Happy Birthday: Darwin-Malthus and Allen MacNeill


In It’s Darwin-Malthus Day! Allen MacNeill describes the relevance of today’s date

However, what many people don’t know is that today is also a very significant anniversary of a crucial development in Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. On this day in 1838, Darwin

“…happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck [him] that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species.” [Darwin’s Autobiography, page 83]

Happy MacNeill-Darwin-Malthus day

In a future posting PT intends to analyze the accusations raised by some against Darwin regarding Alfred Russell Wallace.


“…happened to read for amusement ‘Malthus on Population,’”
For “amusement”? Reminds me of when I read “The Gulag Archipelago” in high school as a lark. Ah, fun times.

In the PDB series on evolution, the segment illustrating today’s events showed Darwin reading Malthus’ essay on population at his club, with his brother Erasmus commenting that he always read Malthus (Dr. Morpheus”) to put himself to sleep. I would suspect that most people who have read Malthus would agree with tresmal that his Essay on the Principle of Population isn’t what most people would read “for amusement”.

However, Darwin was an exemplar of that most Victorian of “gentlemen scholars”. Being independently wealthy and without needing to for any practical reason, he (like Bayes, Malthus, Ricardo, and most of the other founders of the “dismal science”) not only read technical treatises “for amusement”, he also devoted his life to advancing the state of knowledge in his chosen field.

This, of course, contrasts quite strongly with people like Stephen Meyer and Jonathan Witt of the Discovery Institute, who are paid to produce propaganda, not to advance the state of knowledge in biology, but rather to advance the political fortunes of a bankrupt politico-religious movement whose expressed desire is to suppress any interpretation of reality that disagrees with their narrow-minded and unshakable (not to mention seriously distorted) view of reality. If even one of the people at the Discovery Institute would put just one tenth of the energy into empirical science that they put into propaganda, they might live up to what the authors of the “wedge document” claimed was the primary goal of the soi dissant “intelligent design” movement: research, writing and publication.

According to the wedge document,

”…[research, writing and publication] is the essential component of everything that comes afterward. Without solid scholarship, research and argument, [ID] would be just another attempt to indoctrinate instead of persuade.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Wallace also remarked that “On Population” was critical for his ideas that he put forth in his paper “the tendency for varieties to depart indefinitely from the original type”.

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This page contains a single entry by PvM published on September 28, 2008 9:05 PM.

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