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Excerpts from Born to Rebel (1996) by Frank J. Sulloway Approximately fifteen months after Darwin had begun his formal inquiry [in early 1837] into the transmutation of species, he happened across Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) . . . Part of Darwin’s genius was to realize that these Malthusian principles applied to all populations, not just to human beings . . . Darwin spent the next fifteen years publishing his scientific results from the Beagle voyage . . . Darwin did take time out, in 1842, to write a 35-page sketch of his evolutionary theory. Two years later [in 1844] he expanded this sketch into a 230page essay. He also took the precaution of writing a letter to his wife asking her to arrange publication of his essay in case of his premature death . . . It was not until 1854 that Darwin began to work on his “Big Book,” Natural Selection. The writing of this evolutionary treatise was interrupted in July 1858 when a stunned Darwin received a brief manuscript from Alfred Russell Wallace, sent from Malaysia. Wallace’s essay contained the same theory of natural selection that Darwin had developed some twenty years earlier! Like Darwin, Wallace had found the evidence of geographic distribution, especially from the Malay Archipelago, a powerful argument for evolution. Joint honor for the theory was assured for both discoverers by the amicable publication of Wallace’s manuscript together with extracts from Darwin’s essay of 1844. The resulting announcement of their theory by the prestigious Linnean Society of London created surprisingly little stir . . . Following the reading at the Linnean Society of their joint papers, Darwin felt the necessity of bolstering his ideas with additional evidence. Instead of finishing his big book, which was only half written, he hastened to get a briefer version of his argument into print. This work appeared in November 1859 as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. The Origin was indeed “the book that shook the world” and it inaugurated perhaps the most important revolution in the history of modern science. Most of Darwin’s contemporary readers were appalled by the conclusions of his book. Louis Agassiz, who was generally considered the world’s most eminent living naturalist in 1859, blasted Darwin’s theory as “a scientific mistake, untrue in its facts, unscientific in its method, and mischievous in its tendency.” Darwin’s old geology teacher, Cambridge University professor Adam Sedgwick, wrote to him in bitter dismay: “I have read your book with more pain than pleasure . . . Parts I read with absolute sorrow, because I think them utterly false and grievously mischievous . . .” Pierre Flourens, the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences, devoted a whole book to refuting Darwin’s theory. “What unclear ideas, what false ideas!” he exhorted. “What metaphysical jargon clumsily hurled into natural history! What pretentious and empty language! What childish and out-ofdate personifications! . . . Oh French stability of mind, where art thou?” . . . In 1872, a year before his death, Louis Agassiz decided to retrace Darwin’s footsteps in South America as a critical test of Darwin’s evolutionary claims. Agassiz was so convinced that evolution could not be true that he managed to find facts for the Galapagos to support this viewpoint . . . These and other contemporary reactions to Darwin’s evidence for evolution tell us something important: No matter how compelling this evidence was in Darwin’s mind, it was not convincing to others. This circumstance underscores the deep-seated ideological commitments that most naturalists were unwilling to abandon. Such commitments included a belief in a constant world, the theory of Design, and the presumption of man’s unique status in the Creation. The diverse reactions to Darwin’s evidence for evolution underscore an important principle about science. “Facts” in science do not speak for themselves but assume their meaning based on theoretical and ideological commitments. The practice and beliefs of scientists are embedded in a greater social context . . . . Reception of the Origin of Species illustrates another important phenomenon. Individual attitudes toward Darwin’s theories varied enormously. For every diehard critic of evolution who could not see the light, just as many zealous converts found it hard to believe that they had not come around sooner. Thomas Henry Huxley’s famous line, upon first mastering the central idea of the Origin, comes to mind: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” Similarly, Hewett Cottrell Watson, who had become an evolutionist in the 1830s, wrote to Darwin shortly after reading the Origin: “You are the greatest revolutionist in natural history in this century, if not all centuries . . . Now [that] these novel views are brought fairly before the public, it seems truly remarkable how so many of them could have failed to see their right road sooner.” Watson’s perceptive observation reinforces my basic point. What made Darwin a revolutionary thinker was not facts but rather a certain type of personality—a revolutionary personality . . . [12-18] 1) In these excerpts, what are the author’s major points about the nature of science? 2) From your reading so far, do you agree with the claim that Charles Darwin was a “revolutionary personality” or not? Explain, give evidence.