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Unformatted text preview: L21 P A R T F 1 V [I THE GLORY OF MUSEUMS 17. Dinomania 221 18. Cabinet Museums: Alive, Alive, 0! 238 19. Evolution by Walking 248 20. The Razumovsky Duet 260 21. Four Antelopes of the Apocalypse 2.72 r A a r s I x DISPARATE FACES or EUCENICS 22. Does the Stoneless Plum Instruct the Thinking Reed? 28; 23. The Smoking Gun ofEugenics 296 24. The Most Unkindest Cut of All 309 P A R T s a v E N EVOLUTIONARY THEORY, EVOLUTIONARY STORIES THEORY 25. Can We Complete Darwin’s Revolution? 325 26. A Humongous Fungus Among Us 335 :7. Speaking of Snails and Scales 344 I ST 0 a r a s 28. Hooking Leviathan by Its Past 359 29. A Special Fondness for Beetles 377 30. If Kings Can Be Hermits, Then We Are All Monkeys’ Uncles 388 31. Magnolias from Moscow 401 P A RT E I G H T LINNAEUS AND DARWIN’S GRANDF‘ATHER 31. The First Unmasking of Nature . 415 33. Ordering Nature by Budding and Full-Breasted Sexuality 427 34. Four Metaphors in Three Generations 442 Bibliography 459 Index 469 Come Seven MICHEL. DE MONTAIGNE, traditional founder of the essay as a literary genre, wrote a short letter as a preface for his Essays (1580). He stated “to the Readers": I desire therein to be viewed as I appear in mine own genuine, simple and ordinary manner. . . Ifl had lived among those na— tions, which (they say) yet dwell under the sweet liberty of na- ture’s primitive laws, I assure thee I would most willingly have painted myself quite fully and quite naked. ‘ I have been writing the monthly essays that construct these books since Ianuary 1974. This volume, the seventh in a continuing series, includes the piece that I wrote to mark the completion of twenty years, with never a month missed. I should therefore use this preface to celebrate what our founder Montaigne defined as crucial to the genre in his statement quoted above—ordinary things (with deeper messages). I have always seen myself as a meatwand—potatoes man. You can take your ravioli stuffed with quail and . . .well, stuff it somewhere (I am also quite capable of releasing my own ground pepper from a shaker). I wrote, in the preface to the first volume of this series (Ever Since Dar- ix DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK SZI win, i977), that I viewed myself as a tradesman, not a polymath—and that my business was evolutionary biology. As I have written with active passion, I have also watched with odd detachmentwas my own essays have grown, shifted outward, and ex- panded focus throughout the seven volumes, across my own transition from rebellious youth to iconoclastic middle age. I trust tliatl have prop— erly mixed my joy in new and challenging ideas with fierce fealty to the great and honorable traditions (not always followed, hence the need for iconocla'sm) of “the ancient and universal company ofscholars" (to cite the delightfully archaic line pronounced by Harvard's president each year as he confers degrees upon new PhDs). But still, the essays always come home to their centering theme of evolution, the inost exciting and the most portentous natural truth that science has ever discovered —and surely, as Freud noted in equating the most significant intellectual rev- olutions with the most troubling and penetrating assaults upon human arrogance, the most discombobulating intellectual change that science has ever compelled us to accept. What transition could be more pro- found than “created in God's image to rule a young world ofstable enw tities made for our delectation" to “a fortuitous twig, budding but yesterday on an ancient and copious bush of ever changing, inter»- related forms." The first volume, Ever Since Darwin, covered the basic principles of Darwinian theory. The second, The Panda’s Thumb, featured exten- sions and criticisms of these central ideas. The third, Hen’s Teeth and Horse's Toes, expanded to the social implications of evolutionary thought, particularly to our profession's struggle with oxymoronic “cre- ation science,” then so threatening (we fought and won all the way to the Supreme Court), and now somewhat muted (though still danger- ous), thanks to our vigilance and the power of our ideas and informa- tion. The fourth, The Flamingo's Smile, stressed the random and unpredictable character of life’s history. The fifth, Bully for Brontosaums, expanded this theme to a multifarious disquisition on the nature of his- tory. Eight Little Piggies, the sixth volume, then added environmental subiects (curiously underplayed, I must say in self-criticism, in earlier contributions to the series). This seventh volume, Dinosaur in a Haystack, features further ex- tensions of evolutionary thoughtto subjects both primarily academic (lit— erature, a personal love that has grown upon and through me overtime. in parts 2 and 4; astronomy and calendrics, in continuity with a child hood passion that once ranked second only to paleontology, or maybe Come Seven iiiértlgpiitiirpatslpball alnd philately as well, in part 1) and primarily social of elpgenicsa fig p:r\pt6a). role ofmuseums in part 5, and the disparate faces But I also remain true to my centerin u on ev ' ' longest sections, treating the two great thernges 5f my fddgflllzrielilclslf lutionary theory, with emphasis on issues in Darwinism (part 7) and at- terns (often quite surprising and upsetting to traditional ideals) in Fthe recorded history oflife (part 3). In other words, process and pattern or mechanism and pathway; the how and the what of evolution’s folur— billion-year course on our planet. Finally, and further true to In love ofhistory (not only oflife itself, but ofscience trying to understandlife) I have illustrated many of my themes by their expression in the life and work of fascrnating individuals, emphasizing either the unfair] ’ un— known, or unappreciated byways in careers of celebrated peeple‘ Pierre— Slmon Laplace, Mary Shelley, Alfred, Lord Tennyson Jonathan Swift Edgar Allan Poe's work on shells, the unknown Mary Roberts th ’ equally unknown Cotthelf Fischer von Waldheim, Luther Burbanke R. A. Fisher, and J. B. S. Haldane. In the book’s last section ofthree es: says, I explore some wonderful connections between Linnaeus and Erasmus Darwin, with inevitable comments on Erasmus’s far more fa— mous grandson. My dinosaur in the haystack may represent the gem ofa detail al- ways sought to ground a generality, dinosaurs as the champion details for public fascination, the haystack as an encompassing generality and their conjunction as the secret to a successful essay in Montaigne’s ,dri - mat and defining strategy—«the marriage of alluring detail with if— Slructit’e generality. all told with the st , involvement. amp Of an amhm 5 Personal l am not a modest man, but I do know my great weaknesses amidst one lucky strength. I am not innumeratc, but how I wish for the math— ematical creativity, a pure blank for me, that drives so many scientists to fine accomplishment. lam not illogical, but how I yearn for the awe- some ability I note in many colleagues to identify, develop and test the linear implications ofan argument. ’ ' All people have oddly hypertrophied skills, but some folks never identify their uniqueness properly; for others, the specialness doesn’t in- tegrate into professional life and becomes, at best, a recreation or a arty trick. I did receive one greatgift from nature’s preeminent goddess 1:lFor- tuna—a happy conjunction of my own hypertrophy with maximal util- ity in a central professional activity. I cannot forget or expunge any item xi DINOSAUR 1N A l'lAYS'I‘ACK Come Seven a receipt documenting a few guilders for the bargeman's beer and sausage as key evidence for the provenance of an extinct antelope that can no longer speak for itself (essay 21). I Third, I try to link, in admittedly idiosyncratic, but not forced or ar— t1tlc1al, ways, these lovely details into their own string, and then to the essay 3 generality as a truly helpful illustration, not a frill or an indul- gencewthe dinosaur to the haystack. I knew that King Gustav and Lin- always find legitimate and unforced con— that enters my head, and I can In this sense, I am an essay ma- nections among the disparate details. chine; cite me a generality, and I will give you six tidbits of genuine illustration. A detail, by itself, is blind; a concept without a concrete iiw lustration is empty. The conjunction defines the essay as a genre, and I draw connections in a manner that feels automatic to me. 1...; N But Fortuna’s gifts languish unless reinforced by her sister Dili- gencia under the patronage of Amor. I am past fifty, but I retain every atom of the enthusiasm in my fivewyear‘old self for any item of knowl- edge. I love to learn the details and the reasons ofpeople's lives and na- ture’s ways. I yearn to encounter these items in their original languages and first presentations, not through someone else’s distillation. I do not believe in vicarious pleasure and will go to ridiculous lengths to stand on the right spot, or hold the object itself. Iclr kann nicht anders by in- ternal necessity, butl think the passion has paid offas well. I could idenv tify King Gustav because I knew the story ofVerdi’s A Masked Ball (essay 32). I could read Fischer's Latin dedication to Razumovsky; I knew what had happened to Moscow in 1812-, and I had to wonder whether Fischer’s Razumovsky could be linked with Beethoven’s patron (essay 20). Such self—imposed moral pressure can be burdensome, but think of the boons in personal understanding. I had to read Burke on the sub— lime and the beautiful because my youthful arrows had injured my grandfather’s book (essay 15)#but Burke's wise argument therefore lay in storage inside my head, all ready to illuminate Mary Roberts's genre of beautiful (not sublime) books on natural history by nineteenth- century women. I felt guilty for bypassing a youthful opportunity to learn the Papiamentu creole of Curacao, but I found expiation twenty-five years later and tumbled upon the theme for an essay as well (essay 27). I might therefote epitomize, in four statements, my own approach to the little, but old and honorable, literary genre of the scientific essay. First, I may wander through byzantine and arcane tidbits of collateral information_from baseball to beeswax to yo—yo crazes among New York schoolkidv—but 1 will always return home to evolution and the great themes of time, change, and history. Second, even my most general essays on maximally abstract subjects begin (in my mind at least, if not always and ultimately on paper) with an intriguing detail that piqued my interest: a reference to natural se- lection in the operative paragraph ofhistory's most infamous document, the Wannsee Protocol (essay 24), snails printed backwards in seven- teenthrcentury treatises on natural history (essay 16); the poignancy of naeus must have some deep connection if they faced each other throu h the maximal thinness of a banknote (essay 32). Selfadeprecatlon in Idalgro does represent the same lamentable habit as selfuhate among natural his torians facing their molecular colleagues—both parochialisms must cede to mutual reinforcement in equality (essay 31). A humongous fun— gus does illustrate the most difficult and abstract problem in Darwinian theory, the nature of individuality and the identification of evolution- ary agents (essay 26). Recent discoveries in the evolution of whales do both zrng the creationists and illuminate the difficult evolutionary prin- ciple of multiple adaptive peaks, and the constraints ofhistorical lega« c1es (essay 28). Haldane’s celebrated quip about God’s fondness for beetles should be joined to the empirical issue ofiust how many species actually inhabit our earth (essay 29). Jhimssic Park, just a movie perhaps does provide a ground for discussing the nature of fads, the pitfalls of reduchonism, and the essential “rightness” of museums centered on obiects (essay 17). Edgar Allan Poe’s book on shells is not the em— barrassment that all literary sources proclaim (though the volume is substantially plagiarized), if you know the technical traditions of mala- cologrcal writing and therefore recognize Poe’s interesting originality (essay 14). My personal favorite in this volume will never be a popular bit because the connections are too byzantine and cascading and the personae too anonymous, but how I loved moving from a dull and syco- phantrc dedication to a local count, to the torching of Moscow after Napoleon s conquest in 1812, to the opposite conduct ofthe Razumovsky brothers, one who did nothing for Fischer, the other who did everything for Beethoven, to the touching similarities in Mozart’s and Fischer's middle names, to the old-fashioned virtue of self—sufficienCy—and I had to find out absolutely all of this by myself; for no secondary sources exrst (essay 20). What do Greek bus stops tell us about Erasmus Darwin herorc couplets on the sex lives of plants? Find out in the closing essay 34. Fourth, you and I must walk together. Most “popular” writing in sci- ence simpllfies concepts (usually trivializing them as well, if unintena xiii 081 DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK tionally) in the belief, often false, that understanding will thereby be en~ hanced. Perhaps, sometimes—but for me, the essay is then not worth writing. I will, ofcourse, clarify language, mainly to remove the jargon that does impede public access. But I will not make concepts either more simple or more unambiguous than nature's own complexity dic— tates. I intend my essays for professionals and lay readers alike—an old tradition, by the way, in scientific writing from Galileo to Darwin, though effectively lost today. I would not write these essays any differ- ently ifI intended them for my immediate colleagues alone. Thus, while I hope that you will appreciate my respect, our bargain may re— quire a bit more from you than the usual item ofAmerican journalism demands. IfI discuss Linnaeus's sexual system for the classification of plants, I will give you his names and rationales for all twenty-four catev gories (see essay 33). But isn't this better than the usual journalistic one- liner—“Linnaeus classified plants by differences in their sexual parts"—for I give you the opportunity to grasp the details of Linnaean order (and I then reward you with Erasmus Darwin’s heroic couplets on Linnaeus's categories}. I love doing this monthly work, but alt good things must end—and the imminent millennium provides a natural termination (some would say for the whole earth—see eSSay 2, my other personal favorite for the virtue ofdetails, from Samuel Sewall's trumpeters on Boston Common in 1701 to poor Carry Nation holed up in jail on January 1, 1901). I will therefore try to write every month until January zoo: (despite my defense of 2000 in essay 2, but like Peary near the North Pole, you can’t come this close and not attempt to satisfy all interpretations) —and this series should therefore run for two more volumes. I must run out my skein, but nature never will_and we should all talce the greatest pleasure in this, her infinite bounty. So, let me launch this volume seven with Lewis Carroll’s most prescient recognition that seven ofhuman design cannot dent the wondrous superfluity ofnature. The Walrus and the Carpenter, walking on the beach, weep because they would love to clear away nature’s presence in “such quantities of sand." But they recognize the hopelessness: If seven maids, with seven mops Swept it for halfa year, "Do you suppose,” the Walrus said, "That they could get it clear?" “I doubt it," said the Carpenter, And shed a bitter tear. I am weeping tears of joy-as did Wordswor Sparrow’s Nest”: She gave me eyes, she gave me ears; And humble cares, and delicate fears; A heart, the fountain of sweet tears; And love, and thought, and joy. Come Seven th contemplating "The H W H The MORTAL REMAINS or the Venerable Bede (673—735) lie in Durham Cathedral, under a tombstone with an epitaph that must wm a For a “no nonsense" approach to death. in rhymin vault pro I I ” of the Venerable Bede lie in this grave. ( trough, but we will let this gentler reading stand.) shone as a rare light in the “Dark Ages” between Roman grandeur and a slow medieval recovery cu . ' naissance. Bede’s fame rests upon his scriptural com Historic ecclesiastical gentis Anglrgtizlm 1 fish Peo le), completed in 732. rono ' I fory antiJ Bede preceded his great work wrth two treatises on the reckoning and sequencin ’ t and De temporum ratione (On the Measurement ofTimes) in 725. inconvenient system of dividing recent time into B 2) on opposite sides 0 rectl determined, as A could not have seen the Wise Men or slaughtered the innocent at the onset of year one) The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth of Christian history, but the primary motive and purpose of his calcu- lations centered on a different, and persistently vexatious, problem in ecclesiastical timing—the reckoning of Easter. The complex definition ofthis holidaymthe first Sunday following the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox— requires considerable astronomical so— phistication, for lunar and seasonal cycles must both be known with pre- CISlon. .- Such computations entail a theory of the heavens, and Bede clearly presented his classical conception of the earth as a sphere at the hub of the cosmos—orbis in media totius mundi positus (an orb placed in the center of the universe). Lest anyone misconstrue his intent, Bede then explicitly stated that he meant a three-dimensional sphere, not a flat plate. MoreOVer, he added, our planetary sphere may be considered as perfect because even the highest mountains produce no more than an imperceptible ripple on a globe of such great diameter. I also once learned that most other ecclesiastical scholars of the benighted Dark Ages had refuted Aristotle’s notion of a spherical earth, and had depicted our home as a flat, or at most a gently curved, plate. Didn’t we all hear the legend of Columbus at Salamanca, trying to con- vince the learned clerics that he would reach the Indies and not fall off the ultimate edge? The human mind seems to work as a categorizing device (perhaps even, as many French structuralists argue, as a dichotomizing machine, constantly partitioning the world into dualities of raw and cooked [na- ture vs. culture], male and female, material and spiritual, and so forth). This deeply (perhaps innately) ingrained habit ofthought causes us par- ticular trouble when we need to analyze the many continua that form so conspicuous a part of our surrounding world. Continua are rarely so smooth and gradual in their flux that we cannot specify certain points or episodes as decidedly more interesting, or more tumultuous in their rates of change, than the vast majority ofmoments along the sequence. We therefore falsely choose these crucial episodes as boundaries for fixed categories, and we veil nature’s continuity in the wrappings of our men- tal habits. We must also remember another insidious aspect of our tendency to divide continua into fixed categories. These divisions are not neutral; they are established for definite purposes by partisans of particular view- points. Moreover, since many continua are temporal, and since we have niarnentable tendency to view our own age as best, these divisions often saddle the past with pejorative names, while designating successively “More modern epochs with words of light and progress. As an obvious grit 4 tag The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth ll prizes g Latin doggerel, the - - a claims: Hac sunt in fossa, Beedae venerabihs ossa— The bones Fossa is, hterally, a ditch or a In the taxonomy of Western history that I learned as a child, Bede lminating in the renewed glory of the Re— mentaries and his (Ecclesiastical History of the ogy sets the basis of good his- g of time: De temperibus (On Times) in 703, ' ' ' ' larizing our ’ hronolo les had their greatest influence in popu Bade S C E .C. and AD. (see essay f Christ's supposed nativity (almost surely incor- Herod had died by this time of transrtion, and . In his chronologies, Bede sought to order the events 39 DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth supposed Dark and Medieval consensus for a flat earth example many People “Minding yours mil” View the great medieval mythological: Moreover, when We trace the invention of this fable in —~is entirely cathedrals of Europe as the most awesome of all human constructions. ZEI (For me—and I say this as a humanist and n0?-;helsij§3;1;l:trt:elsd if ' ttruly o t is wor . - le, a lace of mystery and magic, 1:0 . u - I - . igilate the style of these buildings Gothic —horiég)ir}aigiéingilysiiragyce ' ' ' t e x or - t aced to seventeenth—century origin in . I _ ifdiiiiihil applied by self-styled sophisticates who vrepéd medievcjitntégt: ' ' the classical forms 0 reece an , as a barbaric interlude between . th drals after ' ' ' ' (1 later times. These ca e , ' and their revwal in Renaissance an ' d 'n the third ‘ tribes who had their hey ay 1 all were not built by German ed the wan’ , ' f several peoples who conquer ’ to fifth centuries! The names 0 I I 5 I became pew- ' ‘ —— ths and Vandals in particu ar— ing claSSical world Go I d d F th “matter the ' e or mean. or a , ative terms for anything conSIdere .ru " I ” ivord barbarian comes from the Latin term flolr tforeig::2.th in these ‘ ‘ ' ' f Western 15 ory at Our conventional dwisions o I ' d . Hon Iknow ' ' tion and peiorative esigna . twinned errors of false categoriza h b t O u- ' ' ' a taxonomy, u p p ofessional historians no longer use suc I . lZEtigpression still supports a divismn into classical tilmelg)(gll(ogée:f Greece and grandeur of Rome), followed by the’pall oft e1 ats mdis: some improvement in the Middle Ages, and an eclagtplfctictjuggomtive . . . . 0 c ' the Renaissance. But considerthe origin . - fix/ii? this sequence—and the relationship of taxonomy to preiu ' ' f o ress becomes clear. I dicefidbffdiii;(folfheghistorian ]. B. Russell, Petrarch devrsed the term ‘ “Dark Ages" in about 1340 to designate a period between classical times and his own form of modernism. The term “Middle Ages to:j th: t11-11: terval between classical fall and Renaissance reVival originate i fifteenth century, but gained popularity only in the seventeenth century. ' ' fall of Rome to the Renais- l consrder everything from the _ I ' . ssaori: 5563;; others as Middle. Still others mak]: a (SliqUICI'lttal d;vi08:(ll)l; ' l ' . ted y at emagn ' t earlier Dark and later Middle, separa . fheoaarbitrary millennial transition of lope. cfinch uncertaigit‘iltly :2in 31110:: ' ' fine ixe categories w the foolishness of attempting to de _ leap— ‘ les could not be more c ase, the intent of Darks and Mldd I ‘ ifi :iialeWestern history as possessing a Greek and Roman acme, With supposed loss as tragic, followed by the beginning of salvation In Re“ naissance rediscovery. ' v - 5 Such preiudicial tales of redemption require a set of stories to port their narrative. Most of these legends feature art, literature, or chitecture, but science has also contributed. I write'thiiessay (ti: out that the most prominent of all scientific stories in t is mo sider this version of the le primary-school children wri {but little different from ac the nineteenth century, we receive a double lesson in the dangers of false taxonomies—the second and larger purpose of this essay. For the myth itself only makes sense under a prejudicial view of Western history as an era of darkness between lighted beacons ofclassical learning and Re naissance revival—while the nineteenth-century invention of the flat earth, as we shall see, occurred to support another dubious and harm- ful separation wedded to another legend ofhistorical progress—the sup- posed warfare between science and religion. Classical scholars, of course, had no doubt about the earth’s spheric- ity. Our planet’s roundness was central t assumed in Eratosthenes’ meas the third century 3.0. The flat- 0 Aristotle's cosmology and was urement of the earth’s circumference in earth myth argues that this knowledge was then lost when ecclesiastical darkness settled over Europe. For a thou- sand years of middle time, almost all scholars held that the earth must be flat—like the floor ofa tent, held up by the canopy of the sky, to cite a biblical metaphor read literally. The Renaissance rediscovered clas~ sical notions ofsphericity, but proof required the bravery ofColumbus and other great explorers who should have sailed offthe edge, but (be- ginning with Magellan’s expedition) returned home from the opposite direction after going all the way round. The inspirational, schoolchild version of the myth centers 11 Columbus, ics at Sala pon who supposedly overcame the calumny of assembled cler- manca to win a chance from Ferdinand and Isabella. Con- gend, cited by Russell from a book for tten in 1887, soon after the myths invention counts thatl read as a child in the 19505): “But if the world is round," said Columbus, “it is not hell that lies beyond that stormy sea. Over there must lie the eastern strand ofAsia, the Cathay of Marco Polo”. . . In the hall ofthe convent there was assembled the imposing company—shaved monks in gowrrs. . .cardinals in scarlet robes. . . “You think the earth is round . . .Are you not aware that the holy fathers ofthe church have condemned this belief. . . This theory of yours looks heretical.” Columbus might well quake in his boots atthe mention of heresy; for there was that new inquisition just in fine running order, with its elaborate bone-breaking, flesh-pinching, thumb-screwing, hanging, burning, mangling system for heretics. 4i 5...; w 0.3 DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK Dramatic to be sure, but entirely fictitious. There never was a pe- riod of “flat earth darkness” among scholars (regardless of how many unj— educated people may have conceptualized our planet both then an now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major me} dieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact 0 cosmology. Ferdinand and Isabella did refer Columbus s plans tp a royal commission headed by Hernando de Talavera, Isabella 3 con esv sor and, following defeat of the Moors, Archbishop 'of Granada. This commission, composed of both clerical and lay advisers, did meet, a; Salamanca among other places. They did pose some’sharp rntellectua objections to Columbus, but all assumed the earth 5 roundness. As a major critique, they argued that Columbus could not reach the lndres in his own allotted time, because the earth’s circumference was too great. Moreover, his critics were entirely right. Columbus had cooked his figures to favor a much smaller earth, and an attainablelndres. bleed— less to say, he did not and could not reach Asra, and Native Americans are still called lndians as a legacy of his error. ’ Virtually all major medieval scholars affirmed the earth 5 roundnesis. I introduced this essay with the eighth—century yiew of the Venerab e Bede. The twelfth—century translations into Latin of many Greek and Arabic works greatly expanded general appreciation of natural screncpls, particularly astronomy, among scholars—and convrctions about t e earth’s sphericity both spread and strengthened. Roger Bacon (1220—1292) and Thomas Aquinas (1225—1274) affirmed roun‘dness Viaf Aristotle and his Arabic commentators, as did the greatest screntists 0 later medieval times, including lohn Buriden (13004358) and Nicholas 1 2 . oressndllvlibftlhelil rivas arguing for a flat earth, if all the chief honchos believed in roundness? Villains must be found for any malfeasance, and Russell shows that the great English philosopher of scrence William Whewell first identified major culprits in his History ofthe Inductive Scr- ences, published in 1837thO minimally significant characters named 'The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth the rectangular, vaulted arch of the minor roles in medieval scholarsh medieval manuscripts of Cosmas a fragments), and all in Greek. Th 1706—so Cosmas remained invisi lingua franca. heavens above. But both men played ip. Only three reasonably complete re known (with five or six additional e first Latin translation dates from ble to medieval readers in their own . Who formed the orthodoxy rep- resenting this consensus of ignorance? Two pipsqueaks named Lactantius and Cosmas Indicopleustes? Bede, Bacon, Aquinas, and their ilk were not brave iconoclasts. They formed the establishment, and their convictions about the earth’s roundne Lactantius and colleagues remained entirely marginal. To call Aquinas a courageous revolutionary because he promoted a spherical earth would be akin to labeling Fisher, Haldane, Wright, Dobzhansky, Mayr, Simpson, and all the other great twentieth-century evolutionists as rad- ical reformers because a peripheral creationist named Duane Gish wrote a pitiful little book during the same years called Evolution, the Fos- sils Say No! Where then, and why, did the myth ofmedieval beliefin a flat earth arise? Russell’s historiographic work gives us a good fix on both times and people. None of the great eighteenth-century anticlerical rational- istsnnot Condillac, Condorcet, Diderot, Gibbon, Hume, or our own Benjamin Franklin—accused the scholastics ofbelieving in a flat earth, though these men were all unsparing in their contempt for medieval versions of Christianity. Washington Irving gave the flat-earth story a good boost in his largely fictional history of Columbus, tSzS—but his version did not take hold. The legend gre nineteenth century, but did not enter the crucial domains ss stood as canonical, while published in w during the of schoolboy fnineteenth- that very few tall texts after pap or tour-guide lingo. Russell did an interesting survey 0 century history texts for secondary schools, and found mentioned the flat-earth myth before 1870, but that almos 1380 featured the legend. We can therefore pinpoint the invasion ofgen- eral culture by the flat-earth myth to the period between 1860 and 1890. Those years also featured the spread of an intellectual movement based on the second error of taxonomic categories explored in this essayuthe portrayal of Western history as a perpetual struggle, if not an nutright “war,” between science and religion, with progress linked to the victory of science and the consequent retreat of theology. Such move- Lactantius (245—325) and Cosmas Indicopleustes, who wrote his .“Chins‘ tian Topography” in 547—549. Russell comments: Whewell pornte to _ the culprits . . . as evidence ofa medieval belrefrn a flat earth, and iyrr— tually every subsequent historian imitated him—they could find ew , other examples." . . . . Lactantius did raise the old saw of absurdity in believing that peo- ple at the antipodes might walk with their feet above their heads in a land where crops grow down and rain falls up. And Cosmas did cham— pion a literal view ofa biblical metaphor—the earth as a flat floor for 43 DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth ments always need whipping boys and legends to advance their claims. Russell argues that the fiat—earth myth achieved its canonical status as a primary homily for the triumph of science under this false di- chotomization of Western history. How could a better story for the army of science ever be concocted? Religious darkness destroys Greek knowl- edge and weaves us into a web of fears, based on dogma and opposed both to rationality and experience. Our ancestors therefore lived in anx— iety, restricted by official irrationality, afraid that any challenge could only lead to a fall off the edge of the earth into eternal damnation. A fit tale for an intended purpose, but entirely false because few medieval scholars ever doubted the earth’s sphericity. l was especially drawn to this topic because the‘myth of dichotomy and warfare between science and religion—an important nineteenth- century theme with major and largely unfortunate repercussions ex- tending to our times— received its greatest boost in two books that I own and treasure for their firm commitment to rationality (however wrong and ultimately harmful their dichotomizing moel of history), and for an interesting Darwinian connection with each author. (l have often said that I write these essays as a tradesman, not a polymath, and that my busi- ness is evolutionary theory.) Russell identifies these same two books as the primary codifiers of the flat~earth myth: john W. Draper's History of the Conflict between Religion and Science, first published in 1874; and Andrew Dickson White’s A History of the Warfare of Science with The- oiogy in Christendom, published in 1896 (a great expansion of a small book first written in 1876 and called The Warfare of Science). Draper (1811—1882) was born in England, but emigrated to the United States in 1832, where he eventually became head of the medical school at New York University. His 1874 book ranks among the great pub— lishing successes of the nineteenth century—fifty printings in fifty years as the best-selling volume of the International Scientific Series, the most successful of nineteenth-century publishing projects in popular science. Draper states his thesis in the preface to his volume: Draper extolled the flat earth m ' I _ ' - yth as a rima exam le f l' ‘ ’ constraint and seience’s progreSsive power}:3 W P 0 re Iglon S The circular visible horizon and its dip at sea, the gradual a — pearance and disappearance of ships in the offing cannot faiil to incline intelligent sailors to a beliefin the globtilar figure of the earth. The writings of the Mohammedan astronomers and philosophers had given currency to that doctrine throughout Western Europe, but, as might be expected, it was received wrth disfavor by theologians . . . Traditions and policy forbade [the Papal Government] to admit any other than the flat figure of the earth, as revealed in the Scriptures. Russell comments on the success of Draper's work: The History of the Conflict is of immense importance because it was the first instance that an influential figure had explicitl declared that science and religion were at war, and it succeeded is few books ever do. It fixed in the educated mind the idea that seience" stood for freedom and progress against the supersti- - r: - I . . on'and repression of religion.” Its viewpomt became con- ventional Wisdom. I7£I Andrew Dickson White (1832—1 8 ' . 91 ) grew up in Syracuse, NewY k, and founded Cornell University in 1865 as one of the first avowedly Eric— ular institutions of higher learning in America. He wrote of the goals he shared With his main benefactor, Ezra Cornell: our purpose was to establish in the State of New York an in- stitution for advanced instruction and research, in which science, pure and applied, should have an equal place with literature; in which the study of literature, ancient and modern should be emancipated as much as possible from pedantry , We had especially determined that the institution should be under the control of no political party and of no single reli- gious sect. The history of Science is not a mere record of isolated discov- eries; it is a narrative of the conflict of two contending powers, the expansive force of the human intellect on one side, and the compressing arising from traditionary faith and human interests on the other . . . Faith is in its nature unchangeable, stationary; Science is in its nature progressive; and eventually a divergence between them, impossible to conceal, must take place. White avowed that his decision to found a secular university re- flected no hostility to theology, but only recorded his desire to foster an ecumenical religious spirit: . 45 DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK (1 into the mind of either of us that in all this we were doing anything irreligious or unchnstign . I had been bred a churchmen, and had recently been e ecte ‘ a trustee of one church college, and a professor in anotlher my greatest sources of enjoyment were eccleSiasticaf arct i- tecture, religious music, and the more devout forms c}: poed So far from wishing to iniure Christianity, both 1jope 0 promote it; but we did not confound religion wrt sectar- ianism. It had certainly never entere But the calumnies of conservative clergymen dismayed him pro- foundly and energized his fighting spirit: ' ‘ n be an at once . . .from the good protestant bishop Shgodiildlaimgd that all professors should be in hply order:i since to the Church alone was given the command Co, teac all the nations," to the zealous priest who published a chalrge that . . . a profoundly Christian scholar had come to Cornel in order to inculcate infidelity . . . from the eminent divine who ' ' ' “ - ' ' theis— to or denouncrng the atheistic and pan . went from City W he perfervrd mm~ ' ' l, ' ' - tot he tendencres of the proposed education, I ister who informed a denominational synod thatAgassiz, the last great opponent of Darwin, and a devout theist, was “preaching Darwinism and atheism” in the new institution. These searing personal experiences led White to a different inter- ' n of the "warfare of science with theology." Draper was a gen~ fiihftathti-theist, but he confined his hostility almost entirely to Catholic Church, as he felt that science could coeiost With morehi - eral forms of Protestantism. White, on- the other hand, profesged 130 os— tility to religion, but only to dogmatism of any stripe—whi of is or; struggles had taught him that Protestants could be as obstruc ioni’fsthe anyone else. He wrote: “Much as I admired Draper treatment 0 questions involved, his point of view and mode of looking at history'were different from mine. He regarded the struggle as one between Seience and Religion. I believed then, and am convinced now, that it was a sting; gle between Science and Dogmatic Theology. White therefore argue that the triumph of science in its warfare With dogmatism would bene- fit true religion as much as science. He expressed his credo as a para— graph in italics in the introduction to his book: 381 The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth In all modern history, interference with science in the sup- posed interest of religion, no matter how conscientious such in- terference may have been, has resulted in the direst evils both to religion and to science, and invariably; and, on the other hand, all untrammelied scientific investigation, no matter how dangerous to religion some of its stages may have seemed for the time to be, has invariably resulted in the highest good both of religion and of science. Despite these stated disagreements, White's and Draper’s accounts of the actual interaction between science and religion in Western his- tory do not differ greatly. Both tell a tale of bright progress continually sparked by science. And both develop and utilize the same myths to sup- port their narrative, the flat-earth legend prominently among them. Of Cosmas lndicopleustes’s flat—earth theory, for example, White wrote, “Some of the foremost men in the Church devoted themselves to but- tressing it with new texts and throwing about it new outworks of theo— logical reasoning; the great body of the faithful considered it a direct gift from the Almighty.” As another interesting similarity, both men developed their basic model of science vs. theology in the context of a seminal and contem- porary struggle all too easily viewed in this light—the battle for evolu- tion, specifically for Darwin's secular version based on natural selection. No issue, certainly since Galileo, had so challenged traditional views of the deepest meaning of human life, and therefore so contacted a domain of religious inquiry as well (see essay 2;). It would not be an exaggera— tion to say that the Darwinian revolution directly triggered this influ- ential nineteenth-century conceptualization of Western history as a war between two taxonomic categories labeled science and religion. White made an explicit connection in his statement about Agassiz (the founder of the museum where I now work, and a visiting lecturer at Cornell). Moreover, the first chapter of his book treats the battle over evolution, while the second begins with the flat—earth myth. Draper wraps himself even more fully in a Darwinian mantle. The end of his preface designates five great episodes in the history of science’s battle with religion: the debasement of classical knowledge and the de- scent of the Dark Ages; the flowering of science under early Islam; the ‘ battle of Galileo with the Catholic Church; the Reformation (a plus for an anti-Catholic like Draper); and the struggle for Darwinism. No one in the world had a more compelling personal license for such a view, DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK for Draper had been an unwilling witness—one might even say an in— stigator—of the single most celebrated incident in overt struggle be tween Darwin and divinity. We all have heard the famous story of Bishop Wilberforce and T. H. Huxley duking it out at the British Asso- incident, see essay 26 in my ciation meeting in 1860 (for more on this earlier book Bully for Brontosaurus). But how many people know that their verbal pyrotechnics did not form the stated agenda of this meet» ing, but only arose during free discussion following the formal paper of- ficially set for this session—an address by the same Dr. Draper on the red with reference to the “intellectual development of Europe conside views of Mr. Darwin.” ( do love coincidences of this sort. Sociologists tell us that we can touch anyone through no more: than six degrees of iven the density of networks in human contact. But to think separation, g of Draper, taking the first degree just inches from Hooker, Huxley, and n essayist who traffics Wilberforce, can only be viewed as God’s gift to a in connections.) This essay has discussed a double myth in the annals of our bad habits in false categorization: (i) the flat-earth legend as support for a biased ordering of Western history as a story in redemption from classi- cal to Dark to Medieval to Renaissance; and (2) the invention of the flat- earth myth to support a false dichotomization of Western history as another story of progress, a war of victorious science over religion. I would not be agitated by these errors if they led only to an inade- quate view of the past without practical consequence for our modern world. But the myth of a war between science and religion remains all too current, and continues to impede a proper bonding and concilia- tion between these two utterly different and powerfully important in- stitutions of human life. How can a war exist between two vital subjects with such different appropriate turfsascience as an enterprise dedicated to discovering and explaining the factual basis of the empirical world, and religion as an examination of ethics and values? I do understand, of course, that this territorial separation is a mod- ern decision —-and that differing past divisions did entail conflict in sub- sequent adjustment of boundaries. After all, when science was weak to nonexistent, religion did extend its umbrella into regions now properly viewed as domains of natural knowledge. But shall we blame religion for these overextensions? As thinking beings, we are internally compelled to ponder the great issues of human origins an the earth and other creatures; we if science once had no clue about uncomfortably and inappropriately, 43 981 d our relationship with have no other option but ignorance. these subjects, then they fell, albeit into the domain of religion by de- The Late Birth ofa Flat Earth fault. ‘No one gives up turf voluntarily, and the later expansion of ‘ ence into rightful territory temporarily occupied by religion did 3V5?- some lively skirmishes and portentous battles. These tensions were 01 e exacerbated by particular circumstances of contingent history—3i;Ci cfiuding the resolute and courageous materialism of Darwin’s personal tfgplry, and the‘occupation (at the same time) of the Holy See by one o e most fascrnating and enigmatic figures of the nineteenth centur - the strong, embittered, and increasingly conservative P' y, (Plus IX). ' pope io Nono ‘ But these adjustments, however painful, do not justify a sim listic picture of history as continual warfare between science and theglo Exposure of the flat-earth myth should teach us the fallacy of sucléya View and help us to recognize the complexity of interaction betwe these. Institutions. irrationality and dogmatism are always the enemiee: of scrence, but they are no true friends of religion either Scientifi knowledge has always been helpful to more generous views of relic gLon t—tgls preservation, by ecclesiastical scholars, of classical knowledge “$1131: earth s shape aided religion’s need for accurate calendars, for I began this essay with a story about the Venerable Bede’s use of cos rriology to set a chronology for the determination of Easter. Let the end With another story in the same mold—and another illustration of sci— ence s interesting and complex potential bond with religion Two da before my Visit to the Venerable Bede’s tomb in Durham 1 marveled :1: an intricate astronomical device prominently displayed in the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris. Precisely at noon each day, the sun’s li ht shine through 'a tiny hole in a window high in the south transeptgand illusj inmates a copper meridian laid into the floor of the transe t and (1 ing at an obelisk surmounted by a globe at the north wall p en I The line and obelisk are appropriately marked so that the cla s of solstices and equinoxes can be determined with precision by the yosi- tion of noon light. Why should such a scientific instrument be contained ivithin a church? The inscription on the obelisk gives the answer—ad certain paschalis (for the determination of Easter), a calculation that re- qurres preCIse reckoning of the vernal equinox. Interestingly as a fur- ther illustration of complexities in the relationship between science and religion, St. Sulpice became a temple to humanism during the renghdRevolution, and most of the religious glass and statuary was llamas e . The names of kings and princes, once carved on the obelisk ere thoroughly obliterated but these fervid rev ' ' ' , olutionaries s ared th autiful blue marble balustrade of the choir because the coppper meridf: 49 DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK 2.8I ian passes right through, and they did not wish to disrupt a scientific in- strument. I would not choose to live in any age but my own; advances in med- icine alone, and the consequent survival of children with access to these benefits, should preclude any temptation to trade for the past. But we cannot understand history if we saddle the past with pejorative categories based on our bad habits for dividing continua into compartments of increasing worth toward the present. These errors apply to the vast pa- leontological history of life, as much as to the temporally trivial chron- icle of human beings. I cringe every time I read that this failed business, or that defeated team, has become a dinosaur in succumbing to progress. Dinosaur should be a term of praise, not opprobr-iurri. Dinosaurs reigned for more than 100 million years and died through no fault of their own; Homo sapiens is nowhere near a million years old, and has limited prospects, entirely self-imposed, for extended geological longevity. Honor the past at its face value. rThe city of York houses the next great cathedral south of Durham. As Durham displays some amusing Latin doggerel to honor the Venerable Bede, so does York feature a verse to illustrate this principle of respect for the past in the service of unu derstanding. On the wall of the chapter house, we read, Ur rosa flos flomm Sic est domus ista domomm As the rose is the flower of flowers, so is this the house of houses. PART TWO LITERATURE AND SCIENCE 3&2; We. Can We Complete Darwin ’3 Revolution? H IN A WONDERFULLY WISE and frequently cited statement, Sigmund at: Freud identified the common component of all major scientific revo— lutions: “Humanity has . . . had to endure . . ._great outrages upon its naive self-love." In other words, great revolutions smash pedestals—the previous props for our cosmic arrogance. Freud then identified the two most significant fracturings: first, the cosmological shift from a geocen- tric to a heliocentric universe, “when [humanity] realized that our earth was not the center of the universe, but only a speck in a world-system of a magnitude hardly conceivable”; second, the Darwinian discovery of evolution, which “robbed man of his particular privilege of having been specially created, and relegated him to descent from the animal world.” Freud then hinted that the discovery and elucidation of the un— censcious, in large part his own work, might smash a third pedestal in setting aside our convictions about mental rationality. This statement suggests a criterion for judging the completion ofsci— entitle revolutions-"namely, pedestal-smashing itself. Revolutions are not consummated when people accept the physical reconstruction of the universe thus implied, but when they grasp the meaning of this re- construction for the demotion of human status in the cosmos. The two phenomena—realignment of the physical universe and reassessment of human status—are truly distinct, a separation best understood by in- 1TF{?>.7_'."“7":W- - - .- 315 Dmosaua IN A HAYSTACK H Id 0‘) voking an old mental strategy that has received a striking new name in contemporary culture: spin doctoring. In spin doctoring, an art practiced best by politicians from time im- memorial, one accepts a sorry fact, but provides an interpretation based entirely on the silver lining said to accompany all dark clouds. For ex- ample, Dr. Pangloss of Voltaire's Candide, surely the greatest spin doc- tor in Western literature, stated that syphilis, inadvertently transmitted from the New World to Europe, might be unpleasant but that, on bal- ance, all must be for the best because the Americas had also provided such wonderful products as chocolate. We may say, I think, that F reud's first revolution is complete in his pedestal-smashing sense. All thinking people accept that we live on a peripheral hunk of rock on the edge'of one galaxy among gezillions— and no one seems enveloped by cosmic Angst, or despairing about the meaning of human life, on these grounds. (Perhaps we have come to terms through the passage of centuries, for the new cosmology did not always seem so unthreatening, and we have not forgotten Galileo's torment. Many early versions of heiiocentrism retained the pedestal by placing our own personal star, the sun, in the center of a limited I universe.) But, having spent a professional lifetime explicating and defending evolution'in both public and technical fora, I feel certain that Freud’s second revolution has not been able to surmount a mental roadblock. Evolution still floats in the limbo of our unwillingness to face the im- plications of Danvinism for the cosmic estate of Homo sapiens. Physi- cal reconstruction, the first step in a Freudian revolution, has been accomplished: all thinking people accept the biological fact of our “de— scent from the animal world.” But the second stage, mental accommo- dation toward pedestal—smashing, has scarcely begun. Public perception of evolution has been so spin doctored that we have managed to retain an interpretation of human importance scarcely different, in many cru- cial respects, from the exalted state we occupied as the supposed prod- ucts of direct creation in God’s image. (1 am not even discussing the sociologically significant fact that millions of Americans, but no large numbers in any other Western nation, don’t accept evolution at all, and continue to espouse the literal reading of Genesis for a creation of all life in a few days of twenty-four hours each. The observation that some people cannot even take the first Freudian step only emphasizes the par- ticular fear and reluctance that this revolution raises in us.) We need no great philosophical or cultural acumen to recognize why the Darwinian revolution has been most difficult to accept, and Can We Complete Darwin's Revolution? therefore remains least complete in the Freudian sense. I don't think that any other ideological revolution in the history of science has ever so strongly or directly impacted our view of our own meaning and pur- pose. (Some scientific revolutions, though equally portentous and re- visiOnary in their physical reconstruction, just don’t pack as much oomph for the human soul. For example, plate tectonics has thoroughly changed our view of the earth’s history and dynamics, but few people have staked much about the meaning of their lives upon the issue of whether or not Europe and America were once physically connected, and whether or not continents reside within thin plates floating over the earth’s surface as new seafloor arises at oceanic ridges.) I like to summarize whatl regard as the pedestal—smashing messages of Darwin’s revolution in the following statement, which might be chanted several times a day, like a Hare Krishna mantra, to encourage penetration into the soul: Humans are not the end result of predictable evolutionary progress, but rather a fortuitous cosmic afterthought, a tiny little twi on the enormously arborescent bush of life, which, if re~ planted from seed, would almost surely not grow this twig again, or per- haps any twig with any property that we would care to call consciousness. All the classic forms of evolutionary spin doctoring are designed to avoid the radical and unwanted consequences of this mantra. Spin doc- toring centers on two different subjects: the process of evolution as a the- ory and mechanism; and the pathway of evolution as a description of life’s history. Spin doctoring for the process tries to depict evolution as inherently progressive, and as working toward some "higher" good in acting “for” the benefit of such groups as species or communities (not just for advantages of individual organisms), thereby producing Such de- sired ends as harmonious ecosystems and well designed organisms. Spin doctoring for the pathway reads the history of life as continuous flux with sensible directionality toward more complex and more brainy beings, thereby allowing us to view the late evolution of Homo sapiens as the highest stage, so far realized, of a predictable progress. How best can we illustrate that spin doctoring has had this perva- sive and baleful effect, and that public understanding of evolution lies immured in biases preventing the completion of Darwin’s revolution in Freud’s crucial sense of pedestal smashing? Well, I grew up in New York City, and I remain a quintessentially partisan New Yorker. I still root for the Yankees after twenty-five years in Boston, and my mental map of the United States matches the celebrated Steinberg New Yorker cover, with Fifth Avenue essentially dividing the nation and the kind- son River near the Nevada-California border. The United States is too 327 (firm We Comblete Darwin’s Revolution? DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK i... .q «J diverse to have a canonical media source for identifying the pulse of an educated culture—as the BBC might do in Britain, or l’Osservatore R0w mane in the Vatican. But grant to this parochial New Yorker that The New York Times comes as close to such a status as any American publi- cation. ‘ . I therefore suggest that a compendium of commentary from the Times might give us some insight into the spin doctoring of Darwrn s revolution. i have been struck by three items that appeared in The New York Times during the past year, for each represents a primary compo nent of the spin-doctored view, yet all are stated With complete assur- ance that evolution must Work in such a manner. I therefore found these three items, in their collectivity, particularly compelling as an ii- lustration of our deep miring in the spin doctored view of evolution as sensible and predictable progress, continuously moving toward desired ends by working for the good of groups and communities. 7 1. Evorurron FOR THE COLLECTIVE coon. On June 4, 1944, the al- lied armies launched a great attack that, without cynicism, may be re- garded as one of history’s finest efforts for global human good. On the fiftieth anniversary of D—Day, June 6, 1994, The New York Times lauded the invasion in many front~page articles, and reprinted both ‘Ceneral Eisenhower’s announcement of the landings and their own editorial of praise. On the same day, the letters column of the Times printed this more general commentary on working for the collective good—1n re- sponse to an earlier article in the Tuesday “Science Time's section that asked how sexual reproduction might benefit the evolutionary success of individuals. Evolution Benefits Species as a Whole To the Editor: . The question why sexual reproduction has evolved, should be asked not from the standpoint of individuals . . . but from the standpoint of the species itself. While sexual repro— duction continually introduces mutations that can damage in~ dividuals of the species, the advantages of this continual introduction of new genetic material into the gene pool is an evolutionary plus for that species . . .You miss the point. Evo- lution is not about a good deal for individual females or indi- vidual males, but about a good deal for the species. Can We Complete Darwin’s Revolution? I regret to inform the writer that he has missed the point. Darwin’s central theory of natural selection is about advantages (“good deals,” if you will) that accrue to individuals, explicitly not to species. In fact, this counterintuitive proposalr—that individual bodies, not “higher” groups like species, act as units and targets of natural selection—lies at the heart of Darwin’s radicalism, and explains a large part of our difficulty in grasp- ing and owning his powerful idea. Natural selection may lead to bene fits for species, but these “higher” advantages can only arise as sequelae or side consequences of natural selection's causal mechanism: differ- ential reproductive success of individuals. Warm and fuzzy ideas about direct action for the good of species represent a classical strategy in spin doctoring, one that has precluded proper understanding of natural selection for more than a century. If evolution worked explicitly for species, then we could soften the blow of Darwin’s radicalism. The transition from God’s overt beneficence to— ward species to evolution's direct operation on species permits a soft land- ing in transferring allegiance from creationism to evolution—~for the central focus on "higher" good as raison d'étre remains unchanged. But Darwin’s real theory of natural selection is uncompromising in kicking this prop away. Natural selection is a theory of ultimate indi- vidualism. Darwin’s mechanism works through the differential repro~ ductive success of individuals who, by fortuitous posseSsion of features rendering them more successful in changing local environments, leave more surviving offspring. Benefits accrue thereby to 'species in the same paradoxical and indirect sense that Adam Smith’s economic theory of laissez faire may lead to an ordered economy by freeing individuals to struggle for personal profit alone-— no accident in overlap, because Dar— win partly derived his theory of natural selection as a creative intellec- tual transfer from Smith’s ideas. If we free individual businesses to act for their own benefit, Smith argues, then the most efficient firms both drive out incompetent corn— petitors, and balance each other to provide an orderly economy. But such order only arises as a side consequence, through the action of an "invisible hand," in Smith’s unforgettable phrase; all direct causality re— sides in the struggle among individuals. Similarly, in Darwin’s world, natural selection acts only for the benefit of individuals in reproductive success (firms in profit, by analogy to Smith); well designed organisms and balanced ecosystems emerge as side consequences. We can say all we want about the beauty and radicalism of Darwin’s central notion, but how do we know that his idea is true? How can we DINOSAUR IN A HAYSTACK 81.1 tell that nature is Darwinian, rather than shaped by some other set of evolutionary forces? A convincing set of proofs lies around us, though this simple and powerful point has rarely been articulated in popular writing, and there— fore remains largely unappreciatelee begin with something of a para- dox—the proof of Darwinian nature does not reside in the best and classic cases of organic design for optimal biomechanical function: the aerodynamic perfection of the bird’s wing, or the hydrodynamic shap- ing of a fish’s body. Darwin’s natural selection, working for the repro- ductive success of individuals, might build such excellence in design, but another kind of evolutionary force that worked for the good of species might yield the same result. Excellent wings ate both good for species and good for individual birds. To show that nature is Darwin- ian, We need a set of phenomena that can oniy be built by forces work- ing for the benefit of individuals, and not for species. Such phenomena exist in abundance: organs and devices that aid individuals in sexual combat for mates and mating-s against other indi- viduals of the same species. Such organs cannot be beneficial for species, since they only aid individuals in struggle against others of the same pop- ulation, and cannot aid the species in competition against other species. Moreover, these organs are often elaborate and devilishly clever; they represent enormous “investments” of evolutionary energy, not mere su- perficial frills. Much of evolution's causal effort must therefore be de- voted to building such organs for individual benefit. The peacock’s tail provides a classic case. This gaudy and brilliant, but cumbersome, structure does the bird no good in a biomechanical sense (and probably acts as a positive disadvantage in this regard}. But peacocks use their sh'owy tail to compete with other peacocks for at- tention of the peahen in the essential Darwinian activity of passing more genes along to future generations. Showier tails help individual males in competition with other males; they do nt benefit the species. In fact, fancy tails probably injure the species's prospects for extended geological longevity—and can therefore only arise if evolution works for advantages of individuals. But even this classic case is indirect, for the tail doesn’t raise repro— ductive success by itself, but only by impressing females or intimidat— ing other males. A host of more direct adaptations work explicitly for individuals in the reproductive act itself. For example, males may hold on to females for weeks or months, thus assuring that no other sperm but their own can fertilize the eggs. (This odd phenomenon, called am- Can We Complete Darwin’s Revolution? plexus in frogs, does the species no good, but surely boosts the repro- ductive success of amplexing males.) The ever-diverse world of insects yields thousands of stunning ex- amples (see W. C. Eberhard's remarkable book, Sexual Selection and Animal Genitalia, for the details). Males of many species, for example, will reach into the female’s vulva and pull out the sperm from any pre- vious matings before depositing their own. Others, after mating, secrete a genital plug (nature's chastity belt after the fact) into the vulva—a rocky substance that blocks copulation with any other male. These examples of “sperm competition" (as professionals label the-subject) can only evolve if natural selection works for advantages of individuals, not of species. 2. SENSIBLE DIRECFIONALITY. Another letter to the Times (January 8, 1995), again commenting upon a previous report from the “Science Times” section, subtly illustrates a major theme in spin doctoring the pathway of evolution (rather than the process). The correspondent ob- jects to a sentence from an article upholding the theory that dinosaurs disappeared in a cosmic catastrophe triggered by impact of a large ex- traterrestrial body (see essay )2): Dinosaurs and Destiny To the Editor: In a Ian. 3 “Science Times” article you report on a theory that dinosaurs died out after an asteroid hit sulfur-rich rock in what is now the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, producing a haze of sulfuric acid that blocked sunlight for decades. Had the rock not been rich in sulfur, you say, “the dinosaurs might well have survived the impact, thereby changing the course of evo- Iution.” Actually, it was the demise of the dinosaurs that changed the course ofevolution. Had the dinosaurs not been wiped out, evolution would have continued on the same path it had been followingfor at least 150 million years. While I will not defend the Times’s fuzzy language about “the course of evolution,” the writer of the letter labors under the false im— pression that life's history follows a definite path, and that catastrophic episodes can only be read as disruptors of sensible continuity. I see 33‘ E. DINOSAUR IN A Havsracx 6:1. I nothing amiss in what the Times stated on lanuary 3. If the impact hadn't occurred, dinosaurs would probably have survived and evolution would then have proceeded differently from the pathway actually fol- lowed during the past 65 million years (an alternate route, I hasten to add, that would almost surely have kept mammals as small creatures in the interstices of a dinosaurian world, thus preventing the origin of a pc- culiar group of large mammals with consciousness, and the eventual in- vention of The New York Times). The error of the letter-writer lies in an assumption that evolution, if not disrupted somehow, follows a path that will sensibly continue into an indefinite future. But no such road exists. The course of evolution is only the summation of fortuitous contingencies, not a pathway with pre- dictable directions. What is the supposed route that evolution had fol‘ lowed for 150 million years before the disruption at the end of the Cretaceous period? For starters, this 150 million year interval included a mass extinction iust as intense (and perhaps just as catastrophically trig- gered) as the later event that wiped out the dinosaurs—the mass dying at the end of the Triassic period. More basically, evolution's unpre- dictability is fractal and present at all scales. We can trace, in retrospect, ' what happened during those 150 million years, and we may be able to explain the results in evolutionary terms. But we could not have predicted the outcome at the outset, any more than we could have looked out from Concord Bridge on April 10, 1775, and known that Eisenhower's forces would defeat Nazi Germany 170 years later. Evolution has no pathway that goes forward in sameness if not disrupted by externalities. 3. CONTINUOUS FLUX. Since my first two examples involved letters mistakenly critical of articles in the “Science Times" section, let me strive for journalistic balance by exposing a spin—doctored fallacy in a “Science Times” article of March 14, 1995. Judging from the dozen or so requests that I later received for in- terviews and comments based upon this article, the piece obviously in— spired a great deal of interest and struck most readers as strange, fascinating, and unexpected. l declined all the interviews because, as l explained, the article was correct and had expressed something impor- tant about evolution—but the result described was entirely expected and orthodox, not at all surprising unless one has adopted a spin-doctored view of evolution. The article, by William K. Stevens, bore the title, “Evolution of Hu- mans May at Last Be Faltering." It opened with the following lead sen- tence; “Natural evolutionary forces are losing much of their power to Can We Complete Darwin's Revolution? shape the human species, scientists say, and the realization is raising tan- talizing questions about where humanity will go from here. Is human evolution ending, ushering in a long maturity in which Homo sapiens persists pretty much unchanged?” (Oh, how i love that universal and anonymous appeal to authority-“scientists say"!) The article then gave an accurate account of the fact that human anatomy has not altered sub- stantially for the past 100,000 years or so. The Cro—Magnon people who painted the great caves of Europe some twenty to thirty thousand years ago were indistinguishable from us. Interesting fallacies are often subtle, often based upon hidden as- sumptions, unstated and probably unconsciously held. As a professional evolutio-nist, I find nothing whatever surprising about human stability over 100,000 years (see essays 10 and 11). This interval, while not quite so short as an evolutionary eyeblink, represents a pretty damned small unit of geological time. Most species are stable during most of their ge- ological duration. Large, successful, well adapted, mobile, geographi- cally widespread species are particularly prone to stability—~because evolutionary events are concentrated in episodes of branching specia- tion within small, isolated populations. Homo sapiens possesses all these attributes for stability, so why should we be surprised at the repcirted re— sults? And why should Stevens's article have elicited such a strong re- sponse of virtual astonishment? I can only conclude that the spin doctored view of life’s history con— ceives of evolution within species as a continuous flux of improvement and adaptation. We are particularly prone to expect such a result for our own species. After all, we evolved from small-brained ancestors, and we have achieved our exalted status by cranial enlargement. Shouldn’t this process, as intrinsic, be continuing during our period of maximal spread and success? Therefore, if we have truly stabilized, isn’t something funny going on, and mustn’t that something be an imposition ofour cul- tural discoveries upon our biological estate? No, no, a thousand times no. Our stability is orthodox—at least in a fully revolutionary Darwin- ism with smashed pedestals. Correct the three errors, and we may grasp evolution as a process causally driven by struggle among individuals for reproductive success, and not by any principle working bountifully for the good of species or any other "higher" entity in nature. We may then view life’s history as an unpredictable set of largely fortuitous, and eminently interruptible, excursions down highly contingent pathways. And we will understand successful species as islands of temporary stability, not as striving enti- ties in a flux of constant improvement. 333 081 DINOSAUR [N A HAYSTACK 334 Iust as the first error appeared in the Times on the fiftieth anniver- sary of D—Day, the last occurred on March 14, 1995, the date of the Times’s 50,000th issue. The editor marked the occasion with the re- strained fanfare typical of a newspaper that still refuses to publish the funnies. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times Company, sent a memorandum to his staff: “The best way we can eel- ebrate is by insuring that our 50,001st edition is the best newspaper we can possibly produce." Bravo, Mr. Sulzberger-a-nd how like evoiution devoid of the spin doctoring that has so sadly prevented the completion of Freud’s revolution. Not the saccharine motto of faith cures for the past hundred years: Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and bet— ter. But the toughness and true heroism of a player up against a house with infinite resources: Hang in there, as best you ean, for as long as you can. No ignobility, but only enlightenment, attends our reduction to ap- propriate size. For when we smash pedestals, we do grant a ray of free- dom to our very own defining evolutionary peculiarity: the human mind. i don’t know if the truth can make us free, but I do believe that our unique mentality thrives on this form of soul food, whatever the pain of lost illusions. ...
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