ARTICLE: A Yankee at Oxford: John William Draper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, 30 June 1860

This new article [PDF] in the Notes and Records of the Royal Society will interest those who enjoy looking at the history of the famous “Oxford debate” between Thomas Huxley and Samuel Wilberforce:

A Yankee at Oxford: John William Draper at the British Association for the Advancement of Science at Oxford, 30 June 1860

James C. Ungureanu

Abstract This paper contributes to the revisionist historiography on the legendary encounter between Samuel Wilberforce and Thomas Henry Huxley at the 1860 meeting in Oxford of the British Association for the Advancement of Science. It discusses the contents of a series of letters written by John William Draper and his family reflecting on his experience at that meeting. The letters have recently been rediscovered and have been neither published nor examined at full length. After a preliminary discussion on the historiography of the Oxford debate, the paper discloses the contents of the letters and then assesses them in the light of other contemporary accounts. The letters offer a nuanced reinterpretation of the event that supports the growing move towards a revisionist account.

BOOK: The Story of Life in 25 Fossils

Donald Prothero, paleontologist, prolific writer, and recipient of this year’s Gregory Service Award from the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, has added to his list of numerous books another that relates the wonderful world of fossils to the public:

Donald R. Prothero, The Story of Life in 25 Fossils: Tales of Intrepid Fossil Hunters and the Wonders of Evolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 408 pp.

Publisher’s description Every fossil tells a story. Best-selling paleontology author Donald R. Prothero describes twenty-five famous, beautifully preserved fossils in a gripping scientific history of life on Earth. Recounting the adventures behind the discovery of these objects and fully interpreting their significance within the larger fossil record, Prothero creates a riveting history of life on our planet. The twenty-five fossils portrayed in this book catch animals in their evolutionary splendor as they transition from one kind of organism to another. We witness extinct plants and animals of microscopic and immense size and thrilling diversity. We learn about fantastic land and sea creatures that have no match in nature today. Along the way, we encounter such fascinating fossils as the earliest trilobite, Olenellus; the giant shark Carcharocles; the “fishibian” Tiktaalik; the “Frogamander” and the “Turtle on the Half-Shell”; enormous marine reptiles and the biggest dinosaurs known; the first bird, Archaeopteryx; the walking whale Ambulocetus; the gigantic hornless rhinoceros Paraceratherium, the largest land mammal that ever lived; and the Australopithecus nicknamed “Lucy,” the oldest human skeleton. We meet the scientists and adventurers who pioneered paleontology and learn about the larger intellectual and social contexts in which their discoveries were made. Finally, we find out where to see these splendid fossils in the world’s great museums. Ideal for all who love prehistoric landscapes and delight in the history of science, this book makes a treasured addition to any bookshelf, stoking curiosity in the evolution of life on Earth.

Chapter 1, “Planet of the Scum: The First Fossils,” can be read online here.

BOOK: Darwin’s Sciences

This new book is so far my favorite Darwin book this year. Darwin’s Sciences (full title: Darwin’s Sciences:  How Charles Darwin voyaged from rocks to worms in his search for facts to explain how the earth, its geological features, and its inhabitants evolved) does not offer some new groundbreaking thesis about Darwin’s life, work, or legacy, but rather pulls together a lot of information about the various branches of the natural sciences Darwin studied into a detailed and readable account. An introduction looks over Darwin’s life, and then chapters on geology, zoology, botany, and the social sciences give an overview of Darwin’s studies and major publications, utilizing his journals, correspondence, and autobiography to place things in context. The bibliography for this book is in itself a treasure of references and Darwin scholarship. While I have only read into the chapter on zoology (note that each page has about perhaps twice the text as most other books, with a small font size), I recommend Darwin’s Sciences for anyone interested in a more than superficial look at what Darwin accomplished in science.

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Duncan M. Porter and Peter W. Graham, Darwin’s Sciences (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell, 2015), 264 pp.

Publisher’s description A complete scientific biography of Darwin that takes into account the latest research findings, both published and unpublished, on the life of this remarkable man. Considered the first book to thoroughly emphasize Darwin’s research in various fields of endeavor, what he did, why he did it, and its implications for his time and ours. Rather than following a strictly chronological approach – a narrative choice that characteristically offers an ascent to On the Origin of Species (1859) with a rapid decline in interest following its publication and reception – this book stresses the diversity and full extent of Darwin’s career by providing a series of chapters centering on various intellectual topics and scientific specializations that interested Darwin throughout his life. Authored by academics with years of teaching and discussing Darwin, Darwin’s Sciences is suited to any biologist who is interested in the deeper implications of Darwin’s research.

Chapter 1, the Introduction, can be read online here.

ARTICLE: An Ottoman response to Darwinism: İsmail Fennî on Islam and evolution

In the latest British Journal for the History of Science (Dec. 2015):

An Ottoman response to Darwinism: İsmail Fennî on Islam and evolution

Alper Bilgili

Abstract The Scopes trial (1925) fuelled discussion in the United States on the social and political implications of Darwinism. For the defenders of the 1925 Tennessee law – which prohibited the teaching of Darwinism in schools – Darwinism was, amongst other things, responsible for the German militarism which eventually led to the First World War. This view was supported by İsmail Fennî, a late Ottoman intellectual, who authored a book immediately after the trial which aimed to debunk scientific materialism. In it, he claimed that Darwinism blurred the distinction between man and beast and thus destroyed the foundations of morality. However, despite his anti-Darwinist stance, İsmail Fennî argued against laws forbidding the teaching of Darwinism in schools, and emphasized that even false theories contributed to scientific improvement. Indeed, because of his belief in science he claimed that Muslims should not reject Darwinism if it were supported by future scientific evidence. If this turned out to be the case, then religious interpretations should be revised accordingly. This article contributes to the literature on early Muslim reactions to Darwinism by examining the views of İsmail Fennî, which were notably sophisticated when compared with those of the anti-religious Darwinist and anti-Darwinist religious camps that dominated late Ottoman intellectual life.

ARTICLE:The London Baedeker for the Darwin enthusiast

In the latest Evolution: Education and Outreach (Dec. 2015):

The London Baedeker for the Darwin enthusiast

Martha Monica Muñoz

Abstract Public interest in Charles Darwin and in scientific climate of the Victorian era continues to grow. Darwin hobbyists are visiting sites around the world relevant to the life of Charles Darwin: The Galápagos Islands, Tierra del Fuego, Scotland and, of course, his native England. But as even as the number of Darwin enthusiasts continues to swell, there are few handbooks available to guide visitors through sites relevant to his life. Here I describe my experiences traveling through London in search of the sites relevant to Darwin’s life. I give a general review of each historic site and describe what travelers might expect to find. I also offer some background history to each of the locations, and describe how each site relates to Darwin and his works.

Darwin finch pendants

My friend Ashley makes and sells Darwin finch pendants! From Ashley:

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Need a gift for that special scientist or science enthusiast in your life? Darwin finch pendants make a great gift! You may (naturally) select from one of four of the famous finches ($15/ea) or pick up the whole set of 4 for ($40)! If interested, email Ashley Hall at ashleyfrag@gmail.com.