Wednesday, July 01, 2009

I have not totally disappeared

A creationist recently asked, (lame-ass - punctuation - as in the ORIGINAL !!11!!)
Just one more - how well qualified was darwin to propose a theory - hundreds of years ago- that is still believed but not proven - he was a theologian - but was he a scientist or an amatuer taxonomist ? The average biology student knows more than Darwin who thought a cell was a blob. How come darwin did not need qualifications ?

I’ll first eliminate the argument that Darwin was some how unqualified to do science. Darwin’s childhood education was at a classical school- much memorization of Greek and Latin, and some mathematics. However, he did assist his father in his father’s medical practice which involved a modicum of physical knowledge. He was also an avid collector of beetles, and studied the taxonomic literature of the time.

His formal medical education was in Edinburgh. Darwin received practical instruction in taxidermy from a “blackamoor” named John who was the former slave of Charles Edmonstone. John had also traveled extensively as a servant and companion for the famous explorer Charles Waterton. In November of 1826, Darwin took a course from Robert Jameson in “Natural History” in addition to his medical studies.

Jameson’s 200 page geological illustration addendum to his translation of Curvier’s Essay on the Theory of the Earth was part of Darwin’s reading that term. Darwin later wrote that he found Jameson’s lectures, “… incredibly dull. The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology or in any way to study the science.”

Darwin made several studies of marine life while at Edinburgh under the encouragement of Dr. Robert Edmund Grant, who shortly after became Professor of comparative anatomy and zoology at London University, (1827-1874). Grant referred in print to two of Darwin’s original discoveries made in 1826; that the so-called "ova of Flustra" were in fact larvæ, and that the little globular bodies which had been supposed to be the young state of Fucus loreus were the egg-cases of the worm-like Pontobdella muricata. Darwin had read papers on these observations to the student’s “Plinian Society” founded by Professor Jameson.

Two years later, Darwin had given-up medicine. He could not stand the sights, sounds, and smells of the surgery. Instead, his disappointed father sent him to Cambridge to prepare for the clergy. But more significantly, Darwin became closely acquainted with the Revd John Stevens Henslow, Professor of Botany, and the Revds Adam Sedgwick and William Whewell, respectively professors of geology and mineralogy. These men totally changed young Darwin’s early resolution to avoid geological science. Whewell sought to reform the practice of science into a more formal profession. In fact, he was the man who coined the word “scientist.” Sedgwick and Henslow both lead field trips that Darwin attended. Fieldwork is much superior to lectures for learning geology and what we would call ecology today. The famous voyage around the world Darwin took from Dec. 27, 1831 to Oct. 2, 1836 was through the recommendation of Henslow. It was Sedgwick who sent Darwin off on the HMS Beagle with a copy of Charles Lyell's "Principles of Geology," which Darwin said, “Allowed me to see with the eyes of Hutton.”

By the time Darwin returned to England, he was considered a respected scientist- but as a geologist. Particularly well received was his theory on the formation of coral atolls and reefs. This work has been shown to be correct in every regard. While working on his “big book,” Darwin also spent years in the study of the biology of barnacles, publishing numerous papers and culminating in the still well regarded books; 1852 Living Cirripedia, A monograph on the sub-class Cirripedia, with figures of all the species. The Lepadidæ; or, pedunculated cirripedes, Volume 1, and 1854, Living Cirripedia, The Balanidæ, (or sessile cirripedes); the Verrucidæ, Volume 2, London: The Ray Society.

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