Darwin’s Origin of Species under fire, and defended (part 1)

In my last posts I have been highlighting the fact that Darwin’s theory of evolution ascribed the origin of the first one or few primordial organisms to the work of the Creator, and have looked at Richard Owen’s criticism (Edinburgh Review, April 1860) of his apparent inconsistency in balking at the miraculous nature of special creation on one page (Origin of Species, 1st edition, 1859, 483), and invoking it on the next (p. 484).

I was aware that the German paleontologist H. G. Bronn had criticised Origin of Species on similar grounds in a review published January 1860, and being interested to find out whether he was the first to do so, began to read reviews (gleaned mainly from here (p. 599), here (p. 25-27), and here) published prior to his. They are of sufficient interest in their own right, in my opinion, to merit a few observations.

My account of Huxley’s review of Origin in The Times is preceded by an introduction, which will extend into my next post, of his change of view about evolution just prior to the book’s publication.

Continue reading Darwin’s Origin of Species under fire, and defended (part 1)

Is there a fact, or a shadow of a fact…?

In my last post I looked at a review (pp 417-9) by anatomist and palaeontologist Richard Owen of a book by William Carpenter about the Foraminifera, a single-celled organism with shells or tests (internal shells). Carpenter had argued that the multitude of Foraminifera species had descended from one or a few primordial forms. Owen thought he recognised in this the influence of Darwin, who had proposed in Origin of Species that all living things had descended from one or a few primordial forms, into which life had been breathed by ‘the Creator’.

Owen saw in Darwin’s appeal to divine action a departure from the scientific method, which in his view demanded, or at least gave preference to, explanations from natural processes only. While admitting that the Foraminifera underwent reproduction, he believed that they were also being spontaneously generated from dead organic matter through the action of a vital force. ‘Mucus’ was converted from a ‘passive’ to an ‘active’ state, from ‘snot’ to ‘sarcode’ by means of the conversion of the operation of a ‘polar’ force – an analogy being drawn with magnetic phenomena – from an ‘attractive’ to an ‘assimilative’ or ‘vital’ mode (418, col.3, 419, col. 1):

Continue reading Is there a fact, or a shadow of a fact…?

Deep sea slime and ooze: did life emerge there?

In my last post, I described the account Darwin gave in his Origin of Species of the initial appearance of life on earth. In the first edition he said that life had been ‘breathed’ into a few forms or one, and in subsequent editions he added that the breath was imparted ‘by the Creator’.

The idea of life being imparted by breath comes from Genesis 2.8:

 וַיִּיצֶר֩ יְהוָ֨ה אֱלֹהִ֜ים אֶת־הָֽאָדָ֗ם עָפָר֙ מִן־הָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה וַיִּפַּ֥ח בְּאַפָּ֖יו נִשְׁמַ֣ת חַיִּ֑ים וַֽיְהִ֥י הָֽאָדָ֖ם לְנֶ֥פֶשׁ חַיָּֽה׃

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. [King James Version]

as Darwin acknowledged in a letter to his close friend Joseph Hooker dated 29 March 1863. Hooker had sent Darwin his copy of the Athenaeum, dated one day earlier. It contained (pp 417-9) a review of a book by William B. Carpenter on the single-celled amoeboid Foraminifera. The reviewer was Richard Owen, the anatomist and palaeontologist, whose earlier (1860) criticism of the apparent inconsistency of Darwin’s view of the origin of the life I described yesterday. Writing anonymously, Owen made some further and very scathing remarks about Darwin, which presumably Hooker thought Darwin should see.

Continue reading Deep sea slime and ooze: did life emerge there?

Darwin on the horns of a dilemma: how did life begin?

How did we come to be here? Did God create us out of nothing, or did we evolve from inanimate matter by natural processes? This is the question I want to address in a series of posts. Since many have been here before, and much of the ground has been worked over many times, my intention is to look in some detail at a few key issues, starting with the origin of life itself, attempting only to make a small contribution in limited fields of enquiry.

According to the dominant scientific paradigm, as expounded by Richard Dawkins for example, life began when naturally occurring substances synthesised by natural and undirected physico-chemical means into self-replicating entities. It is thought that no intelligence was involved in the first emergence of life in the universe, and indeed that there was no mind at all until more advanced organisms evolved with brains and neural networks.

the miller-urey experiment

On 15 May 1953, less than three weeks after Crick and Watson suggested the double helix molecular structure for DNA in Nature, Stanley Miller reported in Science that he had synthesised amino acids under conditions meant to simulate a possible ancient earth atmosphere:

Continue reading Darwin on the horns of a dilemma: how did life begin?