something out of it, too.

BOOK: Aristotle’s Ladder, Darwin’s Tree: The Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order

A couple of years ago I posted about a book that shared and provided context for 230 trees of life and similar diagrams, from the sixteenth century to the present: Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch. Fast forward two years, and there’s another book that looks at the same topic, but appears at first glance to have a deeper analysis of the images and their historical context.


J. David Archibald, Aristotle’s Ladder, Darwin’s Tree: The Evolution of Visual Metaphors for Biological Order (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 256 pp.

Publisher’s description Leading paleontologist J. David Archibald explores the rich history of visual metaphors for biological order from ancient times to the present and their influence on humans’ perception of their place in nature, offering uncommon insight into how we went from standing on the top rung of the biological ladder to embodying just one tiny twig on the tree of life. He begins with the ancient but still misguided use of ladders to show biological order, moving then to the use of trees to represent seasonal life cycles and genealogies by the Romans. The early Christian Church then appropriated trees to represent biblical genealogies. The late eighteenth century saw the tree reclaimed to visualize relationships in the natural world, sometimes with a creationist view, but in other instances suggesting evolution. Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) exorcised the exclusively creationist view of the “tree of life,” and his ideas sparked an explosion of trees, mostly by younger acolytes in Europe. Although Darwin’s influence waned in the early twentieth century, by midcentury his ideas held sway once again in time for another and even greater explosion of tree building, generated by the development of new theories on how to assemble trees, the birth of powerful computing, and the emergence of molecular technology. Throughout Archibald’s far-reaching study, and with the use of many figures, the evolution of “tree of life” iconography becomes entwined with our changing perception of the world and ourselves.

The table of contents can be viewed here, and an excerpted chapter, “Blaming Aristotle,” here.