Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Darwinathon in Oklahoma

Yesterday, November 2, 2009, the University of Oklahoma hosted a "Darwinathon" which was twelve uninterrupted hours of fifteen-minute presentations, mostly about evolution. All the presenters except me were from the OU faculty. It was an intellectually stimulating event. I learned a lot from the talks I attended. When scientists are constrained to fifteen minutes, and when they are told to speak to a general audience, they can be very clear, delightful, and passionate. It was a place to see what an exciting adventure science is.

I gave my presentation ("Darwin never knew how right he was") in my Darwin costume. One question I got at the end was why I (Darwin) had not understood the importance of Gregor Mendel's discovery of heredity, even though I (Darwin) had read it. (Mendel was the Austrian monk who discovered inheritance patterns of genes.) I pointed out that he had also read mine, and not understood its importance. Then I pointed out that Mendel became an administrator in his monastery, after which time he never again had an original thought.

It is not quite right to say that the University of Oklahoma sponsored the Darwinathon. It was the scientists, led by Drs. Ingo Schlupp and Rich Broughton. The student newspaper, infiltrated by creationists, ignored the event, which was attended by (usually) no more than 20 or 30. The creationists presumably did not want people to know that we scientists have evidence for our claims and that we are really nice people. They want people to think we are angry haters of religion. All we can do is to keep up our speaking, writing, and educating. Eventually the truth may prevail.


  1. "One question I got at the end was why I (Darwin) had not understood the importance of Gregor Mendel's discovery of heredity, even though I (Darwin) had read it."

    I think you considered Mendel's results to be a special case, with no general significance. You emphasized small variations, notwithstanding Huxley's urging not to ignore saltation.

    From our modern perspective you were right, of course: non-functional alleles on different chromosomes, so no linkage, polygenesis, or epistasis. DeVries took Mendel straight, and produced a theory that got selected out.

  2. Did Darwin actually read Mendel's work? I have read that Mendel's paper was found in Darwin's library, but with the pages of the reprint uncut (unopened), indicating that Darwin had not read it.

  3. I had heard that Mendel was at least passingly familiar with Darwin's work, but I hadn't heard before that Darwin was familiar with Mendel's work.

  4. It turns out, according to Janet Brown, who spoke recently at OU and is the recognized authority on Darwin's life, that Darwin did not read Mendel. There was a book in Darwin's library that discussed Mendel's work, but the pages were uncut - thus unread by Darwin.