Saturday, September 24, 2016

Taking Darwin on Vacation, 1950

Ten years ago I wrote appreciatively about Charles Darwin in my study book, What about Religion and Science? (Abingdon Press, 2007), available as an e-book from It's too bad anyone still has to defend Darwin, nearly 160 years after he began to publish his observations and theories. His groundbreaking work revolutionized and is foundational for many areas of science; and yet outside the scientific community, his theories remain controversial. For instance, every few years, some school board makes the news by foolishly attempting to include "other theories" into school curriculum.

I love antique books, and a few months ago I decided to collect a few foundational science books of that era. Over the next several weeks, I plan to write about them on this blog. My first purchase was The Origin of Species. I keep it beside my books about Lincoln, with whom Darwin shares a February 12, 1809 birth date.

By surveying books for sale on eBay and, I learned some of the interesting publication history of Origin. The original British publisher of most of Darwin's books was John Murray of London. The first edition of Origin came out in November 1859 and sold out quickly. Copies are worth tens of thousands of dollars today. Through subsequent editions, Darwin made refinements and clarifications to the text until the 6th edition, so all printings from 1876 are based on this edition. He also changed the title slightly, which had been On the Origin of Species, and he dropped the "on." He first used the expression "survival of the fittest," which had been coined by Herbert Spencer, in the fifth edition. His American publisher was D. Appleton of New York, with the first edition of Origin in 1860. Interesting to think of this revolutionary text appearing in the U.S. when Lincoln was running for president.
"shameless commerce" 

Darwin considered another book to be the key source of data for Origin: his two-volume The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (London, John Murray, 1868). The many facts and demonstrations in that 1000-page text helped support his theory of natural selection. This was also the book where Darwin developed his hypothesis of "pangenesis" that attempted to describe the ways characteristics are inherited among generations. Remember that the science of genetics still lay in the future (Gregor Mendel's experiments and publications were rediscovered and discussed in 1900 and after). Darwin's pangenesis hypothesis was unsustainable but did offer a creative solution for that time.

I also learned that Darwin did not use the word "evolution" until his two-volume work, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (London, John Murray, 1871). Not only that, but Darwin was a distinguished botanist, publishing books on plant movements, insectivorous plants, cross and self pollination, and domesticated plants. Early editions of these works are also treasurable antiquarian texts.

I found on eBay an affordable copy of Origin of Species that attracted me because it came out in 1890, the year of my Fayette County, IL grandmothers' births. An interesting thing about this copy, which intrigued me, is that a previous owner had underlined passages, apparently while reading the book on vacation with family. The book seller, gossamer258751, erased all he could without damaging the pages; those few that remained were in hard to erase red pencil.

I thought it would be fun to share the passages that the previous owner found interesting. Here are a few.

1890 printing
"It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life" (pp. 65-66).

"... I have collected so large a body of facts, and made so many experiments showing, in accordance with the almost universal belief of breeders, that with animals and plants a cross between different varieties, or between individuals of the same variety but of another staring, gives vigor and fertility to the offspring; and on the other hand, that close interbreeding diminishes vigor and fertility; that these facts along incline time to believe that it is a general law of nature that no organic being fertilizes itself for a perpetuity of generations; but that a cross with another individual is occasionally---perhaps at long intervals of time---indispensable" (p. 76).

"The mere lapse of time by itself does nothing, either for or against natural selection. I state this because it has been erroneously asserted that the element of time has been assumed by me to play an all-important part in modifying species, as if all the forms of life were necessarily undergoing change through some innate law. Lapse of time is only so far important, and its importance in this respect is great, that it gives a better chance of beneficial variations arising and of their being selected, accumulated, and fixed" (p. 82).

"These domestic instincts, when thus tested by crossing, resemble natural instincts, which in a like manner become curiously blended together, and for a long period exhibit traces of the instincts of either parent: for example, Le Roy describes a dog, who's great-grandfather was a world, and this dog showed a trace of its wild parentage only in one way, by not coming in a straight line to his master, when called" (p. 210).

"Origin" is still in print, but John
Murray published the book
until 1929. This is a copy
of that last, 1929 printing.
"Salt-water fish can with care be slowly accustomed to live in fresh water; and, according to Valenciennes, there is hardly a single group of which all the members are confined to fresh water, so that a marine species belonging to a fresh-water group might travel far along the shores of the sea, and could, it is probable, become adapted without much difficulty to the fresh waters of a distant land" (p. 344).

"[I]f we make due allowance for our ignorance of the full effects of changes of climate and of the level of the land, which have certainly occurred within the recent period and of other changes which have probably occurred,---if we remember how ignorant we are with respect to the many curious means of occasional transport,---if we bear in mind, and this is a very important consideration, how often a species may have ranged continuously over a wide area, and then have become extinct in the intermediate tracts,---the difficulty is not insuperable in believing that all the individuals of the same species, wherever found, are descended from common parents" (p. 359).

"I see no good reason why the views given in this volume should shock the religious feelings of any one. It is satisfactory, as showing how transient such impressions are, to remember that the greatest discovery ever made by man, namely, the law of the attraction of gravity, was also attacked by Leibnitz [sic], 'as subversive of natural and inferentially of revealed, religion.' A celebrated authority and divine has written to me that 'he has gradually learnt to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that He created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws'" (pp. 421-422).

And…. on page 248, a small brown spot is circled in pencil, and in the margin is written, "Celine's Suntan Lotion, Barranquilla, Colombia, 3-21-50."

Here is the text of Origin available online:


Friday, September 23, 2016

Black Lives Resources

Among the many news stories this week about the deaths of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, I also noticed this link, shared by a faculty colleague on Facebook. On the link are syllabi for Black Lives Matter courses; the professor, Frank Leon Roberts, is a Ford Foundation Fellow at Yale and NYU, and this course is offered at the Gallatin School of NYU. I thought that the reading list and course design looked very helpful for those of us wanting to incorporate more of these resources into our courses, and to learn more and listen better:

Sunday, September 18, 2016

For All the Saints: Hildegard of Bingen

I'm a day late to post something about Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), but I can't overlook a notable woman of the church who, in fact, was recently declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XVI. She is honored on September 17 in the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican/Episcopal traditions. Here are good descriptions of her and her life and ministry:

The picture is from Wikipedia: "Illumination from the Liber Scivias showing Hildegard receiving a vision and dictating to her scribe and secretary"

Bible Road Trips: Pathways in Creation

Paul Gauguin, "Pere Jean's Path" (1885)
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on these scriptures. 

Read Genesis 1:1-2:4

There is a famous Jethro Tull song, "Locomotive Breath," about a man facing imminent death, who picks up a Bible and turns to the first page. If you were a person in a desperate situation, and if you reach for a Bible, where would you start?

We all know what that first page contains: the story of God’s creation of all things. It is soon followed by the stories of Adam and Eve in the garden.

The cadence of the writer of Genesis 1:1-2:4 (called “the priestly writer” by biblical scholars) is familiar but it never gets old. God says… and it was so… and it was good…. evening and morning… If you’re like me, the words take you out of the indoor setting where you’re reading the Bible and sets you in the natural world, perhaps a favorite location where you feel close to God. Perhaps you begin to imagine the greater natural processes: the formation of the planet reflected in great geological formations, the shifting of tectonic plates, and beyond our own world, the planets, stars, constellations.

A wonderful thing about Bible study is that, as you delve into that long text over a period of time, you begin to see connections. For instance, you read Genesis 1, but you remember some of the psalms praise God while extolling the wonders of creation: for instance,e Psalm 8, 19, and 104. So did the prophets (Second Isaiah being a notable example) who saw the strength of God in international relations connected to God’s might in the natural world. When we get to the New Testament, we learn that not only is Jesus our savior but the meaning of creation:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Col. 1:15-17).

Of course, we don’t hear about highways and roads in Genesis 1---and these devotions have been about Bible roads. But I grew up wandering my grandmother's farm, which had paths worn by the cows who grazed her pastures, and so when I read Genesis 1, in my imagination I see the pathways worn by the larger animals of God’s creation. The animals roam, migrate.

The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens (Ps. 104:21-22).

And where they roam, they wear down the earth.
Through our history as a species, humans have used animal trails, for we too have migrated and wandered, seeking the things we need. I remember a historic marker along US 150 in Indiana, commemorating the buffalo trail that had one crossed that area from the river to the hills, and early settlers of that area used the trail. But, of course, humans introduce technology as we claim our dominion over creation, and our trails and paths become wide and hard enough to use repeatedly by our vehicles.

What beauty simply to follow a trail, though, unspoiled by human technology. To follow the animals in their way brings peace of mind; how wonderful are my childhood memories of following those paths on Grandma's farm.

But whether you take the pathways of nature or technology, think about page 1 of Genesis as a call for you to keeping journeying and exploring God’s beautiful world. It can be the natural world, or beautiful human-made places. A Facebook friend noted the anniversary of a friend’s suicide and sadly commented, “She never saw California, she never saw Paris!” If you’re struggling with something in your life, make a goal to journey to some new location—even if it’s a local place. Walk the grass and enjoy the trees. Know that God cares for you and guides you and has made all things good.

Friday, September 16, 2016

For All the Saints: Cyprian of Carthage

The third-century bishop and writer Cyprian (c. 200 – 258) is honored today on some church calendars, and yesterday on others--but Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant calendars all honor him.

The Orthodox Saints site has this:

"Holy Hieromartyr Cyprian of Carthage (258)

"He was born to wealthy and noble parents in Carthage (north Africa), and became a prominent lawyer in that city. Around the year 246 he embraced the Christian faith and was baptized by the priest Caecilianus. Immediately he gave all his goods to the poor and retired to a quiet place in the country to devote himself to prayer and study of Christian writings. In 248 or 249 he was elected Bishop of Carthage by the insistence of the people, though some priests opposed the consecration of such a new Christian.

"Soon after his election, the Emperor Decius began a terrible persecution of Christians, during which Cyprian, in hiding, upheld his flock by letters. During this time many Christians gave in to fear of death and either sacrificed to the idols or signed statements that they had done so. When the persecution ended, the problem arose of how to treat the apostates who wished to be received back into the Church. Rigorist groups such as the Novatians and Montanists held that these lapsi had removed themselves from all hope of salvation and could never re-enter the Church. Cyprian rejected this view (as well as the position of some who would immediately reconcile the apostates); he established the position, still standard in the Church, that apostates could be restored after confession and long penance. His position led to a schism in the Church at Carthage when Cyprian's opponents set up Maximus the Montanist as a rival Bishop. The schism was only ended by a plague that swept the Empire and the city of Carthage in 253-254, together with a renewed persecution of Christians. Saint Cyprian's tireless care for the suffering during this time won most of the schismatics back to his side. When peace returned, Cyprian called a series of Councils in Carthage to resolve the conflicts that had troubled the Church. He upheld the African (and Eastern) churches' practice of reconciling heretics to the Church by Baptism rather than by laying on of hands, as was done in Rome; though Cyprian did not seek to impose this practice on other churches, Rome was not so tolerant and broke with the African church until the death of Pope Stephen.

"In 256, yet another persecution broke out under the Emperor Valerian. Cyprian was arrested and brought before the Proconsul of the region. He refused to defend himself, and when told that he was to be executed, said only Deo Gratias!(Thanks be to God!). At his execution the holy bishop ordered that twenty-five gold pieces be given to the executioner, and put on the blindfold with his own hands."

One of Cyprian's famous sayings, from his treatise on the unity of the church, is "He cannot have God as a father who does not have the Church as a mother." It was written in the context of schisms and heresy, but it has always raised issues about the "visible church" and the invisible "body of Christ," the extent to which the first represents the second, and the universality of grace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Landscape: Renoir

For the past year or so, I've been posting landscape paintings---for no other motive than I enjoy that type of art and hoped to keep track of ones that moved me. I could have started a Tumblog or a Pinterest page or other site for them, but this site is where I post all my other interests, after all.

During the past few months I "collected" some paintings, waited to post them later, and instead they've accumulated as "draft" posts. So today, I'm posting all the ones I've gathered lately.

Here is Pierre-Auguste Renoir's "On the Shore of the Seine" (1879). Others follow below, as September 13th posts.

Landscape: Bierstadt

Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902), "Cows Watering in a Landscape."