In re pigeons, Mr. Darwin is immense

The New York Times reviews The Origin of Species, March 1860.

Shall we frankly declare that, after the most deliberate consideration of Mr. DARWIN’s arguments, we remain unconvinced?

The book is full of a most interesting and impressive series of minor verifications; but he fails to show the points of junction between these, and no where rises to complete logical statement.

The difficulties, of course, are enormous. This he frankly acknowledges. “Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered.” Such are his own naive and noble words.

He thinks, however, they are more apparent than real. We fear they are very real. To us insurmountable.

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One thought on “In re pigeons, Mr. Darwin is immense

  1. Considering how competent modern journalists can be at explaining very basic scientific ideas, I was very impressed by this article. The author(s) do a very decent job of explaining the basic idea, which is something I wouldn’t trust a newspaper to do now. Most of the common confusions are absent (e.g., selection only or primarily operates on a species level).

    The part you quoted is definitely the silliest part– and although it looks silly now, I forgive them for expressing skepticism. It is seems to be skepticism that is well-considered, and I generally approve of skepticism.

    This is how they wrap it up:

    “HARVEY’s discovery of the circulation of the blood is recorded to have found acceptance from no physician over forty years old. Perhaps DARWIN felt that to his own theory some such elective affinities might apply. ‘I look,’ says he, towards the close of the volume, ‘with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.’

    “In that future, to which he looks forward, he will not, we apprehend, be regarded as having drawn the cosmic circle of life, but rather as having indicated one of its arcs. At all events, it seems to be a historic law that the greater portion of truths in the theory of nature first appear as purple mirages –ruddy and auroral streaks gilding the matin of man’s mind ; but the appointed time- duly brings up the perfect thought, fraught with the wealth of invisible climee, and Hooding the age with the sunlight of science.”

    Okay, so it turns out that Darwin did more or less draw the cosmic circle of life. But their bet would probably have seemed like a winner to me at the time, I think.

    I wish we had more journalists as smart these days. Today, we’d get a five paragraph article about some “controversy” in biology (on page A38) that would be mostly filled with he-said-she-said quotes from the “two opposing sides” and in the end tell us nothing.

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