Stranger Fruit

Question of the Week

The mothership asks

If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?

I answer …

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” (Charles Darwin, 1859)

A simple testable idea, but a powerful one, and one that can fruitfully both explain and predict phenomena. Irrespective of putative mechanism, and natural selection is just one, organisms are connected by common ancestry and continue to evolve.


  1. #1 CanuckRob
    May 18, 2006

    Have to agree on this one, evolution is not only testable it is beautiful. How can anyone not find the story facinating and uplifting.

  2. #2 BigDumbChimp
    May 18, 2006

    If you could shake the public and make them understand one scientific idea, what would it be?

    That shaking people, espcially small people is dangerous.

    No really, even a very basic understanding of evolution would be nice.

  3. #3 Greco
    May 18, 2006

    My copy of the Origin has “breathed by the Creator” in that famous sentence. Did he drop it on other editions? Was Darwin a deist when at 1859? I know he was no longer Christian.

  4. #4 John Lynch
    May 18, 2006

    The first edition (1859) reads as I quoted. The second (1860) introduces the “Creator” clause. Darwin apparently introduced the language at the request of his wife, Emma. He also apparently regretted doing so.

  5. #5 John Lynch
    May 18, 2006

    Oh, and Darwin was an agnostic from 1851 to his death. His shift to agnosticism occurred due to the death of his favorite daughter, Anne.

  6. #6 Bruce Thompson
    May 18, 2006

    Simple mechanism, elegant results.

  7. #7 coturnix
    May 18, 2006

    I’ve read that passage probably a million times, yet, every time I read it I love it more. That is one of the finest pieces of prose ever written in English language. And of course, I agree with the sentiment in it 100%.

  8. #8 Justin Whitaker
    May 22, 2006

    I agree with BigDumbChimp that ‘shaking’ the public might not be the best idea – but since when could we ‘make’ anyone understand. Education means ‘to lead out’ e-ducare, in it’s Latin form. We (those educated already) have to guide the public to the sentiments to well stated by Darwin nearly 150 years ago.

    Part of that leadership will require clarity about what evolution means on broader ethical and social levels. I’ll be working on a course next month called “Ethics, Education,
    and the Evolution Debate”
    in which we hope to foster an understanding of the ethical and educational aspects of evolution (two things evolutionists have seemed to be weak on and creationists/ID folks have been strong on). If anyone has ideas for the class or wants to join in, see our website or email me. We’ll also set up an online version for the fall so everyone can join in.

    We need that ethical sensitivity to bridge the gap between Darwin’s vision of evolution and the fear and misunderstanding in the public at large.

  9. #9 Salvador
    May 24, 2006

    Viva la evolucion!

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