Dr. Bert, Darwin & Blyth!
- You may recall Dr. Bert making references to natural selection being a
"creationist" (Blyth) thing before Darwin. I found the following
article without much trouble that might give a little bit better insight
into the matter than did Dr. Bert's efforts. It is from the TalkOrigins
Darwin's Precursors and Influences
by John Wilkins
4. Natural selection
Theories not unlike natural selection have been around for a while.
In the "Historical Sketch" Darwin admitted that he, and Richard Owen who
claimed priority after the Origin was published (as was his wont), had
been pre-empted by two writers, Patrick Matthew in 1831, and William
Charles Wells in 1813, published in 18183.
Darwin had read neither, as Wells' views were solely applied to human
races, and Matthew's were presented in an appendix to a work on naval
Neither author developed their views further, and Darwin clearly
deserves credit for the global applicability of selection as a mechanism
Edward Blyth had also published a natural selection theory in 1837, but
he argued against transmutation of species because if it occurred it
would destroy species' integrity: "we should seek in vain for those
constant and invariable distinctions which are found to obtain".
As de Beer says, it is unlikely that Darwin was indebted to him if his
views were so opposed to Darwin's.
Darwin had read Blyth, but not until after his own formulation, and
Blyth later became a valued and constant correspondent of Darwin's.
If he felt that Darwin had, as Eiseley claimed, plagiarised natural
selection from him, he would not have become such a strong friend and
supporter of Darwinian evolution.
In sum, while there were precursors, it can be fairly concluded that
Darwin was not either plagiarising or directly influenced by anyone who
had proposed natural selection as an explanation of adaptation in living
Footnote: Eiseley's argument that Darwin had borrowed from Blyth based
on of a similarity in terminology has been disproven, on the grounds
that Darwin used the term before he could have read Blyth, and because
Darwin had clearly developed some of the focal planks of his theory by
that point, observations made in rebuttal by Beddall 1972 and 1973 and
Schwartz 1974 to Eiseley's claims 4 to 6 years before his literary
executors reissued his earlier essays. See also Ospovat. The Eiseley
view is repeated on the web at this site. Gould says something about
this that is worth repeating, and I am indebted to a respondent named
Seth Jackson for bringing it to my attention:
"The following kind of incident has occurred over and over again, ever
since Darwin. An evolutionist, browsing through some pre-Darwinian tome
in natural history, comes upon a description of natural selection. Aha,
he says; I have found something important, a proof that Darwin wasn't
original. Perhaps I have even discovered a source of direct and
nefarious pilfering by Darwin! In the most notorious of these claims,
the great anthropologist and writer Loren Eiseley thought that he had
detected such an anticipation in the writings of Edward Blyth. Eiseley
laboriously worked through the evidence that Darwin had read (and used)
Blyth's work and, making a crucial etymological mistake along the way
(Gould, 1987c), finally charged that Darwin may have pinched the central
idea for his theory from Blyth. He published his case in a long article
(Eiseley, 1959), later expanded by his executors into a posthumous
volume entitled "Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X" (1979)."
Yes, Blyth had discussed natural selection, but Eiseley didn't realize;
thus committing the usual and fateful error in this common line of
argument – that all good biologists did so in the generations
before Darwin. Natural selection ranked as a standard item in biological
discourse – but with a crucial difference from Darwin's version:
the usual interpretation invoked natural selection as part of a larger
argument for created permanency. Natural selection, in this negative
formulation, acted only to preserve the type, constant and inviolate, by
eliminating extreme variants and unfit individuals who threatened to
degrade the essence of created form. Paley himself presents the
following variant of this argument, doing so to refute (in later pages)
a claim that modern species preserve the good designs winnowed from a
much broader range of initial creations after natural selection had
eliminated the less viable forms: "The hypothesis teaches, that every
possible variety of being hath, at one time or other, found its way into
existence (by what cause of in what manner is not said), and that those
which were badly formed, perished" (Paley, 1803, pp. 70-71).
Darwin's theory therefore cannot be equated with the simple claim that
natural selection operates. Nearly all his colleagues and predecessors
accepted this postulate. Darwin, in his characteristic and radical way,
grasped that this standard mechanism for preserving the type could be
inverted, and then converted into the primary cause of evolutionary
change. Natural selection obviously lies at the center of Darwin's
theory, but we must recognize, as Darwin's second key postulate, the
claim that natural selection acts as the creative force of evolutionary
change. The essence of Darwinism cannot reside in the mere observation
that natural selection operates - for everyone had long accepted a
negative role for natural selection in eliminating the unfit and
preserving the type."
- I went back and read a little more of what Dr. Bert had to say about
Blyth and Darwin. Dr. Bert appears to give some credence to the idea
that Darwin plagiarized from Blyth.
I don't think Dr. Bert mentions that Blyth reportedly became fond
friends of Darwin's and a supporter of Darwin's views.
Maybe there is yet hope that one day Dr. Bert, Keith Sisman and I will
be able to rally about the truth I have been "preaching" for some time
now! After all, if the "creationist" Blyth can join up with Darwin. . .
- Here's the more complete commentary from Dr. Bert's article (link
previously provided) where he discusses the Blyth factor:
Creationists never have objected to the idea of natural selection as
a mechanism for eliminating the unfit, non-adapted organisms. As a
matter of fact, creationists long before Darwin were advocating
natural selection as a conservation principle.
Few people are aware, apparently, that natural selection was not
Charles Darwin's discovery. A creationist zoologist/chemist by the
name of Edward Blyth (1810-1873) wrote about it in the years between
1835 and 1837, well before Darwin.
Some evolutionists, like the late Loren Eiseley (Benjamin Franklin
Professor of Anthropology and History of Science at the University of
Pennsylvania), even have gone so far as to question the incredible
similarity between Blyth's essays and those of Charles Darwin (1959),
hinting at plagiarism on Darwin's part. Eiseley wrote that "the
leading tenets of Darwin's workthe struggle for existence,
variation, natural selection, and sexual selectionare all fully
expressed in a paper written by Blyth in 1835" (1979, p. 55).
That fact has not been lost on creationists. Ian Taylor, in his book,
In the Minds of Men, discussed Darwin's reading of Patrick Matthew's
1831 essay, Naval Timber and Arboriculture, which in its appendix
contained the phrase "this natural process of selection"a phrase
that Darwin changed slightly to "natural means of selection" and
incorporated into his very first essay, published in 1842 (1984, p.
Browsing around a bit, it does appear there is quite a history to the
controversy over the Blyth factor. Compare the above to the
TalkOrigins article regarding it and Eiseley's work. I suppose the
TalkOrigins article is a fitting response to the numerous efforts by
the "young-earth, creation-science" movement to do as Dr. Bert has
done with the issue. Maybe we will learn more as time goes on.