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Darwin’s Take-Home Message: The Great Contrast

Charles Darwin spent many years working on his ideas about evolution before publishing them in 1859. Darwin continued with revisions for another 17 years, finally stopping with his final edition, six years before he died. In his heartfelt introduction to his tome Darwin provided the reader with a context. Many readers would not make it through the lengthy work, but they would read the Introduction. So not surprisingly Darwin finished his introduction with his take-home message. If you go no further, this is what you needed to know. Here is how Darwin finished that first chapter:  Read more
Darwin said, "Although much remains obscure, and will long remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view which most naturalists until recently entertained, and which I formerly entertained—namely, that each species has been independently created—is erroneous." What Cornelius highlighted for effect in the above quote were the words "much remains obscure" and "I can entertain no doubt." This was done in order to create the impression that there is some inconsistent and irrational disconnect between Darwin's declaration of the obscurity of many things in the natural world and his confidence in the thesis he would put forth with such care in the Origin. In the process of highlighting the text for the reader, Cornelius skips over the reason given for Darwin's confidence, namely that his judgment is made "after the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgment of which [he is] capable." This is a critical bit for the reader to miss, given that Cornelius has already encouraged the notion that the rest of the Origin is a bit tedious, and everything one really needs to know is found in this one excerpt from the Introduction. No matter how critical of Darwin's conclusions one might be, an honest appraisal of his efforts as an observer of nature and of his disposition must conclude that his efforts were painstaking and industrious and his disposition cautious. The great injustice to Darwin in Cornelius' abstract of the abstract of the Origin is that it very carefully sidesteps the historical fact that Darwin based his conclusions on decades of careful observation of nature and scholarly conversation with fellow luminaries of the day. The body of work that stands behind the Origin of the Species is voluminous. The examples Darwin draws out for the purpose of illustration in later chapters of the Origin are only the barest glimpse of the breadth of data that convinced him of descent with modification from a common ancestor. Now, I recognize that this typification of Darwin and the Origin was made by Cornelius only for the purpose of decrying what he sees as the modus operandi of modern biology (that biologists really just have faith in evolution even though there is no actual support for it in the empirical work it is claimed to be founded upon). There is a nice symmetry in the observation that this careless treatment of Darwin is itself a good example of the modus operandi of ID proponents in the popular media (treat the claims of evolutionary scientists as mere faith statements and insist that the experimental evidence they present in support of their claims is flimsy or equivocal). spot48

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