Friday, October 29, 2010

What ARE we doing?

Our blog “The Fabulous Life of Charles Darwin” is greatly speculative, as is VH1’s television program “The Fabulous Life” where we so aptly borrowed the title. Apparently we too are “taking you deep inside the lives of the rich and famous, from their massive careers to their even more massive homes to what they do in their self-indulgent leisure time”[1], although (of course) on a more in-depth and academic level. Some may call this sort of endeavor a waste of time, fluff, and for entertainment value only, questioning the importance of piecing together biographical details. Isn’t it enough to know that someone is famous, to watch their movie, read their book and take it for what it’s worth?

There isn’t anything wrong with doing this but we’re choosing to take a different approach. Like Butler in a “Deadlock in Darwinism” broke apart a whole (“On the Origin of Species”) to scrutinize its pieces (the origin of the concepts therein), our blog is attempting to break open the life of Charles Darwin and examine the pieces, we think, made him a whole (including his family, the time and place in which he lived, his naturalist colleagues, the Voyage on the Beagle, etc.).

Any psychologist would agree that we, as humans, are a mixture of nature (our inherited biology or genetics) and nurture (“our environment and learning history”[2]). It is far too rigorous to piece together genetic links (e.g. a high IQ or the disposition towards analytical reasoning for scientific inquiry) from the Darwin/ Wedgwood merge between Darwin’s father (Robert Darwin) and mother (Susannah Darwin nee Wedgwood) or even further back from his grandfather (Dr. Erasmus Darwin). While there are possible interesting avenues of genetics one could explore, including Erasmus’ grandchild from the daughter of his second wife turning out to be Francis Galton (a noted anthropologist and eugenicist), we’ll focus on the “nurture” and leave the “nature” in more capable hands, if any care to grasp.


[2] p. 21 Passer, Michael, and Ronald Smith. Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behavior. 2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2004. Print.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Two arguments proposed by Intelligent Design proponents

The two main arguments that Intelligent Design proponents support to prove that a supernatural force has created everything in life are the following:

The first argument is Irreducible Complexity. Irreducible Complexity holds that biochemical parts in nature have complex parts that are interdependent with other parts. If you take one part, the whole system does not work. Therefore, these systems cannot be the result of evolution. Darwin claimed that if Irreducible Complexity can be proved, his natural selection theory will fail. But an argument on Irreducible Complexity is that the complex organ or part could have been contained of smaller parts. An example of that is atom. Atom is the smallest component of an element, while atom itself is made up of smaller components. Therefore, it can be concluded that Irreducible Complexity does not have enough explanation to be accepted.

The second argument for people who are in favor of intelligent design is specified complexity. This argument is made by a mathematician named William Dembski. He suggests non-random patterns of information are ubiquitous in nature and he calls it complex specified information. An example of complex specified information is DNA. DNA is made up of four chemical repeating bases arranged into complimentary pairs. The bases can be strung together to form genes. Therefore, DNA is specific and complex. Furthermore, the reason that human never gives birth to a human and not a chimpanzee shows that DNA is specific. Complex specified information is an evident of intelligent design.

Yet scientists believe that evolution theory is the only theory that explains how complexity is made from simplicity in nature. Evolution theory seems more reliable than intelligent design concept because it can be observed in living beings whereas intelligent design is not observable.

Darwin at Cambridge Cnt'd

While at Cambridge, Darwin joined the natural history of John Steven Henslow and became interested in natural theology. Some of Darwin's colleagues such as Adam Sedgwick and George Peacock valued science as a mean to explore nature laws. Although, Sedgwick and Peacock were clerics of Church of England, they believed that study of nature is the study of God's design and science did not have any conflicts with their religious views. Also, Darwin enjoyed reading William Paley's Evidencec of Christianity and Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy and admired his ideas. In his book, Paley proposed freedom of religion and abolition of the Thirty-nine Articles, which every student at Cambridge was required to sign. In addition, Paley believed in existence of God and rejected Erasmus Darwin's evolutionary ideas. All of these notions about religion and God influenced Darwin's outlook, but yet kept him a theist and persuaded in Christianity.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Darwin's influence on those who influence

Mark Twain, who was 30 years younger than Darwin yet also a child of the Victorian era, once quoted this:

"I have been studying the traits and dispositions of the "lower animals" (so called) and contrasting them with the traits and dispositions of man. I find the result humiliating to me."
-Mark Twain

Might it be possible that the revolution following Darwin's publication influenced writers such as Twain in the Western world? Or should we be more inclined to believe that Darwin published his humbling conclusions at a time when the world was already beginning to see it for themselves?

Based on a separate quote by Twain, it seems unlikely that his opinions on humanity could be the result of direct exposure to Darwin, and more of the consequence of a greater movement throughout these cultures. Mark Twain would seemingly be quite anti-Darwinian:

(note- while this next quote has a touch of humor, the above passage should be considered with sincerity)

"An englishman is a person who does things because they have been done before. An American is a person who does things because they haven't been done before"
-Mark Twain

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bernard Shaw

It is said that George Bernard Shaw's idea of killing people who cannot justify their existence is different from the idea that Hitler had. George Bernard Shaw thought that people have to be killed based on their class while Hitler killed people based on their nationalism. Shaw believed that there has to be a humane gas invented by scientists who kills people painlessly. It cannot be imagined that such a sophisticated person as Shaw would have such a cruel notion. In my opinion both Shaw's and Hitler's ideas were brutal and inhuman. If Shaw was a Darwinian and believed that everything in the nature has come to the existence autonomously, he had to accept that human being does not have a free will to choose in what class or nationality he is born and every person has the right to experience life. Referring to Darwin's theory of evolution that particular traits become more or less common a person who does not come from a proper class in society has the opportunity to evolve and change his/her condition in life. This opinion has reflected in Shaw's musical play "my fair lady" as well.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Darwin at Cambridge

When Charles Darwin's father sent him to Cambridge University, at the beginning he was convinced to become a clergyman. Therefore, he believed in Bible and God as he writes "Accordingly I read with care Pearson on the Creed and a few other books on divinity; and as I did not then in the least doubt the strict and literal truth of every word in the Bible, I soon persuaded myself that our Creed must be fully accepted." When he was at Cambridge he read John Bird Sumner's Evidences of Christianity. In his book Sumner stated that people do not have the right to reject Bible and Christianity. Sumner says "Jesus religion was wonderfully suitable to our ideas of happiness in this and the next world and there was no other way of explaining the series of evidence and probability." Thus, Darwin was persuaded by Sumner's ideas and could not deny the authority of Bible and Jesus. In Darwin's second year in Cambridge, Richard Carlile and Robert Taylor who were denying the existence of God visited the university of Cambridge and affected their religious thoughts. These two people were imprisoned later for blasphemy. Despite of Carlile and Taylor's influence at university, Darwin remebered them as Devil's Chaplain.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Science Vs. Religion in Darwin's Victorian era

In the Victorian era, Science and Religion were closely intertwined. In fact, a sort of harmony existed between the two subjects and they generally complimented one another in theories and understanding. However, during the mid 1800’s radical scientific views started being used in political schemes and by the time Darwin published his Origin of Species, religion had only just begun being questioned by scientific discovery (particularly in the area of Geology).
The Origin of Species subtly proposed that, instead of being created by some higher power, man actually evolved from a lower species. He proposed that all living beings were involved in the same struggle for existence- the exact same struggle for reproductive success. In this sense, humans are no more successful or evolutionarily superior than slugs, and undoubtedly this perspective wouldn’t have been easily accepted by academics and religious characters of the Victorian era. These two posits jeopardized what was known as religious history and also was likely to jeopardize the respect and interest of those pious and self-righteous. The publication of The Origin of Species during the Victorian era was possibly the greatest catalyst in the Science vs. Religion debate and largely responsible for them both becoming autonomous.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Robert Darwin

Charles Darwin’s father, Robert Darwin was a physician and he had many plans for Charles and his future. He wanted him to continue his studies in medicine, but Charles was not interested and found the lectures to be boring. Robert Darwin’s attempt to continue Charles on the path seemed to have followed up with resentment in my opinion, and push Charles towards his specific interest in biological change.

The family had money and because of this, Charles was able to continue with a formal education and eventually go on journeys of biological discovery. I do believe that it was because of his father’s ambition in medicine, Charles was introduced to biology but Charles wanted to experience it in a different way. Robert Darwin’s work provided the stepping stones towards a more biological career, and may have assisted Darwin in finding his true calling. Although Robert refused Charles go on the journey to South America, he eventually agreed to it, as he was later convinced by Charles’s uncle. It is important to note that much of the work and findings explained in work, The Origin of Species, I noticed that there was a lot of influence branching from numerous people in his life. His father may have provided the education and intrigue in the biological world, but much of his research is derived from the professors and biological professionals he had met during his life time.

Darwin's religious belief as a young man

Darwin attended the Anglican Shrewsbury School, which was supported by Church of England. Church of England is the worldwide Anglican Communion. It viewed itself as being both Catholic and Reformed. By Catholic, it means that the Church believes that it is part of the universal church of Jesus Christ. Reformed means that the church follows the Thirty Nine Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. Therefore, the environment Darwin grew up in was quiet religious and conservative. After attending University of Edinburgh's medical school for two years, he decided to go to Cambridge University to become an Anglican clergyman. As a young man, Darwin had no doubt about the literal truth of the Bible. Despite of studying John Herschel's science who would view everything as laws of nature as oppose to miracles, Darwin believed that there is an evidence of design in all species. Both Before and during his voyage on Beagle, he stayed Orthodox and would quote the Bible as an authority to morality.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Butler as an effective prosecutor and peer-reviewer

As Butler, in “The Deadlock in Darwinism” never claimed to be a naturalist and argued against Darwin, not on the truth or falsity of the content of “On the Origin of Species” but on the proposal of the theory itself, I similarly make no claim to be a historian and will support Butler on his work as it is.

It was useful for me to think of “The Deadlock in Darwinism” as a sort of criminal trial, with Butler as the prosecution and Darwin, the defense. In a criminal trial, it is the prosecution’s responsibility to produce proof that a defendant should be lawfully imprisoned (i.e. habeas corpus), or in academic terms, discredited. However, once the prosecution has made their case, the responsibility shifts and the defense is expected to address the claims made by the prosecution.

Based on Butler’s overwhelming amount of relevant textual evidence as well as our class’ lack of an argument against him, it seems Butler had certainly made a strong case. However, we know that after Butler’s prosecuting case circulated, Darwin (as the defense) made no move to counter: “When essayist and novelist Samuel Butler (1835–1902) ‘accused Darwin of slighting the evolutionary speculations of Buffon, Lamarck, and his own grandfather, Erasmus’, Gould reported that Darwin reacted to these accusations with ‘silence” (Gould, S.J., Darwin vindicated! New York Review of Books 26(1):36–38, 1979, p. 36 as cited by Bergman, J., While a lack of response when blindly or personally insulted would have been appropriate, in this situation, Darwin’s silence only seems to incriminate him further.

Furthermore, I think Butler’s essay is a noble academic pursuit and, more specifically, an excellent early example of our current scientific article peer-review process. While Butler wouldn’t technically be considered Darwin’s peer (as he is not a studied naturalist), his essays resemble what could be an early stage in the peer-review process, namely determining if the new ideas in a researcher’s article are the researcher’s own. [Rather than giving a full explanation of what scientific article peer-reviewing entails, I will simply refer you to a more reputable source:] Similar to “Darwin as a defendant”, “Darwin as a scientist” would have even more responsibility to support his claims and his work as legitimately his, as his theory could be the foundation for further research.

Ultimately, if we view Butler’s essay through a modern lens, we should only find ourselves praising his effort, for the effort alone, regardless if the claim he makes is true or false.

Seeing ourselves in "On the Origin of Species"

As with anything we read, it is an all too familiar habit to identify with or recognise parts of ourselves and our lives in the subjects we read about. Looking at Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”, without considering “The Descent of Man” (which we haven’t read anyway), it is easy to attempt to draw parallels between his description of the evolution of animal species with our own species: humans. At least for me, this immediately raises the question of: how distinct are we really from our animal counterparts?

From past archaeology classes, I have seen the progress of physical changes through fossil records of our species over time. Particularly fascinating are the gradual changes in the size of the skull and cranial cavity and the theoretical implications that has had on our increased mental capacities. Can intellect then be thought of as a trait that has helped our species survive much like the sharp canine teeth that helps the hyena cut into its prey?

I would agree that it has, although it is no longer the case. Our sizable intellect is changing how our species reproduces and altering, through medicine, who survives. Humans are, in a way, domesticated, no longer in the volatile life and death struggle wild animals still find themselves in. We seem to be applying the practices of husbandry to ourselves, with some ethical additions. There are ethical restrictions in medicine (we no longer have, for example, forced castration for mentally or physically handicapped individuals), rights to reproduction (where couples who are not naturally able to conceive or carry a child are able to do so through various medical procedures), and vaccines, surgeries, etc to save and prolong the lives of people who would not normally survive long enough to reproduce, among others.

In all of these examples, humans are, through our intellect, altering and defying nature. Does that, therefore, keep us on the same naturally selective course Darwin has mapped out for animal species? Or are we charting a new direction, diverging from the path nature would have us on? Can we really know for sure? No. Does it worry me thinking how far and forcefully we might try to define our path and the consequences of taking technology beyond the reasonable limits nature has provided? Yes.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Samuel Butler

Samuel Butler believes that Steam Engine is invented gradually form a kettle. This is a smart example Butler came up with and in my opinion it is so true. On the other hand as we can relate this example to evolution this question has popped out on my mind that if everything is created gradually, can we argue that human being will be changed organically in the future? If human is a descent from apes, then human can evolve to another form as well. But if species are evolved by the impact of environment and how they fit in that environment, then why human is not evolved since 5000 years ago who had a much more basic life? It is true that with the help of technology and science, we think differently nowadays and our society is evolved, but we are not different species than human beings who lived centuries ago. In addition, it can be accepted that steam engine is invented from a simple kettle or human being is descended from apes and apes are evolved from other species and all species are created from nature, but no one could or still can answer where our universe has come from.

Also, Butler criticize Darwin's writing as misleading and mischievous. I think Darwin's style of writing is for all kinds of audiences. If Darwin explained all his ideas in a scientific way, it would be difficult to read. Moreover, as Dr. Ogden mentioned in class, there might be a possibility that Darwin wrote his book in a hurry. Moreover, it is discussed that Darwin persuades people well to buy his ideas. This can be a good example of natural selection or survival of the fittest itself. There might be other authors who mentioned evolution theory, but Darwin presented himself better. Therefore, we can conclude that commercialism is dependent on natural selection as well.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Darwin's family background in religion

Charles Darwin was baptized on November 17, 1809  at St. Chand's Church in Shrewbury, England. His mother took him to Unitarian church until he was eight years of age. Unitarianism is a theology, which holds that God is only one person as appose to Trinity that views God as father, son, and holy spirit in one Godhead. Darwin's mother died when he was eight years old, but he continued to attend church regularly with his sister. One of his grandfathers, Erasmus Darwin, as well as his father were freethinkers. A freethinker has a philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be based on science, logic, and reason as appose to authority, tradition, and dogma. Although, Darwin's father was a freethinker, but as a physician he avoided any social conflict with his Anglicans patrons. The extended family of Darwins and Wedgwoods was supported by the Whigs who were Unitarians. Whigs were a party in British parliment who contested with Tories. By looking at Darwin's family background, it can be assumed that the family were not as conservative as others at his time.

The new atlantis

Francis Bacon values science on his "The New Atlantis" and argues that the more knowledge human gains by using science, the more it brings relief to human estate. As a matter of fact, he believes that gaining knowledge and science is a form of power. I agree with Bacon's argument as by the help of science human makes progress in life and are able to reach new technology. Moreover, he believes that nature is a mean for acquiring more knowledge as oppose to Pope who values nature and believes that nature does not have to be destroyed. In my opinion, human destroys nature to explore and invent new things. In return, human life can be destroyed by natural phenomena such as earthquake, hurricane, and flood.

Darwin's sexual selection

In my opinion Darwin's sexual selection does not hold for all females. I think in this era sexual selection theory is controversial, especially among feminists. Darwin believes that in every species males are stronger than females, but it cannot be true about human. As we see in our society, there are lots of strong and independent women who manage their life so much better than men. In addition, I disagree with Darwin's idea in struggle for life that the strongest species will survive and the weakest will die. As we discussed in class, if we want to use Darwin's idea in today's economy, although small retailers cannot compete with the big ones, but it is possible that small companies grow. Darwin's ideas were new in his own era, but it needs to be modified to be used in twenty-first century.
To understand Darwin, it is important to know and understand the people that shaped his life. As a child Charles Darwin was always interested in biology, be it plants or animals. One of the most influential people in his life was his uncle. If it was not for his uncle providing the support for Charles Darwin's main voyage, much to his fathers disagreement, he would not have provide ample support towards his hypothesis. It was because of this voyage to South America he was able to make collections and draw conclusions from different plant and animal species. Although literature does not suggest his uncle provided support in regards to biology, he provided the stepping stone that would accelerate his career, and make him one of the most famous people in history
An Essay on Man has an important message, especially in regards to this era. Although written in 1732-1734, this work not only illustrates the potential of man, but also their demise. As technology increasese, so does our dependence towards it. We are taking more from the earth than we ever had, and this is due to the rapid growth in the human population. Consumerism is also a threat because it is what drives us to live over our means. The literature is stating that to live within our means equals happiness and harmony. This theme is illustrated in the film Koyaanisqatsi which in English means life without balance. The world always has a way to balance itself out, and us as human beings are pushing the envelope and are attempting to get away with the destruction of our planet.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Bacon worship science as a production work that as more science knowledge is gained it is the property of human. I am not totally agree with this idea in 3 point that Pope has stated. first, Nature sets a standard limit in this world which controls menkind. Nature is always in search of balance as a whole. Second, Liberty restrain itself by her own law in order to sustain. Humans must follow logic and wits to unity nature. third, everything in the world is interconnected with each other. since nature has it's chain of balance, we shouldn't destroy the chain. if we were to tamper with the chain it will fall apart.