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Ben?s Birthday, Our Present

Rice University physicist Neal Lane penned linkurl:an interesting op-ed;http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/3590974.html in the __Houston Chronicle__ today. On the occasion of Benjamin Franklin?s 300th birthday, Lane asks (and takes a stab at answering) the question, what would Ben make of this whole intelligent design hubbub While unquestionably a man of God, Franklin reveled in science. Lane writes that Franklin would most certainly have cut any purported ID theorist a fai

By | January 17, 2006

Rice University physicist Neal Lane penned linkurl:an interesting op-ed;http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/3590974.html in the __Houston Chronicle__ today. On the occasion of Benjamin Franklin?s 300th birthday, Lane asks (and takes a stab at answering) the question, what would Ben make of this whole intelligent design hubbub While unquestionably a man of God, Franklin reveled in science. Lane writes that Franklin would most certainly have cut any purported ID theorist a fair switch: **?Were Franklin alive today, he would undoubtedly attest that evolution is a fact in the same way that gravitation and electromagnetism are facts. The same scientific method was used to understand all three aspects of nature. Early hypotheses become theories. Theories are subjected to rigorous experimental testing, and factual descriptions emerge. For centuries, that's how people, including Franklin, have advanced their understanding of how nature works.?** With Franklin?s character and scientists? easy affinity for the statesman/scientist, such a statement is easy to make but hard to back up. That said, perhaps Lane?s comments are more than a good guess. In preparation for Bennie?s birthday, I walked over to the linkurl:American Philosophical Society;http://www.amphilsoc.org/ a few weeks ago to look at some of the correspondence between Franklin and Erasmus Darwin, physician, poet, scientist, philosopher, lawyer, and grandfather to Charles Darwin. APS has three original letters from ED to BF and one reproduced letter penned by Franklin (who has much neater handwriting). Darwin, nearly 25 years Franklin?s younger, was a close and dedicated friend, and the fondness between each man in their discussions of science is apparent from the writing. Only today did I realize I had retraced the steps of L. Hussakof who picked up on exactly the same thing in a linkurl:brief article;http://adsabs.harvard.edu/cgi-bin/nph-bib_query?bibcode=1916Sci....43..773H&db_key=GEN&data_type=HTML&format= for __Science__ written in 1916. One can?t be certain whether Franklin would have been swayed by Charles Darwin?s arguments and his early evidence for evolution, published more than 60 years after Franklin?s death. Although there are shades of what could be perceived as nepotism ? Erasmus thanks Ben for the kind treatment of his son Robert (Charles? Father) while in France ? Franklin would have likely picked up shades Charles Darwin?s revolutionary hypotheses from Erasmus. At about the age of 60, Erasmus published volume I of __Zoonomia: or the laws of organic life__ which contained an extensive chapter on what could only be considered evolutionary theory. According to a linkurl:biographical lecture;http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/entrez/query.fcgi?cmd=Retrieve&db=PubMed&list_uids=11619941&dopt=Abstract for the Royal Society by Desmond King-Hele the ideas had begun to ferment more than 2 decades earlier when Erasmus was called to identify some bones and realized that they came from species no longer extant. He imagined a chain of descent from simpler organisms and indeed a single simple ancestor from which all species came. He even changed his coat of arms to read __E Conchis Omnia__ or ?everything from shells.? Due to some ridicule, he held off on publishing anything about it until he deemed himself too old to be worried about the backlash. That Franklin and Erasmus were lifelong friends certainly does speak to a potential for some cross pollination of the earliest evolutionary thought with one of the greatest American thinkers. Alas, the only thing I have beyond speculation is this quote from 1735?s linkurl:__Poor Richard Almanac__;http://usinfo.state.gov/usa/infousa/facts/loa/bfcont.htm. **?Old Maids lead Apes there, where the old Batchelors are turn'd to Apes.?**

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