Long ago I read an anecdote about Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist and zoologist who is credited with having invented the science of taxonomy. The story, which turns out to have been related in a book Jews, God, and History, goes like this:
[Linnaeus] implicitly believed in the theory of special creation as opposed to the theory of evolution. One day, when walking in his garden, he saw a bug which his expert eye told him was a proof for the theory of evolution as against the theory of special creation. Linnaeus stepped on the bug and buried it in the sand. He missed the chance of being Darwin.
I do not know about the chance of being Darwin, and the anecdote is almost certainly apocryphal, but as we know history has a way of repeating itself, sometimes as farce. According to an article by Alice Simmons in the Burnham and Highbridge (UK) Weekly News, Julian Temperly had always known that an ichthyosaurus fossil had been buried in his garden since about 1850. Evidently his ancestors dug it up by mistake while quarrying lime. They were worried that if they revealed the fossil, they would be “denying God,” because “[u]p until then, if you believed in fossils you would be denying the Bible saying God created Day One, and so on,” said Mr. Temperly. He also thought that the vicar would not have been particularly sympathetic.
Whenever Mr. Temperly visited the property as a kid, they “dug it up and were generally amazed.” But after a recent flood, he thought he had better have it cleaned professionally. The fossil is now worth in the neighborhood of £15,000.
Mr. Temperly, a manufacturer of cider brandy, plans to display the fossil and put its image on the labels of their 20-year-old brandy. I will bet that Linnaeus never thought of that.
Acknowledgments. Dan Phelps showed us the link to the article, and Joe Felsenstein miraculously found the source of the Linnaeus myth.