Charles Darwin was born in 1809 and died in 1882. He is famous for his theory of evolution, even though Darwin did not himself invent the idea. He published his controversial “On the Origin of Species” in 1859. Yet conservative revisionist (we should simply call him “inventor” instead) David Barton says that the authors of the Constitution “had the entire debate” over evolution – somehow managing to do this 72 years before Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species and 13 years before Lamarck introduced the idea of evolution to the world.
We knew the Founding Fathers were incredible but c’mon! I mean, are you serious?
“As far as the Founding Fathers were concerned, they’d already had the entire debate over creation and evolution, and you get Thomas Paine, who is the least religious Founding Father, saying you’ve got to teach Creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that.”
But that’s not true. I know this comes as no surprise to sane people, but for the umpteenth time, David Barton is lying.
I went back in time, so to speak, to an address given on February 22, 1876. In the “Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia,” we find that Professor Cope gave a history of the “progress of the doctrine of evolution of animal and vegetable types.” The Proceedings go on to note that “While Darwin has been its prominent advocate within the last few years, it was first presented to the scientific worked, in a rational form, by Lamarck of Paris, at the commencement of the present century.”
“The commencement of the present century” would be, for the record, the 11th of May 1800, or in the Revolutionary calendar of France, the 21st day of Floreal, Year VIII. The presentation was in the form of a lecture he presented at the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle (by the way, the term biology was not coined until 1802 – again by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck).
Thus we have a year: 1800.
The Founding Fathers agreed on the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The U.S. Constitution, the document Barton uses as his touchstone, was adopted on the 17th of September, 1787, by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lamarck didn’t give the world the idea of evolution until 13 years after the Constitutional Convention. It was thus impossible for the Founding Fathers to have “already had the entire debate over creation and evolution.” You can’t debate something that hasn’t been introduced yet as a theory.
As Professor Cope pointed out in 1876, the theory of evolution, even when it was introduced, did not come into the world fully developed. We have, in 1800, Lamarck introducing it but as Cope pointed out to his audience, Lamarck “found the variations of species to be the primary evidence of evolution by descent.” It was left to Darwin to enunciate “the law of ‘natural selection’ as a result of the struggle for existence, in accordance with which ‘the fittest’ only survive.”
In between these two giants of science was, as Cope puts it, the “adverse influence” of Curvier, who made the whole endeavor “dormant for half a century.” He was speaking of Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric Cuvier, a French naturalist and zoologist and a man utterly against the “doctrine” of evolution. Cuvier said of Lamarck’s theory of evolution that it,
“rested on two arbitrary suppositions; the one, that it is the seminal vapor which organizes the embryo; the other, that efforts and desires may engender organs. A system established on such foundations may amuse the imagination of a poet; a metaphysician may derive from it an entirely new series of systems; but it cannot for a moment bear the examination of anyone who has dissected a hand, a viscus, or even a feather.”
Cuvier, as unreasonably dogmatic as Barton but far better educated, died in 1832. Darwin published “On the Origin of Species” in 1859.
Wayne M. Getz writes that,
Today certain specific theories of evolution, such as Lamarckian evolution, have been largely discredited. Others, such as intelligent design, have been debunked as unscientific (whatever the outcome of past or future court cases on the content of school biology texts).
He goes on to note that the “theory” of evolution is no unified theory as it was for Lamarck and Darwin, who’s theories were “constituted primarily at a single level of analysis—that of the individual organism.” It is much more involved today:
Current evolutionary theory underpins a scientific field of study supported by all branches of biology, from molecular genetics to ecology. Practitioners address questions regarding the lineages of molecules, genes, physiological and behavioral adaptations, individuals, extended phenotypes, and species, with a focus on how the differential survival and reproduction of individuals within interbreeding groups leads over time to the creation of biological diversity. Progress is made in this field by collecting or generating genetic, physiological, ontological, morphological, and behavioral data from living, dead, and fossilized individuals, as well as developing theories at several different levels of analysis. Among the most important applications of these theories is the use of principles such as parsimony or maximum likelihood to construct phylogenetic trees that represent our best understanding of lineage relationships among extant and extinct species.
Getz argues that the term “theory of evolution” should be set aside:
By removing “the theory of evolution” from our lexicon, we ultimately ensure that the lay public is not misled into believing evolution can be discredited by a specific group of facts that bear on only one facet of the substantial, scientifically entrenched body of knowledge that constitutes the scientific field of evolution.
In other words, contrary to what Barton claims, evolution is more a scientific certainty today than in 1800 or in 1859. Even had the Founding Fathers discussed evolution (which as we have shown is an impossibility), forcing the United States of 2011 to abide by a level of scientific knowledge outdated by 224 years, is, to be blunt, insane.
It’s an insane sort of logic, after all. Once upon a time people thought the world was flat. Because they thought so, we should think so too? Because people once thought the earth was the center of the universe, we should believe that too? Discredited ideas properly go the way of the buffalo, and we, as a species, move on. Evolve, so to speak. But that goes against David Barton’s religion, so it can’t be true.
David Barton, historical inventor, is either as dumb as a box of hammers or as dishonest as the day is long. Take your pick.