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Darwin comes home - and keeps asking questions,
This review is from: Darwin's Island: The Galapagos in the Garden of England (Hardcover)
Whatever genes and cultural traditions transmit curiosity, Charles Darwin inherited a uniquely productive sequence. Steve Jones' refreshing contribution to the bicentennial gives the Galapagos finches as little attention as did Darwin himself. Seasickness made Darwin an island-hopper for whom the arrival was everything, the voyage hell. Indeed, after the unpublished 25-year old naturalist got back to dry land at Falmouth on 2 October 1836, he never again left the shores of the British Isles. (He maintained, however, his own worldwide web of correspondents.)
So, the Voyage of the Beagle and the Origin of Species are here set on one side in order to show Darwin's curiosity and experimental ingenuity as he tackles a lifetime of questions inspired by his own family with its domesticated animals and plants; the teeming life in the soil of his home at Down House and the botanical riches of Ashdown Forest. What are the effects of inbreeding? How do plants move (eg to climb up the Kent hop-poles)? Why do worms matter? Professor Jones links these and more of Darwin's major inquiries to today's research and to the practical consequences in a world so suddenly - in an evolutionary timespan - dominated by man. Worms can transform archaeological sites - as shown by the wormstone experiment started in the last decade of Darwin's life (and still running): but, undisturbed, they are at last being recognised as the natural creators of soil fertility.
The final chapter draws lessons. Since Darwin visited St Helena (still a UK overseas territory), unique habitats that delighted him have gone and many endemics, like the giant earwig, have disappeared or are under threat. Would Darwin lament with Professor Jones that the world has become "a far less interesting place than it was when HMS Beagle set sail."? With the curiosity that never left him, it is more likely that Darwin would take back his story from where Professor Jones ends it and start asking question upon question about "the only creature ever to step beyond the limits of Darwinian evolution."
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Initial post: 2 Mar 2009 22:13:28 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 2 Mar 2009 22:24:53 GMT]
Posted on 2 Mar 2009 22:24:07 GMT
Last edited by the author on 3 Mar 2009 20:46:09 GMT
I write in various blogs and book reviews about the wish you express in the last paragraph of your review. Since Darwin isn't going to come back, however, Professor Jones himself really ought to "start asking question upon question about 'the only creature ever to step beyond the limits of Darwinian evolution'". I have read two of Jones's books (not yet this latest one), and several of his newspaper articles, and he always adopts the same essentially ambiguous and unsatisfactory position:
(1) he sometimes SAYS EXPLICITLY that genes explain everything about mankind,
(2) he always anyhow IMPLIES that genes do explain everything about mankind,
(3) he explicitly or implicitly DENIES that genes explain everything about mankind.
But he never, ever, tells us one word about what, then, is the extra, 'beyond the limits of Darwinian evolution', that does explain mankind. Will Professor Jones please enlighten us?
In my other writings I adduce abundant quotations from Jones's work in defence of my verdict that he is ambiguous. One good example: in an article in the Daily Telegraph on 17 June 2008, screamingly headlined, "Is man an ape or an angel?", having given us (1) and (2) above in most of his article, Jones ends by cautiously beginning to suggest (3), ending with the unexplained but vital sentence, "Man may be an ape, but his brain is on the side of the angels". To me, an astonishing ambiguity.
The reviews so far published on 'Darwin's Island' seem to suggest that Jones is still not yet ready to discuss rational and moral mankind. My conclusion is that there is an essential contradiction in speaking about 'Darwinian evolution' without clarification, because it does not and cannot explain rational life. 'Darwinian evolution' is limited to what is observable under the microscope. Rational life is much more than that. And there is a perfectly valid explanation for this 'extra' that Jones doesn't want to discuss. See Antony Flew, 'There is a God: How the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind'.
It is a great shame that the valid scientific conclusions of Darwinian theory are invalidly extended by some of its defenders to be a total explanation for all of life, rational and irrational. This casts an undeserved shadow over Darwin's genuine achievements. We must keep on protesting against the writers and media presenters who almost invariably propose 'Darwinian evolution' with the invalid 'global' meaning.
In reply to an earlier post on 14 Aug 2009 13:26:31 BDT
I appreciated your comment (which I have only just seen) and will reflect on it. Grateful if you could send copies of your articles/comments on evolution (or other cognate subjects) to me at : firstname.lastname@example.org .
Iain Orr (BopDiplomacy)
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