Hold your horses, so to speak

8 08 2010

Soon, I will be tying together the loose ends of the academic material covered in the past six weeks.  Look for new blog entries, new photographs, and possibly, an ‘Important People’ page (these courses hit upon a dizzying number of important individuals who unfortunately begin to blur).  I hope this blog will prove useful as a memory aid in the future.  There is more to learning than memorization, but it helps.



Final results of evolution/creationism poll

4 08 2010

Click “view results”.

Putting in context current international views regarding human descent

1 08 2010

In 1830, thirty years before the publication of The Origin of Species, the argument was already over.  So-called “young earth creationists”, as we’d call them today, were already on the fringes of mainstream scientific consensus.  Earlier ideas and evidence from scientists like James Hutton in the burgeoning science of geology had established beyond doubt that the history of earth is not thousands of years in length.  Rather, the earth is billions of years old.  This was the mainstream view among scientists even before the transformative ideas of Darwin.

Going on two centuries later, an estimated 99.9% of relevant scientists regard human development from previous species as a scientific fact:

Of the scientists and engineers in the United States, only about 5% are creationists, according to a 1991 Gallup poll (Robinson 1995, Witham 1997). However, this number includes those working in fields not related to life origins (such as computer scientists, mechanical engineers, etc.). Taking into account only those working in the relevant fields of earth and life sciences, there are about 480,000 scientists, but only about 700 believe in “creation-science” or consider it a valid theory (Robinson 1995). This means that less than 0.15 percent of relevant scientists believe in creationism. And that is just in the United States, which has more creationists than any other industrialized country. In other countries, the number of relevant scientists who accept creationism drops to less than one tenth of 1 percent.

Yet, numerous polls of the general public in nations across the globe demonstrate that large percentages still hold that God created humans, as they are now, in the last 10,000 years or less (see table below).  Remarkable.

Samuel Wilberforce & the Great Debate of 1860

27 07 2010

I’ve often heard people say, ‘I didn’t come from no monkey’.  Turns out the sentiment is 150 years old:

‘Then the Bishop rose, and in a light scoffing tone, florid and he assured us there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock-pigeons were what rock-pigeons had always been. Then, turning to his antagonist with a smiling insolence, he begged to know, was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey?’


The 1860 interaction between Samuel Wilberforce, a Bishop of Oxford, and Thomas Huxley, an ‘intemperate’ proponent of early Darwinism, known as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, is now the stuff of legend.  Perhaps to the modern, educated reader, Wilberforce seems ignorant and his arguments easily dismissed.  However, it is important to realize that, at the time, Wilberforce was not in the minority, and, at the time, his arguments held much more weight than they do now.

(By the way, according to a 2009 gallup poll (and many other similar polls), only about 40% of Americans give credence to evolution.  So, Wilberforce likely would find good company, even in the 21st century.)

With that in mind, our class will stage a debate on Thursday in which each member of the class represents an important figure in the evolution debates of the mid- to late-nineteenth century.  One of these important figures is Samuel Wilberforce.  I found Wilberforce’s published review of Darwin’s The Origin of Species online here.

The arguments of Samuel Wilberforce:

  • ‘His Word’ and ‘His Works’ are always in harmony.
    • ‘He who is as sure as he is of his own existence that the God of truth is at once the God of nature and the God of revelation, cannot believe it to be possible that His voice in either, rightly understood, can differ, or deceive His creatures.’
  • One must argue against science on scientific grounds, not religious grounds.
    • ‘We cannot, therefore, consent to test the truth of natural science by the word of revelation. But this does not make it the less important to point out on scientific grounds scientific errors, when those errors tend to limit God’s glory in creation, or to gainsay the revealed relations of that creation to Himself.’
    • ‘To oppose facts in the natural world because they seem to oppose revelation, or to humor them so as to compel them to speak its voice, is, he knows, but another form of the ever-ready feeble-minded dishonesty of lying for God, and trying by fraud or falsehood to do the work of the God of truth.’
  • Christian doctrine is not compatible with Darwin’s notion that man is simply another animal, and, as such, also is descended from other animal forms.
    • ‘Man’s derived supremacy over the earth; man’s power of articulate speech; man’s gift of reason; man’s free will and responsibility; man’s fall and man’s redemption; the incarnation of the Eternal Son; the indwelling of the Eternal Spirit—all are equally and utterly irreconcilable with the degrading notion of the brute origin of him who was created in the image of God, and redeemed by the Eternal Son assuming to himself His nature.’
  • Christian doctrine is not compatible with Darwin’s notion of the future evolution of man, which would be of unknown course.

    • ‘Equally inconsistent, too, not with any passing expressions, but with the whole scheme of God’s dealings with man as recorded in His word, is Mr. Darwin’s daring notion of man’s further development into some unknown extent of powers and shape, and size, through natural selection acting through that long vista of ages which He casts mistily over the earth upon the most favored individuals of His species…’
  • Christian conception of God is incompatible with evolution because God is not the supreme creating force.
    • ‘It is, in truth, an ingenious theory for diffusing throughout creation the working and so the penonality of the Creator. And thus, however unconsciously to him who holds them, such views really tend inevitably to banish from the mind most of the peculiar attributes of the Almighty.’


Mini-project six: Christmas at Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum [1856]

26 07 2010

Which is a palace in France and which is a lunatic asylum in England?

Source:  CHRISTMAS AT COLNEY HATCH., Leisure Hour, 259 (1856:Dec. 11) p.798

Selected Quotations:

  • ‘…one of the most interesting sights we remember to have ever witnessed…’
  • ‘As we approached the building by moonlight, the effect was very striking. The various wings of the spacious edifice stretched away to the right and left, alternately bathed in moonlight and buried in darkness. The whole bore…a strong resemblance to the Tuilleries, and the picturesqueness of the scene was heightened by the number of lights that shone from the windows.’
  • ‘Some danced with great exertion; others with little or no spirit. One man in particular attracted our notice–dancing with his eye fixed on the portrait of the Emperor of the French, whom, as we afterwards learnt, he is incessantly devising some plan to assassinate’.
  • ‘We were indeed gratified on finding so universal an air of homeliness and comfort pervade the establishment. The patients in general spoke in high terms of their treatment, and assured us that everything was done that could be to make them feel happy. What a difference in the condition of the lunatic at the present time, compared with what was some fifty years past!
  • It is a singular fact, that while the daily average of fits is 250, yet, when some entertainment of the nature just described is on the carpet, they decrease to the far smaller average of 15. The entertainment tends to occupy the otherwise wandering thoughts of the patients, and so to ward off those dangerous attacks brought on through mental derangement. As the inmates improve in health, they are permitted to attend to the garden and farm, which belong to and wholly supply the wants of the asylum. It may here be mentioned, that the farm attached to Colney Hatch alone brings in an annual profit of £700.
  • ‘…what thankfulness do we owe to God for the possession of our mental faculties! May each reader, at the close of another year, ask himself the question, whether he has been making the right use of them, in laying them out to the glory and service of the great Giver.’

Bedlam & the madness of George III’s would-be assassin Margaret Nicholson

25 07 2010

Quite well-known, the madness of King George III (1738-1820) is historically documented and was recently popularized in the 1994 film The Madness of King George.  Less famous are the insane would-be assassins of George who were institutionalized at Bedlam, or the Bethlem Royal Hospital, which my class will be visiting tomorrow morning and afternoon.  Particularly interesting to me is the case of Margaret Nicholson, who aimed to kill George III on August 2, 1786.

Today, the Bethlem Royal Hospital is part of the UK National Health Service.  From what I can tell from its website, Bethlem now functions as most modern psychiatric hospitals in the rich countries of the world.  The primary purpose of the current facility, as with almost all other modern psychiatric hospitals, is acute inpatient care, which means short-term, crisis care.  This contrasts greatly, of course, with the asylum Margaret Nicholson would have encountered after her skirmish with King George in 1786.

The lady was deluded: she thought herself the rightful heir to the throne, and George was in the way.  With a fake petition in hand, Ms. Nicholson approached the King as he was getting out of his carriage.  The King took the ‘petition’, and Ms. Nicholson jabbed at him twice with a dessert knife.  No harm was done, and sensing Nicholson was insane, the King urged his guards not to harm her.

The event garnered much attention at the time.  King George’s handling of the event increased his public popularity, and Margaret Nicholson was sent to Bedlam for the remainder of her days.  After her death, the English poet Percy Shelley and Thomas Hogg published under a pseudonym what they claimed were ‘poems found amongst the papers of that noted female who attempted the life of the King in 1786’.  They were not, but the book‘s existence demonstrates the significance of the event in public consciousness.

King George III apparently perceived Margaret Nicholson’s insanity when others might have not.  Some slight personal knowledge or inkling of madness might have been present even then, years before the eventual insanity of George himself.

News coverage of the event:

The most fascinating ‘hole in the ground’ in history.

24 07 2010

The Man, himself: Isambard Kingdom Brunel

We spent Wednesday morning with Mr. Isambard Kingdom Brunel (18061859), one of the most ambitious and accomplished engineers (and cigar smokers) in the history of the British empire, on which, he pointed out, he had tremendous influence.

We spent Wednesday afternoon with Mr. Robert Hulse (timeless), one of the most knowledgeable and charismatic tour guides (and wits) in the history of the British empire, on which, he pointed out, the sun never sets (because God doesn’t trust the British).

To meet up with Mr. Hulse, we took the Tube to Rotherhithe, East London.  After passing a decidedly dangerous-looking playground of sharp metal and rust, we took a left turn into a courtyard dotted with park benches that looked like various sorts of suspension bridges.  Brunel designed bridges and ships alike, so we figured we’d found the right place.

We had.  The Brunel Museum is quaint and lived-in, so to speak, but quite well-done.  Or, as my professors often say about quality museums, the place was quite ‘well-interpreted’.  The place truly came to life, however, when Mr. Hulse greeted us–dress shirt with the button closest to his belt fashionably undone–and began straightaway to convince us that everything that is good and worthwhile in the world started right here, right where we were standing–in this complex of the  original Thames tunnel Engine Room and, just below us, the Giant Hall Entrance to the Thames Tunnel.

The entrance to the Thames tunnel, until a few months ago, hadn’t entertained visitors like us in the last 145 years, and so it wasn’t exactly used to company.  We had to crawl through a tunnel and down stairs, treacherous as the playground we passed–appropriately, perhaps–to get into the most influential ‘hole in the ground’ in the history of mankind, perhaps even the history of the universe.

It was worth it, for this was when the true magic began.  Only the greatest of Victorian poets could re-create the splendo(u)r of our beloved Mr. Hulse’s presentation, but here is the basic gist of his presentation, followed by a sampler of his greatest hits:

Brunel, ‘Lord of the Underworld’ according to Mr. Hulse, took over the Thames tunnel project at the age of twenty, inheriting it from his distinguished engineer father.  The conditions in the construction left much to be desired, but to the surprise of many, the project did indeed succeed.  However, the Thames tunnel was not economically viable (‘Brunel’s folly’ a la ‘Scott’s folly’?), and so, in order to make up the difference, the tunnel offered the place for tours, banquets, and sordid other commercial activities.  Highlights of Mr. Hulse’s description:

  • “If you’d had better railways you’d had better Apollos.”
    • [trademark hyperbole perhaps, but Brunel was forced to constrain the grandeur of his creations at the behest of more practical contemporaries]
  • “What is a submarine but a short tunnel?”
    • Clearly, Brunel invented everything.
  • “The braver you are, the more you buy.  So, real men shop.”
    • Walking in the tunnel was a terrifying experience for many.  Gift shops abounded, and the more souvenirs one bought, the braver one could be considered.  Actually, there were fatal floods in the tunnel, so some of the fear was founded.
  • “A steam-powered organ and steam-powered ballroom dancing: a ‘Great Victorian Rave’!”
  • “The tunnel was populated by, as they were called, ‘women no better than they should be’.  Oftentimes, there was the unmistakable noise of two people in energetic conversation.”
  • You sat on three Brunel bridges, but the most important one is the transatlantic cable, which was laid by his ship, The Great Eastern.

Only thing that would have made the tour better: Brunel-styled cigars for all.