I am still slogging through my summer study project which, right now, includes that pesky biaography of Naturalist/Clergyman/Professor John Stephen's Henslow...
I remember reading an American Heritage essay some twenty years ago where they asked a variety of historians what historical moment they would most like to be able to go back in time and see. This is the "fly on the wall" excercise that is also good at parties. I
would most like to be present in the the laboratories and workshops of those English collectors of the 18th and 19th Centuries before Darwin and Wallace laid down the new law (excuse me...theory
) establishing the most likely mechanism for all the previously unexplainable wonders nature revealed to them.
Our modern debates about creationism and evolution seem rather binary and unromantic in comparison. These men and women really struggled to reconcile their faith to their science. After all, knowing about God's creation is a good
thing! It is good even when it challenges ancient doctrine. Some folks, like Darwin became frustrated athiests. People like Wallace found the freedom to re-imagine the Divine in terms that fit better with their experience. Others, like Robert FitzRoy, found refuge in the rapidly developing world of religious fundamentalism. They were real people with real problems and amazing courage.
I will write more about Henslow soon, once things calm down enough here to finish the book and to read a few other things about and by him. Here, however, are links to information on some of the folks who mosted interested me...John Ray
who got the ball rollingJean-Baptiste Lamark
: I love this guy in part because my high school science teacher taught him as some poor, confused, soul whose thought was way
backward when in fact he was quite the forward looker, himself. Thank you , Jean-Baptiste, for reinforcing some of my deeply held predjudices concerning high school.William Paley:
Like Darwin I, too, had a Paley phase. I still think he has some interesting things to say...Nicholas Steno:
This is the rock-layer guy. His theory concerning the relative ages of horizantal rock layers must be one of the first things in geology I truly understood. It was also useful in archeology class...Erasmus Darwin:
This was the Unitarian Darwin which allows wishful thinkers to put the lapsed-Anglican Charles on T-Shirts across this great land of ours. Erasmus (Charles' Grampa) was, however, quite an intimidating figure, himself! As a doctor, naturalist and poet he was key to the development and popularization of the idea of evolution in nature and elsewhere.Charles Lyell:
Like Henslow, Lyell encouraged and influenced the young Charles. Also like Henslow, he struggled with Darwin's conclusions while remaining friends with him.Thomas Huxley:
"Darwin's Bulldog" I love the guys who enjoy being unpopular...Bishop Samuel Wilberforce:
The son of the abolitionist preacher William Wilberforce, he was a major player in the sort of "High Noon" of the evolution debate where "Soapy Sam" (so called because he rubbed his hands together when he spoke) took on Huxley at a meeting chaired by Henslow, but you probably know that. It is one of those semi-legendary science events...Robert FitzRoy
: The original meteorologist and the captain of the Beagle,
FitzRoy's substantial accomplishments have been overshadowed by his suicide and hist rather odd behavior at the Huxley/Soapy debate..
I wrote about A.R. Wallace