Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Charles Darwin's Origin of Species 1

I missed the 200th birthday of Darwin last Thursday. I know everyone wondered what was wrong with me :-) I've never read the Origin of Species and figured I should this year, just as I am reading through Calvin's Institutes since it is the 500th birthday of John Calvin this year. It's on my list of "Things an Educated Person Has Read."

There are 15 chapters to the Origin. I won't try to do one a week--it's not easy reading for a non-zoologist type like me and I'm supposed to be being productive in writing for publication. Also, I've scarcely paid any attention to the infinite variations of pigeons all these years.

I suspect that what I will find as I move through is that 1) we will find a number of aspects to Darwin's thought that everyone considers wrong today, including macro-evolutionists, and 2) we will find a number of aspects to Darwin's thought that everyone considers right today, including creationists.

So today, chapter 1. Most of this chapter has to do with breeding animals and cultivating plants. This was an excellent way to begin from the standpoint of argument. I may not at all be in tune with all the varieties of pigeon, but I am aware of all the different kinds of dogs and cats. For nineteenth century England, there were also sheep, geese, etc.

The point at issue is this. Did the distinct varieties of dog all come from distinct proto-dogs, or as Darwin puts it "aboriginal" species. Darwin plays on the fact that, even within a lifetime, a breeder can witness significant variations in the same species. He mentions, for example, two neighbors whose sheep came from the same flock but that, fifty years later, had quite a bit of variety and distinction between the two flocks.

Breeders and farmers can intentionally "select" those animals with the desired characteristics and steer their offspring in a certain direction. The same thing can also take place accidentally.

Darwin had no sense of how the variations arose--"Variability is governed by many unknown laws" (57). But he did have a sense for how humans and nature seemed to "select" some of the diverse characteristics and not others.

Christian verdict
I can't find anything in this chapter that a Christian today would necessarily have to disagree with. At the time, of course, some Christians took the phrase "after its kind" very narrowly in Genesis 1 and so wanted to see the various distinct pigeons going back to distinct proto-pigeons that God created and each of which was on the ark. Darwin argues that they must all go back to a common pigeon ancestor that was something like what he calls the "rock pigeon."

Ken Schenck, signing off on chapter one, with the pigeons.


Bob MacDonald said...

I guess it's pretty obvious that Jacob in fleecing Laban is using 'after its own kind' in a wide evolutionary way.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Perhaps, believers in the OT Scripture should believe in Darwinian evolution because it would preclude the prejuidice against intermarriage...

On the other hand, natural selection has been argued to support a superior race, too, hasn't it?

Ken Schenck said...

Darwin actually alludes to the Jacob incident--"From passages in Genesis, it is clear that the colour of domestic animals was at that early period attended to" (50).

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So, if this same 'domestication" applies to the human as a "social animal", then, certain humans would be useful for domestication purposes, and those would be the ones considered "dogs"...:)!

I guess then, it just boils down to which group one is a part of, as to who is the "dog".....

::athada:: said...

Would like to see your educated-person list of books.

Can't wait for the rest of the series!

Also, it's the Int'l Year of Astronomy, being that Galileo peered into his scope 400 years ago. I suppose a truly educated person would buy their family a 'scope :)

Full discloure: athada is a member of the Telescope Manufacturers Association.

Jason said...

Angie said:
"On the other hand, natural selection has been argued to support a superior race, too, hasn't it?"
Not by any reputable evolutionist. I believe what you're referring to is eugenics, not natural selection. Natural selection does not apply the label of "superior" to any species. (Also humans are all one species, no matter how varied humans are ethnically.) But even arguing humans are superior to any other animal is not an evolutionist argument. Most people would think human beings (a species with a more complicated evolutionary past) is superior to say, a jellyfish (a species that has not changed much on the evolutionary timescale). But natural selection says nothing about superiority. Although it might ask, if you threw both in the middle of the ocean, which one would survive longer? In this way natural selection is dependent on environment for survivability of species, hence the word "natural" as opposed to the "artificial" selection of breeding and domestication --and by extension, eugenics. It's also worth pointing out that evolutionary theory supports a larger gene pool for survivability, not smaller. Eugenics seeks to shrink the gene pool, which is an anti-evolutionary concept.