Stranger Fruit

John hasn’t read Origin. Not *this* John. And certainly not this one. It’s this one – and what he proposes to do is blog while he reads the first edition of that work. I have to say I approve of the use of the first edition – subsequent editions are a little murkier and lack the freshness of expression that makes the first such a wonderful read.

John expresses some slight shame at having not read Origin before. I don’t think that’s really a problem (or surprising). Biology students rarely read Origin and similarly physics students rarely crack open Principia; scientific education rarely encompasses exposure to the classic scientific texts (although I have argued in the past that they should). The important point is that we have moved beyond Darwin and, though appreciative of what he started, we need to realize that evolutionary theory has become much richer and much better established than in Darwin’s day. It is only the cdesign proponentists who seem not to realize this.

Lastly, John worries about being a “Darwinian.” I will just once again state that I am not a Darwinist, or for that matter, a Darwinian. The theory I use may be, but I am not. (Parenthetically, a session that I’m involved with for an upcoming conference seems to be gelling around discussing who the “Darwinians” actually were in the aftermath of the publication of Origin. The answer, it appears, is far from simple.)


  1. #1 Dave H
    January 8, 2009

    As a young biologist, the only reason I read “The Origin of Species” was for debate purposes (i.e. creationist makes claim about origin, you can respond, well have you read it?). Not a very good reason, but I am glad I did read it in the end. A very long dry read, but I have a different appreciation for Darwin now.

  2. #2 Michael Robinson
    January 8, 2009

    John, I take your point about not being a Darwinist. At the same time, I think the word “Darwinist” has a lot more valence to it today than words such as Newtonist, etc.

    When I hear the term I think “evolutionist who believes the principle mechanism of species change is natural selection” as opposed to a Neo-Lamarkian, Creationist, etc. So I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t think we use these scientist labels in the same way.

  3. #3 John Lynch
    January 8, 2009


    I certainly agree that the word has more valences that the Newtonian equivalent. The problem is that “Darwinian” has become loosely used to mean anything evolutionary when it should really only be applied to concepts that are strictly selective. This confusion goes back to the earliest self-proclaimed “Darwinians” (Huxley et al).

    I guess what I am trying to get at is that philosophers use the terms one way (selective explanations), historians another way (individuals who identified themselves with Darwin), and contemporary biologists have no real reason to use Darwinist (but occasionally can use Darwinian for their explanations).

    I don’t know if I’m being particularly clear and perhaps I need to write this up a little more formally.

  4. #4 michael fugate
    January 8, 2009

    I agree the 1st edition is preferred. I would also put in a big plug for reading “The Voyage of the Beagle” as a companion.

  5. #5 Michael Robinson
    January 8, 2009

    John, I get you – you’re saying that the biggest problem with the label Darwinist is not just that it’s outmoded, but that it has come to mean so many different things to different groups. I can relate to this…”exploration” has much the same identity crisis.

  6. #6 John Lynch
    January 8, 2009


    Yes. Exactly.

    I can only imagine how “exploration” suffers the same fate.

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