Richard B. Goldschmidt: In and Out of the Ivory Tower

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richard goldschmidt 2.jpgOn 24 April 1958, Richard Benedict  Goldschmidt (1878–1958) passed away in Berkeley, CA.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, he was a German-American biologist and geneticist who was known for his research on the nervous system of the roundworm nematodes Caenorhabditis elegans, the anatomy of the filter feeders Branchiostoma lanceolatum and the chromosomal basis of sex determination in the gypsy moth Lymantria dispar.

He also became known for defending the theory that gradual changes (micro-evolution) are insufficient to account for the emergence of new biological species (macro-evolution). As stated in his book The Material Basis of Evolution (1940): “the change from species to species is not a change involving more and more additional atomistic changes, but a complete change of the primary pattern or reaction system into a new one, which afterwards may again produce intraspecific variation by micromutation.” This interpretation of evolution has been cited in a number of books on creation-theology in recent years.Untitled goldschmidt 2

His autobiography (In and Out of the Ivory Tower: The Autobiography of Richard B. Goldschmidt, 1960) had included a number of reflections on the churches and religious temples which he encountered during his career, including St. Michael’s Jesuit Church in Munich, Upper Bavaria, Germany, the Basilica Sancti Francisci Assisiensis in Umbria, Italy, and the Ise Shrine in Mie, Japan.

The Munich Zoological Institute at that time occupied the vaulted and columned halls of a medieval monastery, and from the windows one beheld a beautiful cloister with the nave of St. Michael’s Church and the huge towers of Our Lady’s Church as a background. This monastic setting made the laboratory a quiet and dignified oasis right in the center of the town. The fixtures and apparatus were very poor, far below what any small college has today, but there was a wonderful research spirit kept aflame by the kindly and affectionate professor who treated the few full-time students as his children and imbued them with the love of search into the secrets of nature.” (p. 45).

goldscmidt 3“The most sacred of all sacred places in Japan were the temples of Ise, dedicated to the sun goddess Amaterasu, the ancestress of the imperial family. At the temples of Ise the mythical mirror of the goddess was kept, and there the emperor worshiped regularly. It was inconceivable that there could be a state official who had not worshipped there, and on historic occasions or on the eve of great decisions the ministers of state proceeded first to Ise to worship.

“I have visited and revisited Ise, and I must confess that in all my wanderings I have seen only one other sacred place that could compare with the Ise in the breath-taking holiness. I mean the dark, mystical, lower church of Assisi. But the overwhelming effect of the Ise temples has a very different basis from the physical and dramatic splendor of a Roman Catholic church filled with incense, the sounds of the organ, and the recitation of the Mass, which transport both the believer and unbelieving esthete into the realms of mystical contemplation.

Shinto shrines are remnants of an old animistic religion, nature worship. The temples are as plainly built as possible though using beautiful lumber and perfect workmanship. In Ise the temples were not accessible to the public, and only the emperor and his delegates and, of course, the priests could enter sacred precincts. But, even so, the visitor entering the temple grounds was immediately impressed with the great holiness of the place.” (p.146)

Referenced:
“Richard Goldschmidt.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Goldschmidt, Richard. In and Out of the Ivory Tower; The Autobiography of Richard B. Goldschmidt. (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1960), 45146.
Images online: American Philosophical Society. Google books, Munich Church, Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, Ise Grand Shrine.

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