[asa] Darwin , one of the GREAT scientists

From: Michael Roberts <michael.andrea.r@ukonline.co.uk>
Date: Wed Apr 29 2009 - 14:12:16 EDT

I wondered whether I should start this thread, but Gregory made more mistakes than Darwin did in his life when he wrote
Saying "Darwin was wrong on that" is a significant confession indeed! Thanks John. This is more than many on the ASA list could muster when I raised for consideration the article published (including peer review) in American Biology Teacher about 'Darwin's Errors'. People here felt it was 'wrong' to celebrate (or to even honestly acknowledge) that Darwin was in some ways wrong. Goodness (or careful reading) knows that in his social-ethical speculations in the "Descent of Man" Darwin was 'wrong' in many ways. Only hardcore Darwinists or neo-Darwinists would defend his 'purity' in the human-social/scientific realms.


It is even harder to say 'Darwin was wrong' in Britain, with Darwin currently on the 10lb. note! 'Money talks,' as they say in America. Perhaps this year's Darwin celebrations will help to turn a corner in thinking about Darwin as a significant but ultimately limited (and in several ways pathetic) figure in the history of botanical, biological and naturalistic (more generally) thought. He is not a worthy god for 'atheists' or 'brights' to worship.


Of course Darwin made mistakes. No one can deny that. I started a rather long project on Darwin's geology in 1991 and without blowing my trumpet I am a reasonable authority on his geology and am recognised as such by the GSA and GSL for a start.

When you consider Darwin's vast output of natural history and SCIENCE both biological and geological it is not surprising that he made errors. Geologically his most famous error was over the parallel roads of Glen Roy in Scotland which he later termed "one gigantic blunder". In the course of my research of his Welsh geological fieldwork I have found several other errors, some of which are repeats of his Glen Roy blunder. Others include misidentification of rocks - not surprising as that was in 1831. In June when I lead part of a GSL/Quaternary Research Association field trip to Wales I will point out these mistakes along with his acute perception elsewhere. It was as a geologist that Darwin made his name and his volumes on the Beagle geology are of a very high quality and show great skill as a geologist, which was incredible as he had had little tuition and that largely by Adam Sedgwick. His geological career was thwarted by his illness.

We can then consider his biological work and note his move from natural historian to biological scientist. Many of his books and papers were at the cutting edge, especially on insectivorous plants (drosera/sundew) where he was one of the first biologists to use and apply chemistry in his research - almost the first biochemist as opposed to biochemist. There is also all his wore on pollination, climbing plants and finally worms, but sadly the worms at Downe never got the chance to reach down to six feet to find Darwin as D said they could go down 6 ft!!

To say he was "ultimately limited and in some ways pathetic" says more about Gregory than about Darwin. Perhaps we could say the same about Boyle as he never accepted the earth was billions of years old! I hope Ted knows what I mean!!

As for not being able to say Darwin was wrong in Britain that is pathetic. At a recent conference on Darwin I took part in I said it and so did others . Some do say it but they are scarcely well informed.

I will make no comment about the Descent of Man , which is highly regarded by most especially considering its date of publication, as I am one of those who prefers to make little comment about those things I know my understanding is limited.

To sum up Darwin was a GREAT scientist, and to say otherwise reflects more on the person who says it.


In case anyone of a small mind jumps on this, I also need to remind everyone of the absolutely obvious. There were a great number of great scientists and I have only researched three of them

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Received on Wed Apr 29 14:13:08 2009

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