ARTICLE: Darwin and Deep Time: Temporal Scales and the Naturalist’s Imagination

A new article in the journal History of Science (March 2016):

Darwin and Deep Time: Temporal Scales and the Naturalist’s Imagination

Peter Dear

Abstract Charles Darwin built a world around an implied metaphysics of time that treated deep time as something qualitatively different from ordinary, experienced time. He did not simply require a vast amount of time within which his primary evolutionary mechanism of natural selection could operate; in practice, he required a deep time that functioned according to different rules from those of ordinary, “shallow” time. The experience of the naturalist occupied shallow time, but it was from that experience that Darwin necessarily had to build his arguments concerning a transformism that took place on an entirely different temporal scale. Much of his reconstruction of what took place in deep time relied on inferences drawn from taxonomic classification, and those inferences in turn depended to a large degree on conclusions reached through the already-established practices of his fellow non-transformist naturalists. By bootstrapping his transformist arguments, focused on both natural and sexual selection, with non-transformist classificatory judgments, Darwin attempted to convince his fellow naturalists of the truth of evolution in deep time. In other words, while Darwin argued for the existence of selectionist processes themselves in contemporary shallow time, their transformist consequences could only be traced out in deep time, being evidenced by both contemporary and paleontological slices, or laminae, of shallow time. This served to protect transformism from the dangers of unorthodoxy by preserving uniformity within shallow time.

BOOK REVIEW: Tiny Thinkers: Charlie and the Tortoise

The first title in a new book series for kids called Tiny Thinkers – where real life scientists are depicted as kids – is about Charles Darwin.


In Tiny Thinkers: Charlie and the Tortoise (Garland, TX: Secular Media Group, 2015, 40 pp.), written by M.J. Mouton and illustrated by Jezreel S. Cuevas, a Beagle named Hitch (perhaps a reference to atheist Christoper Hitchens, given the name of the publisher) accompanies a young Darwin on his famous voyage around the world. They land in the Galapagos Islands, and Darwin of course loves all the plants and animals there are to study. The illustrations are cute and the text given in rhyming form.

Charlie and the Tortoise unfortunately continues the notion that Darwin recognized a group of birds with varying beak sizes and shapes and eating habits as all different species of finches. He did not know they were all finches until an ornithologist in London examined specimens following the Beagle‘s return. Also, another group of birds were more instrumental in his thinking about variation and adaptation, the archipelago’s mockingbirds. Scientific myths remain hard to abandon. (See Frank Sulloway’s 1982 paper on Darwin’s finches and this essay from John van Wyhe.) As an historian of science, such details are important. I am not sure if this new book series has any history consultants. If not, they should. Not only should science books for kids get the science right, they should get the history right, too. I do give credit to the author, however, for not writing that Darwin had a Eureka moment about evolution on the Galapagos – that’s what usually follows his apparent observation of the different species of finches.

BOOK REVIEW: The Not-So-Intelligent Designer


Every time I see the above image passed around on Facebook, I chuckle. But the other day I wondered just where young-earth creationist and Creation Museum founder Ken Ham said or wrote these words. A Google search for “The eye is a perfect design by a perfect creator” results in a single entry: this same image on someone’s Google+ page. So I don’t know where the quote comes from, and it seems to me to have been fabricated. Which is, as it is with creationists messing with the words of supporters of evolution (“quote-mining”), dishonest. The sentiment, however, makes a point: creationists insist on things having been designed by God or the intelligent designer, yet the human body is full of absolutely ridiculous design (disregard the easy way out: the entry of sin into the world is what has caused anatomical changes which mimic poor design – that’s simply throwing science out the door). Whether Ham said those words trapped between the quote marks or not, the many anatomical problems with the human body speak to it being a product of evolution.

And that topic is marvelously laid out by zoologist and human anatomy and physiology professor Abby Hafer in a new book:

Abby Hafer, The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2015), 244 pp.

Publisher’s description: Why do men’s testicles hang outside the body? Why does our appendix sometimes explode and kill us? And who does the Designer like better, anyway-us or squid? These and other questions are addressed in The Not-So-Intelligent Designer: Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design Does Not. Dr. Abby Hafer argues that the human body has many faulty design features that would never have been the choice of an intelligent creator. She also points out that there are other animals that got better body parts, which makes the Designer look a bit strange; discusses the history and politics of Intelligent Design and creationism; reveals animals that shouldn’t exist according to Intelligent Design; and disposes of the idea of irreducible complexity. Her points are illustrated with pictures, wit, and erudition.

Beyond the straight-to-the-point examination of human anatomical issues in light of intelligent design (such as the birth canal in women, human teeth, and, of course, the human eye), The Not-So-Intelligent Designer also provides thoughts about intelligent design as a whole – its origins, lack of progress, and continued efforts to push forward an ideological agenda by combating a scientific theory. Hafer’s writing is light-hearted, humorous, and full of common sense. I am enjoying reading through the book at night before bed.

BOOK: The Voyage of the Beagle: The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal

This is a nicely-produced, coffee table-style book:


Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle: The Illustrated Edition of Charles Darwin’s Travel Memoir and Field Journal (Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2015), 480 pp.

Publisher’s description The Voyage of the Beagle is Darwin’s fascinating account of his groundbreaking sea voyage that led to his writing On the Origin of Species. When the HMS Beagle sailed out of Devonport on December 27, 1831, Charles Darwin was only twenty-two and setting off on the voyage of a lifetime. His journal reveals him to be a naturalist making patient observations concerning geology and natural history as well as people, places, and events. He witnessed and visited volcanoes in the Galapagos, saw the Gossamer spider of Patagonia, sailed through the Australasian coral reefs, and recorded the brilliance of the firefly–these recollections are found in these extraordinary writings. The insights made on the five-year voyage set in motion the intellectual currents that led to the most controversial book of the Victorian age: On the Origin of Species. An introduction on the background to Darwin’s work, as well as notes, maps, appendices, and an essay on scientific geology and the Bible by Robert FitzRoy, Darwin’s friend and captain of the Beagle, provide context for this incredible story. This volume is the first fully illustrated edition of Darwin’s journal and includes excerpts of On the Origin of Species so the reader can connect the author’s journey with his discovery that made him famous.

Do note that this edition is abridged from Darwin’s second edition of 1845 (the first was published in 1839).

Darwin Day lecture in Portland

I hope to be able to attend this OMSI Science Pub lecture on February 16th:

Why Was Darwin on the HMS Beagle? The History of Evolution as World History
with Richard H. Beyler, PhD, Professor of History at Portland State University​

February 16, 7pm
Located at: Empirical Theater at OMSI
Doors Open @ 5PM | $5 Suggested Donation

HMS Beagle is famous today as the ship on which Charles Darwin sailed around the world in the years 1831 to 1836. This voyage sparked many of the ideas that led to his theory of evolution though natural selection. Yet the voyage of this British navy vessel was not planned in order to ferry this young naturalist across the oceans: his presence on board was almost a coincidence. This presentation is about how the story of Darwin’s early development as a naturalist intersects with the history of international politics, naval strategy, imperial expansion, global trade, and anti-slavery activism.

Richard Beyler is a professor of history at Portland State University, where he teaches history of science and intellectual history.

Dinner will be available in our restaurant, Theory, or from the Empirical Café. Guests can check-in at the theater entrance to reserve a seat before grabbing dinner and drinks. Food and drink are welcome in the theater. Parking is free for the event. Doors open at 5pm.

ARTICLE: “Plants that Remind Me of Home”: Collecting, Plant Geography, and a Forgotten Expedition in the Darwinian Revolution

A new article in the Journal of the History of Biology:

“Plants that Remind Me of Home”: Collecting, Plant Geography, and a Forgotten Expedition in the Darwinian Revolution

Kuang-chi Hung

Abstract In 1859, Harvard botanist Asa Gray (1810–1888) published an essay of what he called “the abstract of Japan botany.” In it, he applied Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory to explain why strong similarities could be found between the flora of Japan and that of eastern North America, which provoked his famous debate with Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) and initiated Gray’s efforts to secure a place for Darwinian biology in the American sciences. Notably, although the Gray–Agassiz debate has become one of the most thoroughly studied scientific debates, historians of science remain unable to answer one critical question: How was Gray able to acquire specimens from Japan? Making use of previously unknown archival materials, this article scrutinizes the institutional, instrumental, financial, and military settings that enabled Gray’s collector, Charles Wright (1811–1885), to travel to Japan, as well as examine Wright’s collecting practices in Japan. I argue that it is necessary to examine Gray’s diagnosis of Japan’s flora and the subsequent debate about it from the viewpoint of field sciences. The field-centered approach not only unveils an array of historical significances that have been overshadowed by the analytical framework of the Darwinian revolution and the reception of Darwinism, but also places a seemingly domestic incident in a transnational context.

ARTICLE: The Impact of Lamarck’s Theory of Evolution Before Darwin’s Theory

An online first article from the Journal of the History of Biology:

The Impact of Lamarck’s Theory of Evolution Before Darwin’s Theory

Andrés Galera

Abstract This paper analyzes the impact that Lamarckian evolutionary theory had in the scientific community during the period between the advent of Zoological Philosophy and the publication Origin of Species. During these 50 years Lamarck’s model was a well known theory and it was discussed by the scientific community as a hypothesis to explain the changing nature of the fossil record throughout the history of Earth. Lamarck’s transmutation theory established the foundation of an evolutionary model introducing a new way to research in nature. Darwin’s selectionist theory was proposed in 1859 to explain the origin of species within this epistemological process. In this context, Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology and Auguste Comte’s Cours de Philosophie Positive appear as two major works for the dissemination of Lamarck’s evolutionary ideology after the death of the French naturalist in 1829.