Category Archives: Charles Darwin

There Is No God, and Harriet Martineau Is His Prophet

Prophet: Harriet Martineau? William Tweed? John Tyndall? Auguste Comte? Robert G. Ingersoll? Karl Marx? Charles Darwin? Herbert Spencer? Henry George Atkinson? Paul Dirac? Felix Adler?
Critic: Mark Twain? Douglas William Jerrold? George Grote? J. P. Jacobsen? Isaac M. Wise? Wolfgang Pauli?

Dear Quote Investigator: The prominent physicist Paul Dirac was hostile toward religion, and sometimes he would lecture his colleagues on the topic. One fellow scientist responded with a humorous summary of Dirac’s metaphysical position:

There is no God and Dirac is His prophet.

Do you know who crafted this expression? Would you please explore its history?

Quote Investigator: Substantive evidence indicates that physicist Wolfgang Pauli coined the statement above, but this template has an extensive history, and many different names have appeared in analogous phrases in the past.

The earliest template matches located by QI referred to Harriet Martineau and Henry George Atkinson who together published a controversial work titled “Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development” in 1851. 1 Contemporaries believed that the duo was espousing atheism, and both faced tremendous criticism; in April 1851 a periodical about mesmerism printed a statement referring to Atkinson. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 2

A celebrated wit declares the great religious view of the book to be, There is no God, and Mr. Atkinson is his prophet.—Zoist.

In July 1851 a piece in “The Worcestershire Chronicle” of Worcestershire, England discussed an essay that analyzed the pair’s book. The following jest was aimed at Martineau: 3

Two valuable essays on “The History of Logic” and “Primitive Alphabets” are followed by one on “Materialism,” in which Miss Martineau and her tutor, “Henry George Atkinson, F.G.S.,” are treated to a little commonsense criticism. Her theory—so ably epitomised by a popular writer of the present day—”that there is no God, and that Miss Martineau is his prophet,” finds no quarter at the hands of the talented reviewer…

The “popular writer” was probably the dramatist Douglas William Jerrold as stated in a September 1851 newspaper item. Additional selected citations in chronological order appear below. Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1851, Letters on the Laws of Man’s Nature and Development by Henry George Atkinson and Harriet Martineau, Published by Josiah P. Mendum, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 1851 April, The Zoist: A Journal of Cerebral Physiology & Mesmerism and Their Applications to Human Welfare, Number 33, XVII: The Fire-away Style of Philosophy briefly Examined and Illustrated by Anti-Glorioso, Footnote, Start Page 65, Quote Page 67, Hippolyte Bailliere, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  3. 1851 July 23, Worcestershire Chronicle, Literary Notices: The Church of England Quarterly Review, Quote Page 6, Column 2, Worcestershire, England. (British Newspaper Archive)

A Blind Man in a Dark Room Looking for a Black Cat That Is Not There

Charles Darwin? Lord Bowen? Confucius? E. R. Pearce? William James? Ralph Waldo Emerson? Anonymous?

blackcat09

Dear Quote Investigator: A vivid and comical metaphor has been applied to professions that require abstract and recondite reasoning abilities:

A mathematician is a blind man in a dark room looking for a black hat which isn’t there.

A metaphysician is a man who goes into a dark cellar at midnight without a light looking for a black cat that is not there.

The philosopher is likened to a ‘blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that is not there.’

The first statement has been attributed to the famous scientist Charles Darwin while the second has been linked to the notable English judge Lord Bowen, and the third has been credited to the renowned philosopher William James. I have been unable to find solid citations. Would you please examine this topic?

Quote Investigator: This metaphorical framework evolved during a multi-decade period. Please note this exploration contains some offensive racial language.

The earliest evidence located by QI in a Missouri newspaper in 1846 did not mention any professions; instead, the figurative language was used to illustrate the notion of darkness. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

A DARK SUBJECT—A blind negro, with an extinguished candle looking for a black cat in a dark cellar.

In August 1849 a London journal called “Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information and Amusement” printed a short item with an acknowledgement to another magazine called “Penny Punch”. The item presented a definition of darkness ascribed to a precocious child: 2

A DEFINITION OF DARKNESS

Dr. Twiggem—”Indeed, for his age, sir, he’s a wonderful child. Come now, Fred., my dear, give your papa a nice lucid definition of—of—darkness.”

Fred. (after a little thought, and with much sagacity)—”Please, sir, ‘a blind Ethiopian—in a dark cellar—at midnight—looking for a black cat.'”
—Penny Punch.

In 1894 a version of the metaphor using a black hat was attributed to Lord Bowen, and in 1911 a posthumous book by William James employed a simile with a black cat while discussing philosophy. The figurative language was implausibly linked to Charles Darwin in 1940. Full details are given further below.

In addition, by 1931 the quip had been extended to construct a joke comparing the endeavors of philosophers and theologians. A separate entry on this topic is available on the website under the title: “The Philosopher, the Theologian, and the Elusive Black Cat”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1846 November 9, Democratic Banner (Filler item), Quote Page 4, Column 1, Louisiana, Pike County, Missouri. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1849 August 25, Family Herald: A Domestic Magazine of Useful Information and Amusement, Volume 7, Number 329, Random Readings: A Definition of Darkness, Quote Page 272, Column 1, Published by George Biggs, Strand, London; Printed at the Steam press of J. Gadsby, Fleet Street, London. (HathiTrust Full View) link link

In the Struggle for Survival, the Fittest Win Out at the Expense of Their Rivals

Charles Darwin? History Textbook? Anonymous?

conflict09Dear Quote Investigator: While reading a newspaper article I saw the following statement attributed to the famous scientist Charles Darwin:

In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.

The article cited “On the Origin of Species” by Darwin, but I examined several editions of that landmark treatise and have been unable to find the quotation. Would you please trace this expression?

Quote Investigator: QI has found no substantive evidence that Charles Darwin made the above statement.

The scholars working on the authoritative “Darwin Correspondence Project” based at Cambridge University have placed the statement into a set of “Six things Darwin never said”. 1 The members of the project have constructed an important database of 7,500 letters written or received by Charles Darwin.

The earliest appearance of the statement found by QI was located within a history textbook titled “Civilization Past and Present” by T. Walter Wallbank, Alastair M. Taylor and Nels M. Bailkey.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: Darwin Correspondence Project, Article title: Six things Darwin never said – and one he did, Date of article on website: No date is specified, Internet Archive Wayback Machine date: December 18, 2009, Website description: Website includes basic descriptions of more than 15,000 letters known to have been written by or to Charles Darwin, and the complete texts of around half of those. (Accessed darwinproject.ac.uk on December 18, 2014) link

It Is Not the Strongest of the Species that Survives But the Most Adaptable

Charles Darwin? Leon C. Megginson? Clarence Darrow? Apocryphal?

darwin08Dear Quote Investigator: The following statement is often attributed to the famous scientist Charles Darwin:

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.

Shortened versions of the same basic expression have also been ascribed to Darwin. Here are three examples:

It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change.

It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change.

Sometimes this remark is said to appear in “On the Origin of Species” which was Darwin’s epochal tome about evolution, but my searches have found no matches in that book. Are these really the words of Darwin?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Charles Darwin said or wrote this statement.

The scholars working on the “Darwin Correspondence Project” based at Cambridge University have considerable expertise concerning the words of Darwin. They have constructed an important database of 7,500 letters written or received by Charles Darwin. An article on the project website places the statement under investigation into a set of “Six things Darwin never said”. 1

The earliest relevant evidence known to QI appeared in a speech delivered in 1963 by a Louisiana State University business professor named Leon C. Megginson at the convention of the Southwestern Social Science Association. The text of his address was published in the quarterly journal of the association. Megginson presented his own idiosyncratic interpretation of the central idea outlined in Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Megginson did not use quotation marks, and the phrasing was somewhat repetitive. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 2

Yes, change is the basic law of nature. But the changes wrought by the passage of time affects individuals and institutions in different ways. According to Darwin’s Origin of Species, it is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself. Applying this theoretical concept to us as individuals, we can state that the civilization that is able to survive is the one that is able to adapt to the changing physical, social, political, moral, and spiritual environment in which it finds itself.

QI believes that over time Megginson’s remarks were streamlined and reassigned directly to Charles Darwin. This is a known mechanism for the generation of misattributions. Person A summarizes, condenses, or restates the opinion of person B. At a later time the restatement is directly ascribed to person B.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. Website: Darwin Correspondence Project, Article title: Six things Darwin never said – and one he did, Date of article on website: No date is specified, Internet Archive Wayback Machine date: December 18, 2009, Website description: Website includes basic descriptions of more than 15,000 letters known to have been written by or to Charles Darwin, and the complete texts of around half of those. (Accessed darwinproject.ac.uk on May, 2014) link
  2. 1963 June, Southwestern Social Science Quarterly, Volume 44, Number 1, Lessons from Europe for American Business by Leon C. Megginson, (Presidential address delivered at the Southwestern Social Science Association convention in San Antonio, Texas, April 12, 1963), Start Page 3, Quote Page 4, Published jointly by The Southwestern Social Science Association and the University of Texas Press. (Verified with scans; thanks to a helpful librarian at the University of Central Florida)

If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live

Albert Einstein? Charles Darwin? Maurice Maeterlinck? E. O. Wilson? Apocryphal?

einsteinbee03Dear Quote Investigator: A dramatic quotation about the dangers of environmental upheaval is attributed to the brilliant physicist Albert Einstein. Here are two versions:

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live

Some commentators are skeptical about this ascription. Could you examine this expression?

Quote Investigator: There is no substantive evidence that Einstein ever made a remark of this type about bees. Alice Calaprice, the editor of the important collection “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein”, placed the saying in the “Probably Not by Einstein” section of her reference. 1

The earliest evidence known to QI of a connection between Einstein and disastrous environmental scenarios caused by the disappearance of bees was published in the “Canadian Bee Journal” in 1941: 2

If I remember well, it was Einstein who said: “Remove the bee from the earth and at the same stroke you remove at least one hundred thousand plants that will not survive.”

QI has located no supporting evidence that Einstein made the remark above. Instead, QI has determined that a statement of this type was made by the major literary figure Maurice Maeterlinck in his work “The Life of the Bee” in 1901. The saying was widely disseminated in the decades afterwards. Details are given further below.

In 1966 “The Irish Beekeeper” published a comment ascribed to Einstein that presented the grim four year time limit for humanity. The journal cited a 1965 issue of a French periodical for beekeepers called “Abeilles et Fleurs” for justification of the attribution. This is the earliest evidence known to QI of a connection between Einstein who died in 1955 and the dire time limit: 3

Professor Einstein, the learned scientist, once calculated that if all bees disappeared off the earth, four years later all humans would also have disappeared.
Abeilles et fleurs, June, 1965.

Below is a selected chronological sequence of citations that attempt to roughly outline the evolution of this expression and its conceptual formation. Because this task is difficult and the available information is fragmentary this entry is lengthy. QI is indebted to the pioneering research of Bonnie Taylor-Blake and Ray Girvan who explored this topic and located many important citations including the two given previously.

Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 2010, The Ultimate Quotable Einstein, Edited by Alice Calaprice, Section: Probably Not by Einstein, Page 479, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1941 January, Canadian Bee Journal, Volume 49, Number 1, Comments From Quebec by Ernest A. Fortin, Start Page 12, Quote Page 13, Publisher: J. and M. Atkinson, St. Catharines, Ontario. (Verified with scans; Great thanks to Terry Garey and Dennis Lien and the University of Minnesota library system)
  3. 1966 April, The Irish Beekeeper: An Beachaire, Volume 20, Number 4, Section: News From Abroad by Mrs. G. V. Poulton, Which Queens Are The Best? Quote Page 74, Column 2, Published by The Federation of Irish Beekeeping Associations. (Verified with scans; thanks to John McChesney-Young and the University of California, Berkeley library system)

Darwinism: Let Us Hope It is Not True, But If It is, Let Us Pray It Does Not Become Widely Known

Wife of the Bishop of Worcester? Wife of the Bishop of Birmingham? Wife of Samuel Wilberforce? Wife of an English Canon? A Decorous Spinster? Fictional?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a remarkable quotation that dramatically highlights the controversial intersection between science and religion in the nineteenth century. The words were attributed to a Bishop’s wife in an anecdote in the book “Origins” by the paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and the science writer Roger Lewin: 1

On hearing, one June afternoon in 1860, the suggestion that mankind was descended from the apes, the wife of the Bishop of Worcester is said to have exclaimed, ‘My dear, descended from the apes! Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us pray that it will not become generally known.’ As it turns out, she need not have been quite so worried: we are not descended from the apes, though we do share a common ancestor with them. Even though the distinction may have been too subtle to offer her much comfort, it is nevertheless important.

This mordant tale has always deeply impressed me. So, I was rather confused when I came across another version of the anecdote from Nicholas Humphrey, a Professor at the London School of Economics: 2

When, in the 1880s, the Bishop of Birmingham’s wife received information that Charles Darwin was claiming that human beings were descended from monkeys, she is reported to have said to her husband, ‘My dear, let us hope it is not true; but, if it is true, let us hope it will not become generally known.’

Worcester or Birmingham? 1860 or 1880s? Could you resolve these discrepancies and find the historically accurate version of this quote? My research only left me more puzzled.

Quote Investigator: QI believes that this popular, colorful, and didactic tale is apocryphal. When QI began exploring this quotation he quickly located another inconsistent version of the story in a book titled “The Altruistic Species” which mentions “the famous response of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce’s wife upon learning of Darwin’s theory: ‘Let us hope it is not true, but if it is, let us hope it does not become widely known'”. 3

Samuel Wilberforce was a well-known orator who engaged in a famous debate concerning evolution at Oxford. He was the Bishop of Oxford and then of Winchester, but he was never the Bishop of Worcester or Birmingham. 4

Charles Darwin’s monumental work On the Origin of Species was published in 1859. QI has located no evidence for the existence of this quotation in the 1860s, 1870s, or 1880s. The earliest citation known to QI appeared in an 1893 text titled “Verbum Dei: The Yale Lectures on Preaching”. In this volume a variant of the quote appeared within a lecture written by a British pastor named Robert Forman Horton. The words were attributed to a spinster and not to a married woman: 5

The Church swarms with people who have no spiritual sinew, and whose lungs cannot breathe the invigorating air of Truth: they take up the cry of that timid and decorous spinster who, on hearing an exposition of the Darwinian theory that men are descended from apes, said, “Let us hope it is not true, or if it is, let us hush it up.”

QI believes that this basic anecdote was incrementally transformed over many decades to generate multiple modern instantiations of the story. The details of these tales change over time, but they do not appear to be based on firm historical evidence.

Conceivably there exists a diary entry or newspaper account that is contemporaneous with the 1860s or 1880s, but QI has not yet found it. None of the modern accounts examined by QI provide citations to data of the relevant period. The preponderance of evidence indicates that current narratives for this tale have been heavily fictionalized.

Here is a selected subset of citations arranged in chronological order.
Continue reading

Notes:

  1. 1977, Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal About the Emergence of our Species and Its Possible Future by Richard E. Leakey and Roger Lewin, Page 21, E. P. Dutton, New York. (Verified on paper)
  2. 1996 (UK Publish 1995), Leaps of Faith: Science, Miracles, and the Search for Supernatural Consolation by Nicholas Humphrey, Page 7, BasicBooks Division of HarperCollins, New York. (Verified on paper)
  3. 2007, The Altruistic Species: Scientific, Philosophical, and Religious Perspectives of Human Benevolence” by Andrew Michael Flescher and Daniel L. Worthen, Page 130, Templeton Foundation Press, Philadelphia and London. (Verified on paper)
  4. 2006, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church Ed. E. A. Livingstone, “Wilberforce, Samuel”, Oxford University Press. (Oxford Reference Online; Accessed 2011 February 7)
  5. 1893, Verbum Dei: The Yale Lectures on Preaching by Robert Forman Horton, Lecture IV: The Bible and the Word of God, Page 132, Macmillan and Co., New York and London. (Google Books full view) link

The Creator Has an Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Charles Darwin? J.B.S. Haldane? Apocryphal? Anonymous?

darwinbeetles76Dear Quote Investigator: I have been studying rain forests and came across the following passage in a New York Times article [NYFB]:

Charles Darwin surmised that the Creator must be inordinately fond of beetles: the earth is home to some 30 million different species of them.

The phrase “inordinately fond of beetles” makes me chuckle, and I can imagine the creator carefully designing each beetle. But I have read The Voyage of the Beagle and this phrase does not sound like something that Darwin would say. Could you investigate this phrase?

Quote Investigator: Your suspicions of the Darwin attribution are justified. The most likely originator of the saying was another biologist named J.B.S. Haldane. But the words “possibly apocryphal” appear even in the earliest citation.

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