Joseph LeConte: Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought

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On 06 July 1901, Joseph LeConte (1823–1901) passed away at Yosemite Valley, CA.

After studying at Franklin College in Athens, GA, and the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons, NY, LeConte made his first expedition as a biologist with his cousin, John Lawrence LeConte (1825–1883), traveling over a thousand miles along the Upper Mississippi River in a birchbark canoe in 1844. This experience led him to study for a second graduate degree in the natural sciences, completed in 1851, under the guidance of notable American biologist Louis Agassiz (1807–1873) at Harvard University.

Teaching at the University of South Carolina during Civil War and encountering various hardships, he moved to the University of California, Berkeley in 1868, where he worked with John Muir (1838–1914) and helped establish the Sierra Club. His published works included scientific papers on geology and ecology, and the textbooks Elements of Geology (1878), Religion and Science (1874), and Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought (1888).

“… evolution is the process by which the Divine plan is carried out. These two views, that which refers phenomena directly back to the primal intelligence, & that which refers them back to secondary & intermediate causes have always existed and will always exist. They do not exclude each other. They are two formulas for the same thing; the one the formula of religion, the other the formula of science. The one formula is an expression of the domain of faith, the other of the domain of knowledge…

“We see around us everywhere invariable laws. Now, intelligence in the presence of invariable laws, or acting through invariable laws, can attain results only by contrivance. It is impossible that there should be invariable laws without contrivance, or contrivance without invariable laws. We are hampered, conditioned, limited on every side, by the inviolable laws of Nature, and, in order to attain results, we are compelled to resort to indirect methods, to mechanical and other contrivances, in accordance with these laws… Now, Deity himself, if He acts by laws, must bring about results by what seem to us contrivances. Shall we then speak of Him, the unconditioned, as conditioned by the laws of Nature? With our limited faculties, we cannot do otherwise. We cannot speak of Him, we cannot even think of Him except under conditions. But, observe the difference betwixt Him and us, in this regard.

“These laws of Nature, which condition man, are external to him, and therefore, in the nature of a law of necessity. But, to the Deity, they are not external; they are the laws of his own being—they are the modes of operation of his own will, perfect, because He is perfect, invariable, because He is unchangeable. Thus, then, the laws of Nature are to Him not a law of necessity, but a law of freedom.”

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“If creation sings Your praises so will I” – Joel Houston on creation and evolution

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Not all, but many, even those not pertaining to an Evangelical community, will be familiar with the Hillsong band and their founder Joel T. Houston from Sydney, Australia. A song that came out in 2017, has creation, evolution, our salvation and the praise and worship to Our Lord as topic. Based on a question on twitter, Joel T. Houston posted some excellent tweets that you may want to read, even if you are not so familiar with the “twitterverse”. 

First the song:

 

God of creation
There at the start
Before the beginning of time
With no point of reference
You spoke to the dark
And fleshed out the wonder of light

And as You speak
A hundred billion galaxies are born
In the vapor of Your breath the planets form
If the stars were made to worship so will I
I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made
Every burning star
A signal fire of grace
If creation sings Your praises so will I

God of Your promise
You don’t speak in vain
No syllable empty or void
For once You have spoken
All nature and science
Follow the sound of Your voice

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Patrick Matthew: Origins of a Theory

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On 08 June 1874, Patrick Matthew (1790–1874) passed away at Edinburgh, Scotland. A farmer,  biologist and merchant, he is considered by some historians to have anticipated Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

Beginning with the 3rd edition of Origin of Species and following in subsequent editions, acknowledgments of Patrick Matthew’s theory, as expressed in the appendices and addendum of his 1831 book, ‘On Naval Timber and Arboriculture’, were included in Darwin’s publications.

“In answer to a letter of mine (published in Gard. Chron., April 13th), fully acknowledging that Mr. Matthew had anticipated me, he with generous candour wrote a letter (Gard. Chron. May 12th) containing the following passage: —‘To me the conception of this law of Nature came intuitively as a self-evident fact, almost without an effort of concentrated thought. Mr. Darwin here seems to have more merit in the discovery than I have had; to me it did not appear a discovery. He seems to have worked it out by inductive reason, slowly and with due caution to have made his way synthetically from fact to fact onwards; while with me it was by a general glance at the scheme of Nature that I estimated this select production of species as an à priori recognisable fact—an axiom requiring only to be pointed out to be admitted by unprejudiced minds of sufficient grasp.’”

A recent article in Zygon discusses both this influence of Patrick Matthew’s theory as well as Darwin’s use of the metaphor of an ‘architect’ in biological development to explain chance and free will.

Reference: Noguera‐Solano, Ricardo. “The Metaphor of the Architect in Darwin: Chance and Free Will.” Zygon 48.4 (2013): 859-874.

Image: Amazon.

Rosalyn S. Yalow: Scientific & Biblical Wisdom for the Future

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yallow 2.jpgOn 30 May 2011, Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (1921–2011) passed away in New York, NY.

She was a biophysicist known for her development of the radioimmunoassay technique, using an isotope of iodine, ¹²⁵I, attached to tyrosine to measure concentrations of antigens in different body tissues. The 1977 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was co-awarded to Roger Guillemin (b. 1924) and Andrew Schally (b. 1926) “for their discoveries concerning the peptide hormone production of the brain,” with the other half to Prof. Yalow “for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones.”

From her Nobel Banquet Speech (10 Dec 1977).

If we are to have faith that mankind will survive and thrive on the face of the earth, we must believe that each succeeding generation will be wiser than its progenitors. We transmit to you, the next generation, the total sum of our knowledge. Yours is the responsibility to use it, add to it, and transmit it to your children… We bequeath to you, the next generation, our knowledge but also our problems. While we still live, let us join hands, hearts and minds to work together for their solution so that your world will be better than ours and the world of your children even better.”

In November 1986, Prof. Yalow was invited to deliver a lecture at the New York Historical Society to honor Jewish Nobel Laureates.

9780306457968-ukThrough the ages we have taken pride in being known as the People of the Book. This phrase can be interpreted not only as our having carried the book—our Bible and traditions—throughout history in spite of the Diaspora, persecution and the many travails inflicted by a hostile world, but also as a recognition of the fact that throughout those centuries of tribulations we have continued to honor wisdom and learning… We are delighted that a new group of immigrants can aspire and succeed in the dream that America makes possible.”

Further reading: Straus, Eugene, and John Cameron. Rosalyn Yalow—Nobel Laureate. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000), 294 pgs. http://amzn.to/2vyOiAN

Referenced:
Yalow, Rosalyn S. “Nobel Banquet Speech.” Stockholm, SWE. 10 Dec 1977.
Straus, Eugene. Rosalyn Yalow, Nobel Laureate: Her Life and Work in Medicine. (New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000), 247. Partial text also @:http://nyti.ms/2vyEGGb.
Images: Republic of Mali Stamp (© 2007)Book cover (Perseus Books, 1998).

John Stevens Henslow: Faithful Guide for Evolution

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On 16 May 1861, John Stevens Henslow (1796–1861) passed away in Suffolk, UK.

As a college student, Henslow undertook scientific studies at Cambridge University: geology with Adam Sedgwick (1785–1873), chemistry with James Cumming (1777–1861), and mineralogy with Edward Daniel (1769–1822). Thereafter, he began to prepare for the Anglican priesthood and served as the curate at a parish in Berkshire. While working as a priest, he continued to study scientific topics, building a herbarium for British plants and working with John James Audubon (1785–1851) to establish ornithological societies. It was in this capacity that he became acquainted with Charles Darwin (1809–1882), earning him the recognition as “Darwin’s chaplain.”

Several excepts from a biographical memoir demonstrate the role of his faith in his scientific research and ministry as a chaplain, as well as his hope for a more welcoming reception for Darwin’s theory among apologists in later generations:

‘One great feature in his religion which always struck me, was the strength of his faith… His was, indeed, the faith which seemed able to remove mountains. It was his strong faith which encouraged him to undertake what he did, much of which it might have been thought by some hopeless to attempt ; and which carried him through difficulties, at the sight of which many would have turned back. It was the same strong faith to which may be traced the equanimity with which he took all the events and accidents of life, and the calmness with which he reasoned with opponents, whose hearts had not been brought under the same principles as his own. And this faith, which was so conspicuous in himself, he impressed on others.’ (pp. 145-146).

‘With reference to the religious aspect of this question, … he had always defended Darwin from some of his opponents, whom he considered as having shown him ungenerous treatment in fastening upon him opinions of an infidel or irreligious tendency, which those who are acquainted with his real sentiments on matters of religion know to be utterly without foundation.’ (p.213).

‘Subsequent inquiries led him still further to modify this opinion, as well as to regret the publication of his earlier letters in the Athenæum, otherwise than as serving to inculcate caution in the inquiry. He continued his attention to the subject, comparing the researches of others with his own conclusions, and holding himself ready, if truth required, to abandon any opinions which it might be shown he had too hastily taken up. With a view to obtaining further evidence, in the autumn of 1860, he went to France to examine the celebrated gravel-pits at Amiens and Abbeville,  where the same flint hatchets had been found in large quantities ; likewise associated, as was stated, with the bones of extinct quadrupeds.’ (p.215).

‘He was not one of those who fear a collision between Scripture and science. His opinions on this subject, as expressed in one of his letters in the Athenæum, above alluded to, deserve to be recorded in his own words : —“I dare to assert that I yield to no man in firm belief that ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration’; but, then, given only for the purposes specified, viz. ‘for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ I am equally satisfied that proofs have been established, by arguments conclusive to all who have learnt to appreciate the evidence, that the inspired writers were often left to convey their lessons in their own words, intelligible to those whom they addressed, and in accordance with their own imperfect or erroneous views of nature… Yet, they who can look back a few years will remember how the same pulpits, then rebuking and maligning the conclusions  at which geologists had arrived, are now content to accept them as evidence of a Wisdom, Power, and Goodness, beyond any that former ignorance could ascribe to the works of that First Great Cause”…’ (pp. 217-218).

Referenced:
“John Stevens Henslow.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
Jenyns, Leonard. Memoir of the Rev. John Stevens Henslow, MA, FLS, FGS, FCPS: Late Rector of Hitcham, and Professor of Botany. (London, GB: J.V. Voorst Publishers, 1862; Cambridge Univ. Press Reprint, 2011), Full text at archive(dot)org. Image: Cambridge Press.

Manfred Eigen: Finding Meaning in the Texts

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May 9 is the birthday of Manfred Eigen (b.1927), born in Bochum, Germany.

He was co-awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Ronald George Wreyford Norrish (1897–1978) and George Porter (1920–2002) “for their studies of extremely fast chemical reactions, effected by disturbing the equilibrium by means of very short pulses of energy.”

Some of his most notable theoretical achievements include: the “quasispecies model” of collected genotypes, and the “hypercycle model” of self-replicating aggregates of molecules. These systems (defined by mutation rates qᵢⱼ with ∑qᵢⱼ=1, parental numbers wᵢⱼ = Aⱼqᵢⱼ and offspring numbers nᵢ’ = ∑wᵢⱼnⱼ) form a system of linear equations. As an evolving system, they pass through hypercycles as connected, self-replicating macromolecules, catalyzing the creation of successors in a process that involves both cooperation and selfishness.

Prof. Eigen was made a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 12 May 1981.

A biblical studies text, Words become Worlds: Semantic Studies of Genesis 1-11 by Ellen J. Van Wolde (Brill, 1994), outlines a hermeneutic based on Prof. Eigen’s evolutionary theories by considering the reader environmental influence and the polyvalency of the semes (units of language).

“…Just as in the nature studied by Eigen, in a text too, the number of available possibilities is very great. This is caused by the polysemic structure of the elements of the text: each element consists of many elementary building blocks (semes) and the connections between these polysemic elements in a text makes the number of possible meanings very great. In the reading process, readers who reason from their own language and culture code, and their own context of experiences, distinguish a number of elements inside the text continuum as bearers of meaning and let these function in their giving of meaning, so the nodal points or intersections arise between text and reader… In this way it can become clear that what Eigen said about evolution applies here too: neither absolute arbitrariness nor absolute necessity determines the creation of meaning; rather, a directed collaboration between text and reader enables a particular choice out of a number of possibilities.”

Referenced:– “Hypercycle (chemistry).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
“Quasispecies model.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation.
“Ordinary Academicians: Manfred Eigen.” ©2011-2015 The Pontifical Academy of Sciences. —Wolde, Ellen J. Words Become Worlds: Semantic Studies of Genesis 1-11. Vol. 6. (Leiden, NL: Brill, 1994), 173,175.

Alexander von Humboldt: Adapting to Providence

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On 06 May 1859, Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859) passed away in Berlin, Germany. Educated at Freiberg School of Mines (1792) (w/ subsequent studies at Frankfurt, Göttingen, and Berlin), he was a natural scientist, explorer, ecologist and geographer.

From the Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography:

“Humboldt, although indisputably one of the founders of geography as a science, had as his major goal a comprehensive view of nature to which the earth sciences would contribute significantly. As a Prussian government official, there would be difficulties for him in pursuing such a major undertaking, but upon his mother’s death in 1796 he became financially independent. Leaving the civil service, he looked ahead to a ‘great journey beyond Europe.’

“The Kosmos is a popular scientific book in the best sense of that term. The entire material world from the galaxies to the geography of the various mosses, the history of physical cosmography, the needed stimulation for nature study—he sought to present all in vivid, ‘pleasing’ language. Volumes III through V, containing his special research findings and added material, were not equally successful; Humboldt died before completing the fifth volume. The index was prepared according to his specifications and he credited each contemporary to whom he felt in debted. The work cites over 9,000 sources and is thus an important reference for the history of science.”

For further reading, see an online article on the influence of von Humboldt on Charles Darwin (1809–1882): —van Wyhe, John. “Humbodlt’s Personal Narrative and Its Influence on Darwin.” The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online. 2002.

Quote from a letter dated September 6, 1825:

“I will not insist on this as an ordinance of religion, but simply on the grounds that life, even in its utmost extent, is so short, in comparison with eternity, which is wholly veiled to us as regards the nature of our being, that we must take care not to limit it by our wishes, but to allow it to continue as it will, for really the manner in which a man views his fate is more important than what his fate is. It is a saying, that every one creates his own fortunes, and, indeed, we make them good or bad by our reason or our folly. One may, however, so receive his lot as ordained by Providence, and so adapt himself to it, as to find it good, however opposite it may seem.”

Referenced:–Biermann, Kurt-R. “Alexander von Humboldt.” Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography.© Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2008. — Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm C.K.F. Letters to a Lady. Trans. Henry Stebbing (London, GB: Arthur Hall, 1849), 126-127.
Image: Alexander von Humboldt in his library (1856), by Eduard Hildebrant (1818–1868).