Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2014
On the Origin of Species,

On the Origin of Species,

November 24, 1859: Charles Darwin publishes. The full title of his book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. For the sixth edition, published in 1872, the title was thankfully shortened to On The Origin of Species. Darwin’s book introduced scientific theory stating populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection. He based this on observations and data gathered during his trip aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. After his return to England, he furthered his studies using research and experimentation as well as correspondence with other scientists of the era. Various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed.

Biologist Ernst Mayr has summarized the key points of the book. Every species is fertile to produce offspring which survive to reproduce so the species can grow (fact). Despite fluctuations, populations remains about the same size (fact). Resources are limited and relatively stable over time (fact). A struggle to survive results (inference). Individuals in a population vary significantly (fact). Much of the variance is inheritable (fact). Those less suited are less likely to survive and reproduce while those better suited do survive and create offspring which is the basis for natural selection (inference). This slow process results in populations changing to adapt to their environment (inference).

In later editions of On the Origin of Species, Darwin included a history of evolutionary ideas back as far as Aristotle. Early Christian Church fathers and Medieval European scholars interpreted the Genesis creation story as allegorical rather than literal. Nature was seen as capricious with odd births between species and spontaneous creation of life. The Protestant Reformation inspired a literal interpretation of the Bible. The biblical story did not agree with emerging scientific facts. After the English Civil War, one of the Royal Society’s goals was to show that religion and science could coexist without disrupting political stability.

Darwin was not the only person working on the theory of evolution. An 1855 paper written by Alfred Russel Wallace, described patterns in geographical distribution of living and fossil species and how new species developed from the old similar ones. Charles Lyell saw the relative merits in the paper as well as how it related to Darwin’s work. Darwin had long avoided publishing the controversial work but with this impetus, he rushed to publish a short paper outlining his own theory in order to retain discovery status. Both men were permitted to present papers at the Linnean Society in 1858. There are differences between the two papers in some details. Darwin’s book was published on this date and went on sale for fifteen shillings. It has been in print ever since.

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. – all from Charles Darwin

Also on this day: Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.
Alone? – In 1963 Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.

Monkey Trial

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 5, 2010

Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan

May 5, 1925: John T. Scopes is arrested in Dayton, Tennessee. He was charged with teaching evolution in defiance of the Butler Act passed in March of the same year. The Butler Act, with relevant section quoted below, was highly supported by William Jennings Bryan – prosecuting attorney in the case.

Scopes was 24 at the time. He was a football coach and substitute teacher at Rhea County High School in Dayton, Tennessee. The small town had only 1,756 residents. He had been a substitute teacher in biology and admittedly didn’t know if he had really taught about evolution from the chapter in the proscribed textbook, Civic Biology, copyrighted from 1914. Scopes did admit he went through an evolution chart and chapter in the class. He willingly incriminated himself and encouraged the students to testify against him. After a Grand Jury indictment, Scopes was arrested and jailed with bond set at $500; it was paid by Paul Patterson, owner of the Baltimore Sun.

The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] had offered to defend anyone who tested the Butler Act. George Reppleyea, a local businessman, asked Scopes to be that person and it put Dayton, Tennessee on the map. The official name of the case is State v. Scopes, Scopes V. State. 152 Tenn. 424, 278 S.W. 57 (Tenn. 1926). It is usually called either Scopes Trial or Scopes Monkey Trial. The trial was heard by Judge John T. Raulston.

Several intermediate lawyers offered to defend or prosecute this case. In the end it was Bryan prosecuting with Clarence Darrow defending. The ACLU wanted to challenge the legality of the law by the charge of separation of church and state. Darrow agreed, but eventually took another tactic stating that there was no discrepancy between the Bible and evolution. The trial lasted eight days, the jury was out for nine minutes and delivered a guilty verdict. Scopes was fined $100. The case opinion: “The Butler Act does not violate church and state or state religion laws but instead, merely prohibits the teaching of evolution on the grounds of intellectual disagreement, and leaves the only non-religion specific option as creationism.”

“… that it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” – from the Butler Act

“I had grown tired of standing in the lean and lonely front line facing the greatest enemy that ever confronted man – public opinion.” – Clarence Darrow

“There is no more reason to believe that man descended from some inferior animal than there is to believe that a stately mansion has descended from a small cottage.” – William Jennings Bryan

“Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.”- Edmund Burke

Also on this day, in 1862 the Battle of Puebla was won, the basis for Cinco de Mayo celebrations today.

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