Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Discussion Questions Jy 24

Sandwalk Adventures - we've designated one week for this; you can spend a 2d week on Darwin if you wish, or you can use that time to research and reflect on your final project.*

  • We're reading this because it introduces Darwin and natural selection in a fun and quirky way, and because its focus on his "sandwalk" thinking path makes literally graphic the peripatetic aspect of his thought. Anglo-American minds do tend to be peripatetic. Why do you think walking around in circles is so productive of creative thought, for some of us? Have you tried it yourself? Does that work for you?
  • Do you read graphic novels (we used to call them comic books)? Do you find this format appealing, annoying, or a matter of indifference?
  • Evolution is a subject of notorious misunderstanding and misinformation, particularly in regions of America where science generally is thought to be hostile to religion. Some schools still resist the subject, nearly a century since the Scopes Trial in Dayton TN (see below). Would something like Sandwalk Adventures, suitably presented in an age-appropriate style, be a good way of introducing evolution to children? How should schools address the topic? Should school boards be allowed to dictate curricula?
  • Pick any page of Sandwalk Adventures and explicate some aspect of evolutionary theory mentioned or implied there.
  • The notion that mites in his brow might mistake Darwin for a god is amusing, but serious scholars (Michael Ruse, for instance) have argued that various versions of Darwinism have indeed taken on the trappings of religion. The late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, like Ruse an evolutionist, wrote critically of "Darwinian fundamentalism." Considering that Darwin himself said "the whole subject [of God] is beyond the scope of man's intellect," what would he think of this "Darwinism as religion" phenomenon, and the polemics that have grown up around it? 
  • Do you think a deeper understanding of evolution would bring us closer to "the answers to life's big questions" (assuming the answer is probably not "42")? What are some of those questions? 
  • "How all of this has come to be" is a question Darwin thinks he can answer, but not why. Why not?
  • What's the difference between saying "life shapes itself" and "natural forces shape life"?
  • One of the mites says it's not enough to be told there's been time enough for epochal changes in life to occur gradually, he needs proof or evidence. Are committed believers in specific creation stories typically receptive to evidence that confounds their longstanding convictions? How can we become more receptive to objective truth, and less subject to prejudice and unproved prior conviction?
  • "Why do [we] feel compelled to drape the elegant wonders of nature is a gaudy gown of mumbo-jumbo?"
  • "Species come and go, but life is continuous...we are all connected, and the story of that connection was carved into the stones and strata of the earth": isn't this a story to rival any religion, and isn't it (as Loyal Rue said) "everybody's story"? Why, then, doesn't everybody accept it?
  • Stay tuned
  • Post yours
*Final post due no later than Friday, August 11: 1,000+ words on the relevant Anglo-American topic of your choice. My suggestion: select an additional text, possibly one mentioned on the syllabus or in one of my subsequent posts, or one that you've come across independently, and give us a book report/critique. Try to relate it to as many of our texts, topics, and discussion threads as you can. Remember, a blog post is a less formally constraining medium than a conventional term paper. Have fun with the medium: include links, graphics, videos etc. Also include a final tally of how many runs you're claiming for the summer. Comment on classmates' final posts (remember, each comment is a base & every four bases is another run).
"Darwin evolving" (posted Jy 16)-Don't let me rush you, if you're still thinking about Henry James or, like me, are virtually abroad at the moment. (Today I'm on the  Yorkshire Moors with Charlotte & Emily.)

But if you're ready to look ahead to Darwin (and beyond-it's time to think about your final projects)...

I always love to tell people about my first landlord, an old zoologist at the University of Missouri named Winterton Curtis who was one of the scientific experts not allowed to testify at the Scopes Trial in Dayton TN in 1925. My parents (and I) rented rooms from him in his home, while my Dad attended Veterinary school in the early '60s, and later maintained a cordial friendship with him. He used to visit when I was a kid and pull dollar bills from my ears. My Dad thought that must be why I was always so fascinated by the concept of evolution.

Did you see the new New York Times story on Dayton, Tennessee and its long-overdue civic recognition of Clarence Darrow? Now that would be a timely road-trip. Let me know, seriously.

One guy who did an instructive and entertaining roadtrip to Dayton was Darwin's great-great... grandson Matthew Chapman, whose book Trials of the Monkey I heartily recommend.

Don't miss the chance for a virtual spin (or a few) around the Sandwalk-Charlie used to go round and round, as he puzzled out his Origin of Species.

Down House slideshow from Google Maps...
John Dewey's Influence of Darwin on Philosophy summarizes what a game-changer natural selection was and is. It begins,
THAT the publication of the "Origin of Species " marked an epoch in the development of the natural sciences is well known to the layman. That the combination of the very words origin and species embodied an intellectual revolt and introduced a new intellectual temper is easily overlooked by the expert. The conceptions that had reigned in the philosophy of nature and knowledge for two thousand years, the conceptions that had become the familiar furniture of the mind, rested on the assumption of the superiority of the fixed and final; they rested upon treating change and origin as signs of defect and unreality. In laying hands upon the sacred ark of absolute permanency, in treating the forms that had been regarded as types of fixity and perfection as originating and passing away, the "Origin of Species " introduced a mode of thinking that in the end was bound to transform the logic of knowledge, and hence the treatment of morals, politics, and religion...

William James, who was as good a friend of religion as philosophy ever had, said "I believe myself to be (probably) permanently incapable of believing the Christian scheme of vicarious salvation, and wedded to a more continuously evolutionary mode of thought."

And, here's an exciting new book making the case for Darwin's huge impact in 19th century America. Thoreau and Emerson were among those most profoundly impacted.

Also worth a look, in this vein, is the Darwin-Lincoln connection. They shared a birthday, and a "sacred cause"...
If you like the graphic format, there's
One of the best accounts of the Scopes Trial is
The Darwin bibliography is immense, but here are just a few more titles that have caught my attention lately:
Darwin's "a better storyteller than you thought"... as Loyal Rue says, he's telling "Everybody's Story"...

"As long ago as the early twentieth century, the shared birthday of Darwin and Lincoln seemed central enough to an idea of liberal democratic civilization to have inspired a proposal for a binational, transatlantic holiday: the birthday of the two, ..."

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