xx Introducing “The Trial of the Century” German scientist Eberhard Dennert (1861–1942)—echoing Agassiz from decades earlier—declared that scientists were “standing by the deathbed of Darwinism.”17 Because of lingering questions about natural selection, Lamarck’s claims continued to be repeated without verifying evidence. Some textbooks presented the ideas of both Lamarck and Darwin. By the 1920s, most biologists accepted evolution, but arguments con- tinued about how evolution occurred. Although some scientists had lost faith in natural selection’s ability to produce life’s diversity, others made peace with it. For example, in 1876, Princeton University president James McCosh (1811–1894)—who believed that God had given humans a soul—declared that there is “nothing atheistic” about Darwinian evolu- tion and that, if properly understood, evolution would reveal God’s wis- dom. McCosh reminded people that “When a scientific theory is brought before us, our first inquiry is not whether it is consistent with religion, but whether it is true.”18 When scientists followed McCosh’s advice, they found that a variety of studies rejected Lamarck’s ideas and confirmed those of Darwin. In the face of this evidence, Lamarck’s claims again faded as Darwin’s ideas gained more traction among biologists—not for religious reasons, but instead because they made sense of isolated facts from widespread disciplines, including anatomy, paleontology, geology, and biogeography. Darwin’s ideas eventually started a revolution that became a turning point in scientific thought. Scientists before Darwin had asked questions about why, and their answers usually involved purpose-driven logic—for exam- ple, that a trait was meant for humans’ enjoyment, or that a behavior was pleasing to a deity. Darwin’s ideas replaced purpose with function, adap- tation, and ancestry a trait or structure existed (or had existed) because it was an adaptation for survival and reproduction. After Darwin, astrono- mers no longer sought purpose when they described the orbits of planets or comets. This was unsettling to many people as geologist John New- berry (1822–1892) noted in 1867, Darwinism was “shaking the moral and intellectual world as an earthquake.”19 Taking Sides By the 1920s, most biologists accepted evolution. They debated how evolution worked, but did not question if it worked. Although biologists such as geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866–1945) avoided the public controversy about Darwin’s theory, and others such as explorer William Beebe (1877–1962) dismissed the controversy as a waste of time, many biologists were outspoken advocates of evolution. The authority and
Previous Page Next Page