Introducing “The Trial of the Century” xix A few scientists rejected Darwin’s ideas about evolution because of their religious beliefs or their desires for a purposeful progression of life. Louis Agassiz (1807–1873)—one of the most famous scientists of the nineteenth century—rejected evolution in favor of new species being cre- ated by God after catastrophes as Agassiz wrote in 1857, organisms “have made their successive appearance upon earth by the intermediate inter- vention of the Creator. . . . They show the omnipresence of the Creator.” Agassiz believed that humans were the highest and final product (in his words, “the end and aim”) of nature because “we are children of God, not of monkeys.” In 1860, after reading On the Origin, Agassiz dismissed Dar- win’s ideas as “an ingenious but fanciful theory” that has “not made the slightest impression on my mind,” and by 1866, Agassiz was telling the National Academy of Sciences that “here is the end of the Darwinian theory.”13 Politicians and others also got involved. Former president Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924) wrote to zoologist Winterton Curtis (1875–1969)— who in 1925 would come to Dayton as an expert witness for Scopes— that “like every other man of intelligence and education, I do believe in organic evolution.”14 In Great Britain, writer and politician Benjamin Dis- raeli (1804–1881) asked, and then answered, a question on many people’s minds: “Is man an ape or an angel? My Lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence the contrary view, which is, I believe, contrary to the conscience of mankind.”15 Disraeli and others were troubled by Darwin’s pitiless, amoral world that—to them, anyway—lacked comfort, purpose, or progress. By the time he died in 1882, Darwin had produced six editions of his famous book, and his ideas were common in biology textbooks. However, several biologists—famed paleontologists Henry Fairfield Osborn (1857– 1935) and Edward Drinker Cope (1840–1897) among them—remained troubled by the role of chance in natural selection, for chance was incon- sistent with the purpose and progress they sought in the history of life. To remedy their discomfort, these biologists revived an earlier, tempting the- ory for evolution proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1774–1829), claim- ing that traits acquired during an individual’s lifetime were passed to their offspring. Although Lamarck left open the notion of purpose, his ideas were popular because they fit well with Victorians’ self-congratulatory emphasis on progress being produced by diligence and hard work. For a few decades, Darwin’s theory entered a twilight as some biologists pro- moted Lamarck’s idea and claimed that evolution affirmed Christian val- ues, was guided by predetermined goals, and had “inherent” moral and ethical principles (e.g., “only the best has the right to survive”).16 By 1903,
Previous Page Next Page