Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Origin of Species

By Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life. By Charles Darwin, M.A., LL.D., F.R.S.

Blogging the Bible on Slate was a brilliant idea, and one worth repeating. So I decided to take a crack at Darwin's The Origin of Species. At the bottom of it all, the reason is the Culture Wars. I've wandered into way more than my share of in-person and online conversations where Darwin specifically is the topic of discussion. My favorite is when a bank teller claimed that Darwin said his ideas depended on no form of life smaller than a single cell existing, so the discovery of bacteria and viruses invalidates his ideas about Evolution.

But in every conversation everyone involved admitted to never having seen page 1. All of their information was second-hand. So, I'm going to correct that, at least from my own standpoint. Starting in a couple of weeks, I'm going to go all the way through The Origin of Species, cover to cover. (And, of course, weblog about it.) Let's see what we learn...


ben said...

You're going to learn that people speak in generalizations, can be very well informed without reading the original texts and very few are interested in playing your game of "let's nit pick apart every detail and argue just for arguments sake".

The general concept of Darwinism is ridiculously simple, Darwinism and "Darwin said" are understood by reasonable people to mean "evolution" - who gives a shit exactly what he said - that's seldom the point of the discussion. Have you honestly met someone who was talking about Darwin and not the theory of evolution? And do you really think it's limited to him... sure, he wrote the book on it, but evolution has evolved a lot since then... can you name another famous evolutionist?

The example you site is perfect... the person is saying the theory says this and is presenting a reason why it might be invalid... just because they said "Darwin said" ... to dwell on that is missing the entire point of the conversation. To dwell on that to the point of reading the Origin of Species is bizarre. To even have a conversation with a nit-wit who thinks that argument is even relevant is stranger still.

I've never been bored enough to read Origin of Species but I'm comfortable that I know all the major and 99% of the minor facts and most of the "interesting" arguments and questions about evolution. Darwin? Interesting historical figure - but not exactly Shakespeare material in terms of quotes.

twiffer said...

i say enjoy. sure, 19th century scientific texts can be dull and ponderous. so can 21st century texts. i think it's good to read foundational texts, if you can get through them. provides an opportunity to see how theories themselves develop over time.

good luck to you.