Saturday, September 19, 2009

Erasmus Darwin and those pesky little critters in the stones

I was doing my usual aerobic gardening work today --I had 8 tons of boulders delivered to the house the other day and I spent the day today breaking them into smaller pieces to border some beds and paths I am building. That sure is hard work. The sledging just gets you real quick, but it's the lifting and hauling the resultant pieces that absolutely does you in. I got about 3 tons broken and moved today in about 6 hours.

What is interesting is the kind of rock it is. It is local field stone. Looks like some was coral a long time ago and the rest is some sort of igneous type rock. Neither of these rocks break real easy. Call me prejudiced, but I would take the good old Connecticut potatoes any day of the week over this stuff out here. I really like the field stones out in Connecticut. So much so, that I brought some of them out here with me when we moved here. The movers weren't too happy about that. One of the rocks is about 600 lbs.

Anyway, there I was breaking open these rocks and you could see that there were these animal fossils preserved in some of them. Nothing to write home about, but still, there they were. My mind went to a passage I read somewhere in one of the Joseph Priestley books I had read that Erasmus Darwin had also been intrigued by the fossils he was finding in the rocks. Don't forget that in that (mid 18th century England) epoch it was still believed by Western culture that the Earth had been created by God some 6,000 or so years ago. The fossils don't fit in real well with that theory. Darwin (this is Charles' grandfather) was on the right path. He was convinced that the history of the Earth was far greater than that postulated by the Church. What Erasmus did not get, though, but his grandson Charles would, was that these primordial creatures would some day 'evolve' into all the living things that we see on the Earth today.

It is very humbling to think of how creative and observant these early scientists of the Age of Enlightenment were. And, they were so brave to tell the world about it in spite of any repercussions that might result from these heretical ideas. We can dismiss this as being obvious, but they did not have the understanding that we now have about the development of the planet.

In fact, Charles Darwin waited many many years after conceptualizing his theories about evolution and natural selection before he ever published his results. He knew that the publication would have profound effects upon the world and would affect the religious deeply because it appeared to contradict the Church's teachings.

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