Charles Lyell, via Wikimedia Commons

In “A Pseudo-Darwin Quotation,” I was discussing a spurious quotation that William Bell Riley seemed to have invented and misattributed to Darwin in his pamphlet “Evolution—A False Philosophy,” published sometime in the 1930s. Part of my interest stemmed from the fact that Riley imported the “why are there still monkeys?” challenge into the passage, although it was missing from the actual passage from Darwin that Riley was, more or less, paraphrasing. A persistent, widespread, and tiresomely familiar objection to evolution, the challenge “if humans evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys?” presupposes a misconception of evolution as exclusively consisting of change within a lineage, neglecting the possibility of a lineage’s splitting, resulting in two divergent lineages—such as those eventuating in today’s monkeys and today’s humans, not to put too fine a point on it.

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Riley's pseudo-Darwin quotationIn “Evolution—A False Philosophy,” a pamphlet published sometime in the 1930s by William Bell Riley (1861–1947), the Baptist preacher who was as responsible for the flourishing of the antievolution crusade of the 1920s as anyone, there appears a spurious quotation attributed to Darwin. Riley is here concerned to claim that the “whole doctrine of transmutation”—change in species—is “unknown to nature’s ways,” and he naturally wants to invoke Darwin in support.

This fact was admitted by Darwin himself. Here is Darwin’s language from “The Descent of Man,” the 1874 edition:

“It is asking a great deal of intelligent people to believe the theory which is not supported by evidence, just where evidence is most needed. Now these missing links, if there are any, should be more highly developed than the forms lower down in the scale from which they evolved, and therefore more able to continue. Then why not continue, if they ever evolved, while their weaker progenitors, less able to live, continue to this day?”

Now listen to Darwin’s answer to his own question:

“But this objection will not appear of much weight to those who, from general reasons, believe in the general principle of Evolution.” (emphasis in original)

Although the answer is Darwin’s (except for the emphasis on “weight” and the capital E in “Evolution”), the question is not. What Darwin wrote was, “The great break in the organic chain between man and his nearest allies, which cannot be bridged over by any extinct or living species, has often been advanced as a grave objection to the belief that man is descended from some lower form,” to which he answered, “But this objection,” etc.

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Albert P. MathewsOnce more unto the breach, dear friends, with T. T. Martin’s unforgettably titled Hell and the High Schools (1923). In chapter 2—“What Is Evolution?”—Martin invites the reader to:

Hear a Professor of Chicago University [sic], that slaughter-house of faith, where they do as the old negro preacher said he was going to do, “Bredderin and sisterin, tonight I’se gwine to dispense wid the gospel and confound de scriptures”—is reported from his lecture room to have said, “The Divine creation of life is a pure humbug. Life originally happened. Life is made up of certain organic compounds; certain organic compounds were made by nature. The compounds came together in some manner and the result was life.”

Martin then quotes, accurately, passages from John Tyndall and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) asserting the impossibility of abiogenesis.

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Title from Young's articleIn “Who Was the Occupant?” (part 1, part 2, part 3), I was concerned to investigate a claim that the expression “we may well suppose” occurs over eight hundred times in Darwin’s works On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. That claim, of course, is plainly bogus; the phrase would have to appear about twice every three pages for the claim to be true, which would make it a conspicuous verbal tic on Darwin’s part. Moreover, Darwin himself seems never to have used the expression in print, at least in his own words. (In “Observations on the Parallel Roads of Glen Roy” he quotes Charles Lyell using it.) Nevertheless, the claim is common, probably owing to its occurrence in “Evolutionism in the Pulpit,” written by the pseudonymous “An Occupant of the Pew,” originally published in 1911 and later included in The Fundamentals (1910–1915).

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Thomas H. Dixon Jr., via Wikimedia Commons

As I was researching and writing “Dixon, Not Darwin,” about a viciously racist passage sometimes misattributed to Darwin but actually taken from Thomas F. Dixon Jr.’s novel The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), I was intermittently chatting with my colleague Josh Rosenau about it. Perhaps he lost the thread, because after I mentioned something about Dixon—using only his surname—Rosenau asked, “Are you talking about A. C. Dixon, the coeditor of The Fundamentals?” “No,” I replied, “I’m talking about Thomas F. Dixon Jr., the author of The Clansman.” A moment later, I added, “Golly, I wonder if they’re kin.” A quick visit to Wikipedia later, I added, “Gosh, they were brothers.” (I apologize for the strong language, but I am a man of strong passions when it comes to historical trivia.) So what’s the story?

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Verdt and Wundt

If you spend any time looking through creationist literature, you will become accustomed to lists of scientists who supposedly reject evolution, doubt Darwin, and the like, although the exact complement of the lists changes over time, of course. A famous example is from Luther Tracy Townsend’s Collapse of Evolution (1905), which mentions:

scientists who have devoted their lives to the investigation of nature’s phenomena and who have taken rank in the past and who take rank to-day with those who stand the highest in their departments of study—such men as Agassiz, Beale, Carpenter, Dana, Davy, Dawson, Faraday, Forbes, Gray, Helmholtz, Herschel, Lord Kelvin, Leibnitz, Lotze, Maury, Pasteur, Romanes, Verdt[,] and hundreds of others …

Townsend, as Ronald L. Numbers notes in The Creationists (1992), “assembled one of the earliest—and most frequently cribbed—lists in order to prove that ‘the most thorough scholars, the world’s ablest philosophers and scientists, with few exceptions, are not supporters, but assailants of evolution.’”

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Thomas Henry Huxley

I have a number of lawyers among my friends and family, so I usually try not to indulge in jokes that broadly impugn the legal profession. (What’s that? Well, if you insist. What’s the difference between a lawyer and a catfish? One is a slimy, scum-sucking, bottom-dwelling scavenger—while the other is a fish.) And in fact, I have a lot of respect for the legal profession, instilled, in part, by interacting with the lawyers—Eric Rothschild, Steve Harvey, Vic Walczak, Richard Katskee, and all their colleagues—who so effectively represented the plaintiffs in Kitzmiller v. Dover. But I am willing to complain about lawyers who abuse their skills in the service of attacking evolution—like Phillip Johnson, Norman Macbeth, or, in the Scopes era, Philip Mauro (1859–1952). Here, from Mauro’s Evolution at the Bar (1922), is a blatant distortion.

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A 1924 Dodge sedan like Stumpy Reed'sThe idiom “take a back seat” means “to be given a less important role,” and it was employed accordingly in 2005 by the headline writer for The New York Times for Cornelia Dean’s article entitled “Evolution Takes a Back Seat in U.S. Classes.” Quoting NCSE’s founding executive director Eugenie C. Scott among others, Dean convincingly argued that evolution is often downplayed or omitted in public school science classes: “In districts around the country, even when evolution is in the curriculum it may not be in the classroom, according to researchers who follow the issue.” A few years later, a rigorous national public survey of high school biology teachers would confirm the anecdotal and impressionistic conclusions of Dean’s article. I mention the article now because of a rather more literal case of evolution in the back seat.

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Original woodcut illustration for The Just So story 'The Elephant's Child' by Rudyard Kipling via Wikimedia Commons

I have to admit that I haven’t read anything, ever, by Tom Wolfe, whose new book The Kingdom of Speech (2016) apparently tries, in the words of the headline to Jerry Coyne’s review for the Washington Post, “to take down Charles Darwin and Noam Chomsky.” And, after reading a few critical reviews of The Kingdom of Speech, I’m not feeling inclined to start reading his work; it hardly sounds like the right stuff. But a passage quoted from the book by a reviewer caught my attention:

Kipling’s intention from the outset was to entertain children. Darwin’s intention, on the other hand, was dead serious and absolutely sincere in the name of science and his cosmogony. Neither had any evidence to back up his tale. Kipling, of course, never pretended to. But Darwin did. The first person to refer to Darwin’s tales as Just So Stories was a Harvard paleontologist and evolutionist, Stephen Jay Gould, in 1978. Orthodox neo-Darwinists never forgave him. Gould was not a heretic and not even an apostate. He was a simple profane sinner. He had called attention to the fact that Darwin’s Just So Stories required a feat of fiction writing Kipling couldn’t compete with.

The allusion to Kipling is, of course, to his collection Just-So Stories (1902), which began as bedtime stories told to his first-born child Josephine (who died at the early age of six). As the Kipling expert Daniel Karlin explains, “These are stories of origins: ‘How the Whale got his Throat’, ‘How the Camel got his Hump’, ‘How the Rhinoceros got his Skin’—stories that answer the kinds of question children ask, in ways that satisfy their taste for primitive and poetic justice.”

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John Strong Newberry, via Wikimedia Commons

In chapter five of T. T. Martin’s Hell and the High Schools (1923), which abounds in quotations that supposedly show (in the words of the chapter’s title) “Evolution Repudiated by Great Scientists and Scholars,” there appears a paragraph reading, simply, “Prof. John S. Newberry: ‘It is doubtful if at any time in the world’s history there has been a theory that has gained so great a popularity with such an unsubstantial basis as that of Evolution of man from the lower orders.’” No identification of Newberry or of the publication is provided in the text. The context is not helpful, either—the paragraph is preceded by a quotation from Eduard von Hartmann and followed by a quotation from William Hanna Thomson (whose surname, for a wonder, Martin correctly spells without a p), neither of which is particularly relevant.

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