- Diogenes of Sinope
Διογένης ὁ Σινωπεύς
(c. 412- c. 323 BCE),
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My Favorite Quotations[Diogenes of Sinope] lit a lamp in broad daylight and said, as he went about, "I am looking for a [virtuous] man."
-- Teaching of Diogenes of Sinope (412–323 BCE) from Lives of Eminent Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
The unexamined life is not worth living.
-- Socrates, from the Apology by Plato (429–347 BCE)
When truth is buried underground, it grows and it builds up so much force that the day it explodes it blasts everything with it.
-- Émile Zola (1840–1902), French writer and political activist, from J'accuse! published in L'Aurore [The Dawn] (13 Jan 1898)
Economic "progress" is good only to the point of sufficiency, beyond that, it is evil, destructive, uneconomic.
-- E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977), from "Economics in a Buddhist Country" (1955)
Christianity... is the most avowedly materialist of all the great religions… Its own most central saying is: "The Word was made flesh," where the last term was, no doubt, chosen because of its specially materialistic associations. By the very nature of its central doctrine Christianity is committed to a belief in the ultimate significance of the historical process, and in the reality of matter and its place in the divine process.
-- William Temple (1881–1944), Archbishop of Canterbury, from Nature, Man and God (1934), p. 317
The beginnings of cosmic religious feeling already appear [at an early stage] of development, e.g., in many of the Psalms of David and in some of the Prophets. Buddhism, as we have learnt especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. The religious geniuses of all ages have been distinguished by this kind of religious feeling, which knows no dogma and no God conceived in man's image; so that there can be no Church whose central teachings are based on it. Hence it is precisely among the heretics of every age that we find men who were filled with this highest kind of religious feeling and were in many cases regarded by their contemporaries as Atheists, sometimes also as saints. Looked at in this light, men like Democritus, Francis of Assisi, and Spinoza are closely akin to one another.
-- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from The World as I See It (1934), p. 21.
There are many, you know, who think that this life journey through the world is not the first one we have made. Haven't you ever come across children who knew things that it was impossible for them to have learned? Have you ever gone to a place for the first time and felt sure that you had been there before? That's one of the reasons I do not travel much.
-- Henry Ford (1863-1947), from interview by S.J. Woolf in New York Times Magazine dated 24 July 1938
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion. Not to nourish it but to try to overcome it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.
-- Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from a letter to Robert S. Marcus dated 12 Feb 1950 quoted in The New Quotable Einstein (2005), p. 206, by Alice Calaprice
[T]he world is in greater peril from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
--Albert Einstein (1879–1955), from his tribute to Pablos Casals (30 March 1953) quoted in Conversations with Casals (1957), by Josep Maria Corredor
There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.
– Elie Wiesel, from his Nobel Lecture, 11 December 1986
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them.
-- Frederick Douglass (1818–1895), in a speech delivered at Canandaigua, New York on 4 August 1857, quoted in Two Speeches by Frederick Douglass (1857), p. 22
To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an inﬁnite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
-- Howard Zinn (1922-2010), from A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (2006)
Taxation is the price which we pay for civilization, for our social, civil and political institutions, for the security of life and property, and without which, we must resort to the law of force.
-- 1852, Journal of the House of Representatives of the State of Vermont, October Session, 1851, Appendix: Report of the Committee Appointed by the Governor to Take into Consideration the Financial Affairs of the State, Start Page 368, Quote Page 369, Printed by Chauncey Goodrich, Burlington, Vermont.
What I teach now as before, O monks, is dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.
-- Siddhārtha Gautama (563–483 BCE), the Buddha, from Alagaddupama Sutta: The Water-Snake Simile (MN 22)
Once Chuang Chou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Chuang Chou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Chuang Chou. But he didn't know if he was Chuang Chou who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Chou. Between Chuang Chou and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.
-- Chuang Tzu (369—298 BCE), from The Complete Works Of Chuang Tzu, chapter 2, translated by Burton Watson (1968)
Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from Pascal's Pensees (1669)
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
-- George Santayana (1863–1952), from The Life of Reason, Vol. 1, chapter 12 (1905–1906), Charles Scribner & Sons, p. 284
There is nothing which can better deserve [our] patronage, than the promotion of Science and Literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of publick happiness.
-- George Washington, in his address to Congress on 8 January 1790
Establish & improve the law for educating the common people...The tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Wythe dated 13 August 1786
Laws for the liberal education of youth, especially for the lower classes of people, are so extremely wise and useful that to a humane and generous mind, no expense for this purpose would be thought extravagant.
-- John Adams, from Thoughts on Government, April, 1776
It is ironic that the United States should have been founded by intellectuals; for throughout most of our political history, the intellectual has been for the most part either an outsider, a servant, or a scapegoat.
-- Richard Hofstadter, from Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, pp. 145-146
Shake off all the fears & servile prejudices, under which weak minds are servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to his nephew, Peter Carr, dated 10 August 1787
If ever there can be a cause worthy to be upheld by all toil or sacrifice that the human heart can endure, it is the cause of Education.
-- Horace Mann (1796–1859), from Thoughts Selected from the Writings of Horace Mann (1872), p. 7.
The all-important fact in the situation is this; any time the college professors of America get ready to take control of their own destinies, and of the intellectual life of their institutions, they can do it. There is not a college or university in the United States today which could resist the demands of its faculty a hundred percent organized and meaning business.
-- Upton Sinclair (1878–1968), from The Goose-Step: A Study of American Education (1923), p. 458
I hope we shall... crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.
-- Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to George Logan dated 12 November 1816
It is, no doubt, a very laudable effort, in modern teaching, to render as much as possible of what the young are required to learn, easy and interesting to them. But when this principle is pushed to the length of not requiring them to learn anything but what has been made easy and interesting, one of the chief objects of education is sacrificed. I rejoice in the decline of the old brutal and tyrannical system of teaching, which however did succeed in enforcing habits of application; but the new, as it seems to me, is training up a race of men who will be incapable of anything which is disagreeable to them....A pupil from whom nothing is ever demanded which he cannot do, never does all he can.
-- John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), from the Autobiography of John Stuart Mill (1924), p. 37
How comes it that a cripple does not offend us, but that a fool does? Because a cripple recognizes that we walk straight, whereas a fool declares that it is we who are silly; if it were not so, we should feel pity and not anger.
-- Blaise Pascal (1623–1662), from Pascal's Pensees (1669)
The suppression of uncomfortable ideas may be common in religion or in politics, but it is not the path to knowledge, and there's no place for it in the endeavor of science.
-- Carl Sagan, from the Cosmos television series
The young specialist in English Lit ... lectured me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the Universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. ... My answer to him was, "... when people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together."
-- Isaac Asimov, The Relativity of Wrong, Kensington Books, New York, 1996, p 226.
A time is coming when those who are in the mad rush today of multiplying their wants, vainly thinking that they add to the real substance, real knowledge of the world, will retrace their steps and say what have we done? Civilizations have come and gone and in spite of all our vaunted progress, I am tempted to ask again and again: To what purpose?
-- Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869–1948) from D.G. Tendulkar, Mahatma: Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi Vol. 2, 2nd edn.(1960), p. 29.
Can we reconcile the idea that copying errors are an essential prerequisite for evolution to occur, with the statement that natural selection favours high copying-fidelity?
-- Richard Dawkins, from The Selfish Gene (2006) Oxford Univ. Press, p. 17
Let me try to make crystal clear what is established beyond reasonable doubt, and what needs further study, about evolution. Evolution as a process that has always gone on in the history of the earth can be doubted only by those who are ignorant of the evidence or are resistant to evidence, owing to emotional blocks or to plain bigotry. By contrast, the mechanisms that bring evolution about certainly need study and clarification. There are no alternatives to evolution as history that can withstand critical examination. Yet we are constantly learning new and important facts about evolutionary mechanisms.
-- Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900–1975), from "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", The American Biology Teacher Vol.35, No. 3 (March 1973), pp. 125-129
... there are many reasons why you might not understand [an explanation of a scientific theory] ... Finally, there is this possibility: after I tell you something, you just can't believe it. You can't accept it. You don't like it. A little screen comes down and you don't listen anymore. I'm going to describe to you how Nature is - and if you don't like it, that's going to get in the way of your understanding it. It's a problem that [scientists] have learned to deal with: They've learned to realize that whether they like a theory or they don't like a theory is not the essential question. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense. [A scientific theory] describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept Nature as She is - absurd.
--Richard P. Feynman (1918–1988), from QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter (Feynman 1985), pp. 9-10
Males do not represent two discrete populations, heterosexual and homosexual. The world is not to be divided into sheep and goats. Not all things are black nor all things white. It is a fundamental of taxonomy that nature rarely deals with discrete categories. Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.
-- Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell R. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. (Philadelphia, Pa: W.B. Saunders, 1948) pp. 610-666.
In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion, and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance.
--Thomas Jefferson in a letter to David Harding, from Monticello, 20 April 1824; found in H.A. Washington, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (New York : H.W. Derby, 1861).
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Category Archives: History
was elected a Fellow of the Linnean Society of London.On this date, Charles Darwin
On this date, the American chemist and biologist Stanley Lloyd Miller was born. In 1953, he (under his University of Chicago mentor, Nobelist Harold C. Urey) performed a famous experiment (the so-called Miller-Urey experiment) to determine the possible origin of life from inorganic chemicals on the primeval, just-formed Earth. They passed electrical discharges (simulating thunderstorms) through mixtures of reducing gases, such as hydrogen, ammonia, methane and water, believed to have formed the earliest atmosphere. Analysis days later showed the resulting chemicals included five amino acids: aspartic acid, glycine, alpha-amino-butyric acid, and two versions of alanine. Aspartic acid, glycine, and alanine are common building blocks of natural proteins. Other compounds included urea, aldehydes, and carboxylic acids. This experiment showed that the basic molecules of life could be synthesized from simple molecules, suggesting that Darwin’s “warm little pond” was a feasible scenario.
Interestingly, the 1953 Miller-Urey experiment had two sibling studies, neither of which was published. Vials containing the products from those experiments were recently recovered and reanalyzed using modern technology. The results were reported in the 17 October 2008 issue of the journal Science.
Miller relied on a blotting technique to identify the organic molecules he had created — primitive laboratory conditions by today’s standards. He would not have been able to identify anything present at very low levels.
Indiana University Biochemistry Program doctoral student Adam Johnson, Scripps Institution of Oceanography marine chemist Jeffrey Bada (the present Science paper’s principal investigator), National Autonomous University of Mexico biologist Antonio Lazcano, Carnegie Institution of Washington chemist James Cleaves, and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center astrobiologists Jason Dworkin and Daniel Glavin examined vials left over from Miller’s experiments of the early 1950s. Vials associated with the original, published experiment contained far more organic molecules than Stanley Miller realized — 14 amino acids and five amines.
However, “The apparatus Stanley Miller paid the least attention to gave the most exciting results,” said Johnson, lead author of the Science report. The difference between the published and two unpublished experiments is small — the unpublished experiments used a tapering glass “aspirator” that simply increased air flow through a hollow, air-tight glass device. Increased air flow created a more dynamic reaction vessel, or “vapor-rich volcanic” conditions, according to the present report’s authors. The 11 vials scientists recovered from Miller’s “second,” initially unpublished experiment produced 22 amino acids and the same five amines at yields comparable to the original experiment.
“We believed there was more to be learned from Miller’s original experiment,” Bada said. “We found that in comparison to his design everyone is familiar with from textbooks, the volcanic apparatus produces a wider variety of compounds.” Johnson added, “Many of these other amino acids have hydroxyl groups attached to them, meaning they’d be more reactive and more likely to create totally new molecules, given enough time.” The report’s authors bring up-to-date what is a plausible scenario for the origin of the earliest biochemical molecules on Earth:
Geoscientists today doubt that the primitive atmosphere had the highly reducing composition Miller used. However, the volcanic apparatus experiment suggests that, even if the overall atmosphere was not reducing, localized prebiotic synthesis could have been effective. Reduced gases and lightning associated with volcanic eruptions in hot spots or island arc–type systems could have been prevalent on the early Earth before extensive continents formed. In these volcanic plumes, HCN, aldehydes, and ketones may have been produced, which, after washing out of the atmosphere, could have become involved in the synthesis of organic molecules. Amino acids formed in volcanic island systems could have accumulated in tidal areas, where they could be polymerized by carbonyl sulfide, a simple volcanic gas that has been shown to form peptides under mild conditions.
Miller’s third, also unpublished, experiment used an apparatus that had an aspirator but used a “silent” discharge. This third device appears to have produced a lower diversity of organic molecules.
“This research is both a link to the experimental foundations of astrobiology as well as an exciting result leading toward greater understanding of how life might have arisen on Earth,” said Carl Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, headquartered at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.
- Johnson, A., Cleaves, H., Dworkin, J., Glavin, D., Lazcano, A., & Bada, J. (2008). The Miller Volcanic Spark Discharge Experiment Science, 322 (5900), 404-404 DOI: 10.1126/science.1161527
- Stanley L. Miller, “A production of amino acids under possible primitive Earth conditions, ” Science 117: 528 (15 May 1953) [DOI:10.1126/science.117.3046.528].
WARNING: The creationist Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute has made false and misleading claims about the Miller-Urey experiment and other abiogenesis research in his book Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong.
Decree of the Index) written by Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, and issued by the Catholic Church in Rome. Further, no person was to be permitted to hold or teach the theory that the Earth revolves around the sun. When Galileo subsequently violated the decree, he was put on trial and held under house arrest for the final eight years of his life.On this date, the Copernican theory was declared “false and erroneous” by the Decree of the Holy Congregation of the Most Illustrious Lord Cardinals in charge of the Index (more commonly known as the
On this date in Salem Village in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Sarah Goode, Sarah Osborne, and Tituba, an Indian slave from Barbados, were charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft. Later that day, Tituba, possibly under coercion, confessed to the crime, encouraging the authorities to seek out more Salem witches.
In June 1692, the special Court of Oyer, “to hear,” and Terminer, “to decide,” convened in Salem under Chief Justice William Stoughton to judge the accused. The first to be tried was Bridget Bishop of Salem, who was found guilty and executed by hanging on June 10. Thirteen more women and four men from all stations of life followed her to the gallows, and one man, Giles Corey, was executed by crushing. Most of those tried were condemned on the basis of the witnesses’ behavior during the actual proceedings, characterized by fits and hallucinations that were argued to be caused by the defendants on trial.
In October 1692, Governor William Phipps of Massachusetts ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature, which forbade the type of sensational testimony allowed in the earlier trials. Executions ceased, and the Superior Court eventually released all those awaiting trial and pardoned those sentenced to death. The Salem witch trials, which resulted in the executions of 19 innocent women and men, had effectively ended.
For more than a century, scientists had attempted to determine the exact nature and location of the mammalian egg. During his research in 1826, Baer discovered the mammalian egg by identifying a yellowish spot within the ovarian follicle visible only with a microscope. He developed this idea in his 1827 treatise, De ovi mammalium et hominis genesi (On the Origin of the Mammalian and Human Ovum).
Baer studied the embryonic development of animals, discovering the blastula stage of development and the notochord. Together with Heinz Christian Pander and based on the work by Caspar Friedrich Wolff, Baer described the germ layer theory of development (ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm) as a principle in a variety of animal species. He summarized his findings in his two-volume textbook entitled Über Entwickelungsgeschichte der Thiere (On the Development of Animals) which he published between 1828 and 1837, laying the foundation for comparative embryology.
On this date, Cambridge University scientists James D. Watson and Frances H.C. Crick announced that they had determined the structure of DNA, the molecule containing human genes. On the morning of February 28, they determined that the structure of DNA was a double-helix polymer, or a spiral of two DNA strands, each containing a long chain of monomer nucleotides, wound around each other.
In his best-selling book, The Double Helix (1968), Watson later claimed that Crick announced the discovery by walking into the nearby Eagle Pub and blurting out that “we had found the secret of life.”
Watson and Crick’s solution was formally announced on 25 April 1953, following its publication in that month’s issue of the journal Nature. The article revolutionized the study of biology and medicine.
Along with Maurice Wilkins, a colleague, Watson and Crick won the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery.
The Constitution of the United States was not made to fit us like a strait jacket. In its elasticity lies its chief greatness.
— Woodrow Wilson
On this day in 1803, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice John Marshall, decided the landmark case of William Marbury v James Madison, Secretary of State of the United States and confirmed the legal principle of judicial review —the right of the courts to determine the constitutionality of the actions of the other two branches of government — in the new nation. This principle was an important addition to the system of “checks and balances” created to prevent any one branch of the Federal Government from becoming too powerful.
Nothing in the Constitution gave the Court this specific power. Chief Justice John Marshall, however, believed that the Supreme Court should have a role equal to those of the other two branches of government.
When James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay wrote a defense of the Constitution in The Federalist, they explained their judgment that a strong national government must have built-in restraints: “You must first enable government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” The writers of the Constitution had given the executive and legislative branches powers that would limit each other as well as the judiciary branch. The Constitution gave Congress the power to impeach and remove officials, including judges or the President himself. The President was given the veto power to restrain Congress and the authority to appoint members of the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate. In this intricate system, the role of the Supreme Court had not been defined. It therefore fell to a strong Chief Justice like Marshall to complete the triangular structure of checks and balances by establishing the principle of judicial review. Although no other law was declared unconstitutional until the Dred Scott decision of 1857, the role of the Supreme Court to invalidate Federal and state laws that are contrary to the Constitution has never been seriously challenged.
was published in two volumes. The word “evolution” appeared for the first time in any of his works. This first issue was of 2,500 copies.On this date, the first edition of Charles Darwin’s The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
Charles Joseph Chamberlain was born near Sullivan, Ohio. His research into the structure and life cycles of primitive plants (cycads) enabled him to suggest a course of evolutionary development for the egg and embryo of seed plants (spermatophytes) and to speculate about a cycad origin for flowering plants (angiosperms).On this date, the American botanist
Chamberlain first studied botany and zoology at Oberlin College. After spending several years as a school teacher and administrator, he entered the University of Chicago where in 1897 he received the first doctorate in botany awarded by that institution. He organized and directed the botanical laboratories at the University of Chicago (1897-1931), where, with plants collected in Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Cuba, he created the world’s foremost collection of living cycads. His comprehensive work entitled Gymnosperms: Structure and Evolution was published in 1935.
On this date, the historical debate that took place at the French Academy of Sciences between Georges Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire began.
The zoologist and historian of science E.R. Russell summed up the great biological controversy of the first half of the nineteenth century: “Is function the mechanical result of form, or is form merely the manifestation of function or activity? What is the essence of life — organization or activity?” While Cuvier founded the “functionalist” school of organismal biology, with his insistence on animals as functionally integrated wholes, Geoffroy continued the more “formalist” tradition of biology that had started with Buffon and was being continued by Goethe, Lamarck, and others.
Cuvier viewed every part of an animal as having been designed by the Creator to contribute to the animal’s functional integrity. Thus, similarities between organisms could only result from similar functions, writing in 1828, “If there are resemblances between the organs of fishes and those of the other vertebrate classes, it is only insofar as there are resemblances between their functions.” Cuvier argued that all animals could be subdivided into four and only four distinct embranchements: vertebrates, molluscs, articulates (insects and crustaceans), and radiates.
Cuvier’s viewpoint is diametrically opposed to Geoffroy’s view, which stressed the primacy of structure over function; Geoffroy wrote in 1829: “Animals have no habits but those that result from the structure of their organs; if the latter varies, there vary in the same manner all their springs of action, all their faculties and all their actions.”
Geoffrey said that unity of plan could be identified by the relative positions and spatial interrelationships of elements, rather than primarily by their shape or size. Parts may expand and contract according to their function, but topology remains unaltered, and the archetype can be traced by an unvarying spatial pattern. He called this the principle of connections. (This is still a favored basis for recognizing anatomical homologies.)
Geoffroy wrote in 1807 (see Appel, 1987, p. 89):
It is known that nature works constantly with the same materials. She is ingenious to vary only the forms…One sees her tend always to cause the same elements to reappear, in the same number, in the same circumstances, and with the same connections.
As Charles Darwin described his work in 1859, in The Origin of Species:
What can be more curious than that the hand of a man, formed for grasping, that of a mole for digging, the leg of the horse, the paddle of the porpoise, and the wing of the bat, should all be constructed on the same pattern, and should include the same bones, in the same relative positions? Geoffroy St. Hilaire has insisted strongly on the high importance of relative connexion in homologous organs: the parts may change to almost any extent in form and size, and yet they always remain connected together in the same order.
In 1822, Geoffroy had dissected a lobster and placed it in an inverted position with respect to the ground. In this upside down orientation the lobster’s normally ventral nerve cord was located above the digestive tract, which in turn was placed above the heart. In his own words: “What was my surprise, and I add, my admiration, in perceiving an ordering that placed under my eyes all the organic systems of this lobster in the order in which they are arranged in mammals?” Geoffroy went on to argue that there was a unity of plan, or unity of composition, among animals, so that the dorsal side of the vertebrates was homologous to the ventral side of the arthropods. In 1822, he wrote that “insects formed another class of vertebrated animals, and that they were, consequently, brought under the common law of uniformity of organization”.
Thus, Geoffroy and his followers argued that all animals, vertebrates and invertebrates alike, were built on the same basic plan. Therefore, animal life could be strung into a more or less continuous, related series, rather than broken into discrete “divisions”, as Cuvier had claimed. This series implied that the history of each organism, rising in complexity from starfish to humans, could be interpreted in an evolutionary manner.
Matters between Cuvier and Geoffry came to a head in 1830, when two young naturalists, Meyranx and Laurencet, presented a comparison of the anatomy of vertebrates and cephalopods (squids, cuttlefish, and octopi), claiming that they were based on the same basic structural plan. Geoffroy enthusiastically adopted this claim as proof of the unity of plan shared by all animals; Cuvier could not reconcile it with the results of his careful anatomical research. Thus was set up one of the most famous debates in the history of biology: eight public debates between Cuvier and Geoffroy, from February to April 1830. In these debates, Cuvier showed convincingly that many of Geoffroy’s supposed examples of unity of structure were not accurate; the similarities between vertebrates and cephalopods were contrived and superficial.Remarkably, Geoffroy’s idea today is supported by a growing body of molecular developmental evidence. Holley et al (1995) have demonstrated that not only do the fruit fly and frog have homologous genes that promote dorsoventral patterning, but the homologous genes have opposite effects within each animal. In fact, the genes are functionally interchangeable –- even though the product of sog ventralizes fly embryos, it dorsalizes frog embryos just like its homologue in the frog, chordin.
It would be an error to call Geoffroy an evolutionary biologist in anything like the modern sense. Archetypes were abstractions, not once-living ancestors; shared archetypal form did not necessarily indicate common ancestry. Geoffrey used the term “homologous” in its anatomical sense, meaning those parts in different animals which were “essentially” the same, even though the parts might have different shapes and functions. However, later in his career, Geoffroy published some ideas that resemble the theory of evolution by natural selection. The following quote from “Influence du monde ambiant pour modifier les formes animales” (1833) shows that Geoffroy considered that heritable changes in an organism might be selected for or against by the environment, and thus that present-day species might have arisen from antediluvian (before the Biblical Flood) species:
The external world is all-powerful in alteration of the form of organized bodies.. . these [modifications] are inherited, and they influence all the rest of the organization of the animal, because if these modifications lead to injurious effects, the animals which exhibit them perish and are replaced by others of a somewhat different form, a form changed so as to be adapted to the new environment.
But these ideas apparently were never a key part of Geoffroy’s thought. Geoffroy believed that there were limits to how far an organism might evolve, and he never developed his ideas into a complete theory, as Darwin later did.
Part of the power of modern evolutionary biology comes from its ability to synthesize elements from both schools of thought. Organismal lineages change with time, in response to changing environments, and their form constrains the functions that they can take on; at the same time, it is the ability of organisms to function in their environments that is a major component of evolutionary fitness, and form is often altered to fit a particular function. Cuvier and Geoffroy had grasped separate parts of a more complex reality.
- Toby A. Appel. The Cuvier-Geoffrey Debate: French Biology in the Decades before Darwin (Oxford University Press, 1987).
- Stephen J. Gould, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory (Harvard University Press, 2002) pp. 298-312.
- S.A. Holley, P.D. Jackson, Y. Sasal, B. Lu, E.M. De Robertis, F.M. Hoffmann, and E.L. Ferguson. A conserved system for dorsal-ventral patterning in insects and vertebrates involving sog and chordin, Nature 376: 249-253 (1995).
- Ernst Mayr. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1982) p 262.
On this date, a massive earthquake hit Valdivia, Chile and Charles Darwin was right in the middle of the action. While HMS Beagle tried to make anchorage at Concepcion, Darwin was dropped off at the island of Quiriquina. During his exploration of the island, he discovered areas of land that had risen a few feet due to the earthquake. Darwin was very excited about this find, as it was direct evidence that the Andes mountains, and indeed all of South America, were very slowly rising above the ocean. This confirmed Charles Lyell’s theory that land masses rose in tiny increments over an extremely long period of time. Given this fact, Darwin accepted the idea that the earth must be extremely old. The next day he went by ship to the town of Talcuhano, and from there rode by horse to Concepcion to meet up with HMS Beagle. As the Beagle sailed from Concepcion, Darwin wrote in a letter to his sister Caroline:
We are now on our road from Concepcion. The papers will have told you about the great Earthquake of the 20th of February. I suppose it certainly is the worst ever experienced in Chili [sic]. It is no use attempting to describe the ruins – it is the most awful spectacle I ever beheld. The town of Concepcion is now nothing more than piles and lines of bricks, tiles and timbers – it is absolutely true there is not one house left habitable; some little hovels builts of sticks and reeds in the outskirts of the town have not been shaken down and these now are hired by the richest people. The force of the shock must have been immense, the ground is traversed by rents, the solid rocks are shivered, solid buttresses 6-10 feet thick are broken into fragments like so much biscuit. How fortunate it happened at the time of day when many are out of their houses and all active: if the town had been over thrown in the night, very few would have escaped to tell the tale. We were at Valdivia at the time. The shock there was considered very violent, but did no damage owing to the houses being built of wood. I am very glad we happened to call at Concepcion so shortly afterwards: it is one of the three most interesting spectacles I have beheld since leaving England – A Fuegian Savage – Tropical Vegetation – and the ruins of Concepcion. It is indeed most wonderful to witness such desolation produced in three minutes of time.
On this date, physical chemist and Nobel Prize winner Svante August Arrhenius was born at Vik (also spelled Wik or Wijk), near Uppsala, Sweden. He studied at Uppsala University, then under a professor in Stockholm. His 1884 thesis, on the galvanic conductivity of electrolyes, won him the first docentship at Uppsala in physical chemistry, a new branch of science. Arrhenius was also awarded a traveling fellowship and worked with scientists throughout Europe. Arrhenius was appointed professor of physics in 1895 at Stockholm’s Hogskola. He won the Nobel Prize for chemical research in 1903, for originating the theory of electrolytic dissociation, or ionization. He also investigated osmosis, toxins and antitoxins. He was offered the position of chief of the Nobel Institute for Physical Chemistry, founded just for him.
Arrhenius wrote classic textbooks in his field, which were translated into many languages, and also popularized science for the general public, with such books as The Destinies of the Stars (1919). His wide interests in science are exemplified by his contributions to the understanding of such phenomena as the aurora borealis, or Northern Lights. Arrhenius developed a theory to explain the ice ages, and first speculated that changes in the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could substantially alter the surface temperature through the greenhouse effect.
Arrhenius also was the first to present a detailed scientific hypothesis of panspermia. In this, he argued that life arrived on Earth in the form of microscopic spores that had been propelled across interstellar space by the radiation pressure of star light. His seminal 1903 paper on the subject was in response to “the failure of repeated attempts made by eminent biologists to discover a single case of spontaneous generation of life”. In its fully-developed form, Arrhenius’s hypothesis reached a wide audience through his book Worlds in the Making (1908, first published as Varldarnas utveckling in Sweden in 1906). Arrhenius was optimistic that, subject to the low temperatures in space, spores would be able to remain viable for very long periods. As for the effect of solar radiation, although Arrhenius was aware of the potentially lethal effect of ultraviolet light on living cells, he insisted that “All the botanists that I have been able to consult are of the opinion that we can by no means assert with certainty that spores would be killed by the light rays in wandering through infinite space.” His support for panspermia tied in with his fundamental belief that “all organisms in the universe are related and the process of evolution is everywhere the same.” He thought life on other worlds might be common, though he opposed Lowell’s claims about canals on Mars.
In 1914, he was awarded the Faraday Medal of the Chemical Society. During World War I, he worked to get the release of many German and Austrian scientists who had been made prisoners of war. According to historian Joseph McCabe, Arrhenius was a “Monist.”
Spontaneous generation (abiogenesis), a long-held theory that life springs up from non-living or decaying organic matter, was based on observations of rotting food seemingly producing living organisms. Francesco Redi, a respected philosopher at the court of the Medici Grand Duke in Tuscany, was the first scientist to question the idea of spontaneous generation. By setting up a simple experiment in which decaying meat was placed in three jars, one uncovered, one sealed, and one covered by mesh, allowing air to circulate, he demonstrated that only the open jar which flies could access produced maggots. Thus, decaying meat does not spontaneously produce maggots. Partially due to the simplicity of Redi’s experiment (anyone could reproduce it), people began to doubt spontaneous generation.
It is important to note that what Redi and others demonstrated is that life does not currently spontaneously arise in complex form from nonlife in nature; they did not demonstrate the impossibility of life arising in simple form from nonlife by way of a long and propitious series of chemical steps/selections under conditions that do not exist on Earth today. In particular, they did not show that life cannot arise once, and then evolve. Neither Pasteur, who put to rest the notion of spontaneous generation for microorganisms, nor any other post-Darwin researcher in this field denied the age of planet Earth or the fact of evolution.
On this date, the English paleontologist Harry Govier Seeley was born. A man of humble origins, Seeley attended Cambridge University but quit before earning a degree. In 1859, he began working as an assistant to Adam Sedgwick at the Woodwardian Museum. For many years Seeley worked on his own, only much later in life accepting a position with King’s College.
Prior to Seeley, in the early 1840s, Richard Owen had established the order Dinosauria. Between 1866 and 1883, various authorities on dinosaurs, including Huxley, Cope, and Marsh, had produced classification schemes that attempted to bring order to the great variety of dinosaur specimens that had been and were being discovered. Marsh, in particular, had proposed to divide dinosaurs into four orders: sauropods, theropods, stegosaurs, and ornithopods; Cope had offered a different scheme. Most of the systems of classifying dinosaurs were based on the structure of their feet and the form of their teeth.
However, in a paper delivered in 1887 and published in 1888, Seeley pointed out that the term dinosaur was being used for two rather different kinds of reptiles. There were those, like Marsh’s theropods and sauropods, that had a pelvis with a forward protruding pubic bone and those, like the stegosaurs and ornithopods, that had a divided pubic bone with one branch extending backwards along the ischium. Since the backward-protruding pubis is characteristic of modern birds, he called this group Ornithischia, the bird-hipped dinosaurs, and gave it the status of an order. He put the sauropods and theropods in another order he called Saurischia, or lizard-hipped dinosaurs. In the line drawing which Seeley printed with the paper, the top two figures represent the order Ornithischia, and the bottom two the order Saurischia.
Seeley not only argued for separate groups among dinosaurs, he even argued for separate origins, writing:
I see no ground for associating these two orders in one group, unless that group includes Birds, Crocodiles, Anomodonts, and Ornithosaurs; for differences of pelvic structure have been as persistently inherited as any condition of the vertebrate skeleton.
Even though Marsh had identified many characteristics common to all dinosaurs, Seeley’s interpretation held sway into the late twentieth century. In the 1980s, however, new techniques of cladistic analysis revealed that both groups of dinosaurs really did have common ancestors in the Triassic. Still, Seeley’s classification of saurischian and ornithischian dinosaurs remains intact, though, ironically, the birds have subsequently been found to descend, not from the “bird-hipped” Ornithischia, but from the “lizard-hipped” Saurischia.
Harry Govier Seeley, “On the classification of the fossil animals commonly named Dinosauria,” Proceedings of the Royal Society of London 43: 165-171 (1888).
On this date, the Italian philosopher and Dominican friar Giordano Bruno was brought to the Campo de’ Fiori, a central Roman market square. His tongue in a gag, tied to a pole naked, Bruno was burned at the stake as a heretic.
The Fraternity of St. John the Beheaded recounted Bruno’s burning in this account which is considered authoritative by the Catholic Church:
But he insisted till the end always in his damned refractoriness and twisted brain and his mind with a thousand errors; yes, he didn’t give up his stubborness, not even when the court ushers took him away to the Campo de’ Fiori. There his clothes were taken off, he was bound to a stake and burned alive [e quivi spogliato nudo e legato a un palo fu brusciato vivo]. In all this time he was accompanied by our fraternity, who sang constant litanies, while the comforters tried till the last moment to break his stubborn resistance, till he gave up a miserable and pitiable life.
Bruno’s execution followed his lengthy imprisonment and trial that had begun on 27 January 1593 under the Roman Inquisition.
Bruno was born at Nola, near Naples, in 1548. Originally named Filippo, he took the name Giordano when he joined the Dominicans, who trained him in Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology. Independent in thinking and tempestuous in personality, he fled the order in 1576 to avoid a trial on doctrinal charges and began the wandering that characterized his life.
In his book De l’Infinito, Universo e Mondi (On the Infinite Universe and Worlds), which was published in 1584, Bruno argued that the universe was infinite, that it contained an infinite number of worlds, and that these are all inhabited by intelligent beings:
Innumerable suns exist; innumerable earths revolve around these suns in a manner similar to the way the seven planets revolve around our sun. Living beings inhabit these worlds.
In Cena de le Ceneri (The Ash Wednesday Supper), also published in 1584, Bruno defended the heliocentric theory of Copernicus, but it appears that he did not understand astronomy very well, for his theory is confused on several points.
In still another book published in 1584, De la Causa, Principio et Uno (On Cause, Prime Origin, and the One), Bruno seemed to anticipate Einstein’s theory of relativity when he wrote:
There is no absolute up or down, as Aristotle taught; no absolute position in space; but the position of a body is relative to that of other bodies. Everywhere there is incessant relative change in position throughout the universe, and the observer is always at the center of things.
Some say that Bruno was executed because of his Copernicanism and his belief in the infinity of inhabited worlds, but it may have been for theological errors, such as denying the divinity of Christ. In fact, no one knows for certain the exact grounds on which he was declared a heretic because the volume or volumes of his Roman trial is missing from the Vatican archives. The only remaining record is a summary of the trial, rediscovered on November 15, 1940 and published in 1942. Some abstracts of Giordano Bruno’s works, his interrogations, some of the records of an earlier Venetian trial in 1592 against him, and some other documents copied from the original Roman trial converge in the summary, which was probably used by the Assessor of the Holy Office of that period. In this document, Bruno is quoted in one of the last interrogations by the judges of the Holy Office (maybe in April 1599) before his execution. He defended his theories as scientifically founded and by no means against the Holy Scriptures:
Firstly, I say that the theories on the movement of the earth and on the immobility of the firmament or sky are by me produced on a reasoned and sure basis, which doesn’t undermine the authority of the Holy Sciptures […]. With regard to the sun, I say that it doesn’t rise or set, nor do we see it rise or set, because, if the earth rotates on his axis, what do we mean by rising and setting[…].
Interestingly, while there is no definitive documentary evidence of Bruno’s sexual orientation, his homosexuality has long been assumed, principally on the basis of his association with figures such as Marlowe, the accusations of “immoral conduct,” and his authorship of Il Candelaio (1582). The latter is a satiric comedy for the stage whose very title, “The Candleholder,” is a homosexual slang word of the time, perhaps best rendered in contemporary English as “The Fudgepacker” or “The Butt-bandit.” The play presents three characters who are often seen as three of Bruno’s alter egos, or three facets of Bruno himself: Manfurio, a pedantic scholar who speaks tortured Latin and loses his glasses; Bonifacio, the “candleholder” homosexual who finally ends up in his wife’s bed; and Bartolomeo, the scientist and alchemist who tries to transmute base metals into gold but fails. The final words of Bruno’s introduction to Il Candelaio tell the reader, above all, Godete dumque, e si possete state sana, et amate chi v’ama (Therefore take pleasure in things, stay as healthy as you can, and love all those who love you).
Moreover, there is no evidence of any interest on Bruno’s part in opposite-sex sexual relations.
Both historian John Addington Symonds and aesthete Walter Pater discuss Bruno in detail. Each refers to Bruno’s homosexuality as a known, if covert, fact hidden in sly innuendo. Symonds devotes an entire chapter of his groundbreaking Renaissance in Italy to the philosopher, while Pater comments in an 1889 essay that for a man of the spirit, Bruno possessed “a nature so opulently endowed [it] can hardly have been lacking in purely physical ardours.” Symonds adds that his own development as a man was due to his readings of Walt Whitman, Goethe, and Giordano Bruno: they “stripped my soul of social prejudices [so that]… I have been able to fraternise in comradeship with men of all classes and several races.”
Italian gay activist and literary historian Giovanni dall’Orto cites Bruno in his 1988 survey, “Sodomy as Phoenix: Being Homosexual in the Italian Renaissance.” In a discussion of “unnatural” desires, he notes that part of the philosopher’s offense against the Church was to ascribe the Copernican world outlook to nature itself: whatever comes from within a man is by definition within nature. Hence, Bruno’s scientific outlook challenges the very notion of “natural law” and “crime against nature.” Again quoting Bruno from De la Causa, Principio et Uno (1584):
All things are in the Universe, and the Universe is in all things: we in it, and it in us; in this way everything concurs in a perfect unity.
On August 7, 1603, the Church placed all his works on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Forbidden Books). Four hundred years (!) after his execution, official expression of “profound sorrow” and acknowledgement of error at Bruno’s condemnation to death was made during the papacy of John Paul II.
Following the 1870 Capture of Rome by the newly created Kingdom of Italy and the end of the Church’s temporal power over the city, the erection of a monument to Bruno on the site of his execution became feasible. In 1885, an international committee, including Victor Hugo, Herbert Spencer, Ernest Renan, Ernst Haeckel, Henrik Ibsen, and Ferdinand Gregorovius, was formed for that purpose. The monument was sharply opposed by the clerical party, but was finally erected by the Rome Municipality and inaugurated in 1889.
On March 2, 2008, a 6-meter-tall statue of an upside-down figure, evocative of flames, was unveiled in Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz station as a memorial to Giordano Bruno and as a new reminder of the value and cost of free thought [Science 319(5869): 1467 (14 March 2008)]. The sculpture is by Alexander Polzin. Ernst Salcher of the Giordano Bruno Foundation, which helped fund the project, said the sculpture is designed to “irritate” the viewer into reflecting on the role of human reason in making the world a better place.
Also, the SETI League (not to be confused with the SETI Institute) has established “an award honoring the memory of Giordano Bruno, the Italian monk burned at the stake in 1600 for postulating the multiplicity of inhabited worlds.” It was first suggested by sociologist Donald Tarter at a SETI dinner held at the American Association for the Advancement of Science meetings in Atlanta on 17 February 1995 (coincidentally the 395th anniversary of Bruno’s death). The Bruno Award is presented annually to a person or persons making significant technical contributions to the art, science, or practice of amateur SETI.
- Staebler, Mark. “Giordano Bruno”, glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Last updated 27 March 2007; accessed 22 January 2013 at http://www.glbtq.com/literature/bruno_g_lit.html.
Ronald Aylmer Fisher was born. His book The Genetical Theory of Natural Selection (1930), with its ground-breaking treatment of the concepts of fitness and dominance, was a milestone work in that field.On this date, the English geneticist
On this date, the Dutch botanist and early geneticist Hugo Marie de Vries was born. He is known chiefly for suggesting the concept of genes, rediscovering the laws of heredity in the 1890s while unaware of Gregor Mendel’s work, for introducing the term “mutation”, and for developing a mutation theory of evolution.
In 1889, De Vries published his book Intracellular Pangenesis, in which, based on a modified version of Charles Darwin’s theory of pangenesis of 1868, he postulated that different characters have different hereditary carriers. He specifically postulated that inheritance of specific traits in organisms comes in particles.
De Vries conducted a series of experiments hybridizing varieties of multiple plant species in the 1890s. Unaware of Mendel’s work, De Vries used the laws of dominance, segregation, and independent assortment to explain the 3:1 ratio of phenotypes in the second generation. His observations also confirmed his hypothesis that inheritance of specific traits in organisms comes in particles.
In the late 1890s, De Vries became aware of Mendel’s obscure paper of thirty years earlier and he altered some of his terminology to match. When he published the results of his experiments in the French journal Comtes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences in 1900, he neglected to mention Mendel’s work, but after criticism by Carl Correns he conceded Mendel’s priority. Thus, Correns, Erich Tschermak von Seysenegg, and De Vries now share credit for the rediscovery of Mendel’s laws.
On this date, the German biologist, naturalist, philosopher, physician, and artist Ernst Heinrich Philipp August Haeckel was born at Potsdam. He is probably one of the most contentious evolutionary biologists that ever lived. He abandoned his medical practice after reading Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species in 1859 and returned to school, studying zoology and anatomy and eventually earning a position as professor in Jena.
Haeckel embraced the pre-Darwinian notion that life formed a series of successively higher forms, with embryos of higher forms “recapitulating” the lower ones. He thought that, over the course of time, evolution of new life forms occurred by the addition of new adult stages to the end of ancestral developmental sequences. Haeckel, who was very good at packaging and promoting his ideas, coined both a name for the process – “the Biogenetic Law” – as well as a catchy motto: “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny.”
Thus, according to Haeckel, embryonic development was actually a record of evolutionary history. He expressed it this way, as quoted in Russell (1916) :
The organic individual… repeats during the rapid and short course of its individual development the most important of the form changes which its ancestors traversed during the long and slow course of their paleontological evolution…
The human zygote, for instance, was represented by the “adult” stage of the protists; the colonial protists represented the advancement of development to the blastula stage; the gill slit stage of human embryos was represented by adult fish. Haeckel even postulated an extinct organism, Gastraea, a two-layered sac corresponding to the gastrula, which he considered the ancestor of all metazoan species. 
PZ Meyers at Talk.Origins Archive  writes that the Biogenetic Law as conceived by Haeckel says:
…that development (ontogeny) repeats the evolutionary history (phylogeny) of the organism – that if we evolved from a fish that evolved into a reptile that evolved into us, our embryos physically echo that history, passing through a fish-like stage and then into a reptile-like stage.
Haeckel was so convinced of his biogenetic law that he was willing to bend evidence to support it. In 1874, he had claimed that members of all vertebrate classes pass through an identical evolutionarily conserved “phylotypic” stage, which presumably represents the form of their most recent common ancestor. Only later in development would specific differences appear, he said.
In fact, there is a highly conserved embryonic stage among the vertebrate classes; at the late tailbud stage, vertebrate embryos of most all classes possess somites, neural tube, optic anlagen, notochord, and pharyngeal pouches. However, Michael Richardson and his colleagues (1997)  discovered significant differences between groups at this stage. For example, in echidnas, limb buds are already present at the tailbud stage, whereas in other species, these are not seen until significantly later.
But in his illustrations of vertebrate embryos, Haeckel deceptively omitted limb buds at an early stage of the echidna, despite the fact that limb buds do exist then, in order to make his vertebrate embryos look more alike than they do in real life. Haeckel’s motive is clear from the text accompanying his drawings: “There is still no trace of the limbs or ‘extremities’ in this stage of development…”. 
Near the conclusion of the Brass-Haeckel Controversy  of 1908, after months of vociferous and emphatic denial, in the Berliner Volkszeitung published on 29 December 1908, Haeckel apparently admitted he had altered drawings of embryos, as quoted in Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries (1915) :
To cut short this unsavory dispute, I begin at once with the contrite confession that a small fraction of my numerous drawings of embryos (perhaps 6 or 8 per cent.) are really, in Dr. Brass’s sense, falsified – all those, namely, for which the present material of observation is so incomplete or insufficient as to compel us, when we come to prepare a continuous chain of the evolutive stages, to fill up the gaps by hypotheses, and to reconstruct the missing-links by comparative syntheses… After this compromising confession of “forgery” I should be obliged to consider myself “condemned and annihilated,” if I had not the consolation of seeing side-by-side with me in the prisoner’s dock hundreds of fellow-culprits, among them many of the most trusted observers and most esteemed biologists. For the great majority of all the figures – morphological, anatomical, histological, and embryological – that are widely circulated and valued in the best text- and handbooks, in biological treatises and journals, would incur in the same degree the charge of “forgery.” All of them are inexact, and are more or less “doctored,” schematised, or “constructed.” Many unessential accessories are left out, in order to render conspicuous what is essential in form and organisation. [ellipsis in original]
The truth is that the development of embryos does not fit into the strict progression that Haeckel claimed, but it has also been shown that ontogeny (development of a fertilized ovum through to maturity) and phylogeny (development of a species over time) are closely related. That is, similar features in embryos of different species often reliably demonstrate that the species share a recent common ancestor. This is nicely summarized by Douglas Theobald online at Talk.Origins Archive :
Interestingly, in 1866 Haeckel created the first evolutionary tree to incorporate all life known at the time.
The ideas of Ernst Haeckel greatly influenced the early history of embryology in the 19th century. Haeckel hypothesized that “Ontogeny Recapitulates Phylogeny”, meaning that during its development an organism passes through stages resembling its adult ancestors. However, Haeckel’s ideas long have been superseded by those of Karl Ernst von Baer, his predecessor. Von Baer suggested that the embryonic stages of an individual should resemble the embryonic stages of other closely related organisms, rather than resembling its adult ancestors. Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law has been discredited since the late 1800′s, and it is not a part of modern (or even not-so-modern) evolutionary theory. Haeckel thought only the final stages of development could be altered appreciably by evolution, but we have known that to be false for nearly a century. All developmental stages can be modified during evolution… [emphasis in original]
Although a strong supporter and defender of evolution (especially against attacks from religious leaders), Haeckel did not share Darwin’s enthusiasm for natural selection as the main mechanism for generating the diversity of the biological world. Instead, he favored a type of Lamarckism.
According to Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), change in the environment causes change in the behavior of individuals; altered behavior leads to greater or lesser use of a given structure or organ. Use would cause the structure to increase in size over many generations, whereas disuse would cause it to shrink or even disappear, because physical characteristics acquired by parents during their lifetimes are passed along to their offspring. The mechanism of Lamarckian evolution is quite different from that proposed by Darwin, although the predicted result is the same: adaptive change in lineages, ultimately driven by environmental change, over long periods of time.
PZ Meyers explains in his essay why Haeckel was completely wrong:
He argued that evolutionary history was literally the driving force behind development, and that the experiences of our ancestors were physically written into our hereditary material. This was a logical extension of his belief in Lamarckian inheritance, or the inheritance of acquired characters. If the activity of an organism can be imprinted on its genetics, then development could just be a synopsis of the activities of the parents and grandparents and ever more remote ancestors. This was an extremely attractive idea to scientists; it’s as if development were a time machine that allowed them to look back into the distant past, just by studying early stages of development.
Unfortunately, it was also completely wrong.
The discoveries that ultimately demolished the underlying premises of the biogenetic law were the principles of genetics and empirical observations of embryos. Lamarckian inheritance simply does not occur… DNA is the agent of heredity, and it is not modified by our ordinary actions – if you should get a tattoo, it is not also written into the chromosomes of your sperm or ova, and there’s no risk that your children will be born with “Mom” etched on their arm. The discovery that Haeckel had taken unforgivable shortcuts with his illustrations was a relatively minor problem for his theory, because the general thrust of his observations (that vertebrate embryos resemble each other strongly) had been independently confirmed. What really scuttled the whole theory was that its foundation was removed.
Much later, Haeckel attempted to develop a comprehensive philosophical system informed by biological and evolutionary findings. This system was to encompass ethics, theology, psychology, and politics. Some authors claim that Haeckel’s work was later appropriated by the Nazis who used it as justification for their racism and nationalism.  Others dispute that claim. Complicating this issue is the fact that, depending on whether you disparage or praise Haeckel, you are often assumed to be either a fundamentalist Christian, opposed to evolution, or an atheist, opposed to morality.
- E. S. Russell. Form and Function (London: John Murray Ltd., 1916) p. 253.
- Ernst Haeckel. Generelle Morphologie der Organismen (Berlin: Georg Reimer, 1867).
- —————— Anthropogenie. Third edition. (Leipzig: W. Engelmann, 1879).
- S.J. Gould. Ontogeny and Phylogeny (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1977).
- PZ Meyers. “Wells and Haeckel’s Embryos: A Review of Chapter 5 of Icons of Evolution.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Last modified 6 December 2006. Accessed on 14 July 2013 at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/wells/haeckel.html.
- Michael K. Richardson, James Hanken, Mayoni L. Gooneratne, Claude Pieau, Albert Raynaud, Lynne Selwood, and Glenda M. Wright. “There is no highly conserved embryonic stage in the vertebrates: implications for current theories of evolution and development.” Anat. Embryol. 196: 91-106 (1997). Accessed on 17 July 2013 at http://www.oeb.harvard.edu/faculty/hanken/documents/Richardson%20et%20al%201997%20Anat%20Embryol.pdf. [Archived here.]
- Michael K. Richardson and Gerhard Keuck, “A question of intent: when is a ‘schematic’ illustration a fraud?” Nature 410/6825: 144 (8 March 2001).
- “‘MAN-APES’ THE SUBJECT OF A WAR OF SCIENCE; Between Prof. Haeckel and Dr. Brass Rages a Controversy in Which Prehistoric Heads and Tails Are the Fruitful Themes.” The New York Times, 7 February 1909. Accessed on 16 July 2013 at http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F30F11F83C5C15738DDDAE0894DA405B898CF1D3.
- J. Assmuth and Ernest R. Hull. Haeckel’s Frauds and Forgeries (Bombay: Examiner Press, 1915), pp. 14, 15.
- Douglas Theobald, Ph.D. “29+ Evidences for Macroevolution: The Scientific Case for Common Descent. Part 2: Ontogeny and Development of Organisms.” The Talk.Origins Archive. Last modified 17 May 2013. Accessed on 14 July 2013 at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/.
- Daniel Gasman. “From Haeckel to Hitler: The Anatomy of a Controversy.” eSkeptic, 10 June 2009. Accessed on 14 July 2013 at http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/09-06-10/#feature. [Archived here.]
On this date, in his presidential address during the annual general meeting of the Geological Society of London, Leonard Horner (1785-1864) proposed removing the world’s “creation” date of 4004 B.C. from the English Bible, citing geological evidence of a much older planet.
…It will be useful to look into the history of this date of four thousand and four years, given with so much precision for the creation, not of this our earth only, but of the universe, and to inquire into the authority by which an addition of so much import is made to the sacred text…
…I have thus laid before you the origin of this settled point in Sacred History as taught at this day in our schools, and, from its juxta-position to the text of the Bible, held in veneration by millions, there is every reason to believe, as an undoubted truth. The study of geology has become so general that those who are instructed in its mere elements cannot fail to see the discrepancy between this date and the truths which geology reveals…
…To remove any inaccuracy in notes accompanying the authorized version of our Bible is surely an imperative duty…
Samuel Joseph Mackie, ed., The Geologist; A Popular Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Geology (London, England: “Geologist” Office, 1861) 306-309.
Galileo Galilei was born in Pisa, Italy. Galileo made a good discovery great. Upon hearing at age 40 that a Dutch optician had invented a glass that made distant objects appear larger, Galileo crafted his own telescope and turned it toward the sky. He quickly discovered that our Moon has craters, that Jupiter has its own moons, that the Sun has spots, and that Venus has phases like our Moon. Galileo, who lived to 1642, made many more discoveries. He claimed that his observations only made sense if all the planets revolved around the Sun, as championed by Aristarchus and Copernicus, and not around the Earth, as was commonly believed then. The powerful Roman Inquisition made Galileo publicly recant this conclusion, but today we know he was correct.On this date, the Florentine-Italian astronomer
Sometime on these dates, the English demographer and political economist Thomas Robert Malthus was born at Dorking, a place just south of London.
Malthus entered Jesus College, Cambridge, in 1784 and was ordained a minister of the Church of England in 1788. He earned his M.A. in 1791. He is best known for his An Essay on the Principle of Population, which was first published in 1798 and was read by Charles Darwin forty years later. This important essay first identified the geometric role of natural population increase in outrunning subsistence food supplies, prompting Darwin to explore the actual patterns of evolution.