November 24: Darwin Does Crackers

The Crackers. A dated reference, I know, but it still makes me smile.

Today Darwin shows the difficulty of talking about a subject — in this case genetics — before the jargon for that subject has been fully invented. Generally, of course, jargon is odious, but here, swimming through this prose, I kind of feel the lack of it:
Many laws regulate variation, some few of which can be dimly seen, and will hereafter be briefly discussed. I will here only allude to what may be called correlated variation. Important changes in the embryo or larva will probably entail changes in the mature animal. In monstrosities, the correlations between quite distinct parts are very curious; and many instances are given in Isidore Geoffroy St-Hilaire’s great work on this subject.
Even the use of the term “monstrosities” and the reference to the awesomely-named “Isidore Geoffroy St-Hilaire” fails to cheer. Although there is, later, farmers in Virginia are referred to as “crackers”. I didn’t know Darwin used the term “cracker” like this. No wonder they hated him in Tennessee.

Since I am not qualified to talk about genetics — or even to read about it, apparently — I will only note today how carefully Darwin, here and in the other readings from Origin of Species, builds his case. His detractors have always run around with the Drudge siren on their heads talking about how humans is descended from apples and stuff; but Darwin deliberately dulls it down. He spends a lot of time, here and elsewhere, talking about how gardeners and breeders of domesticated animals go about their business — it’s a “evolution is going on all around you!” argument, but without the childlike wonder that’s always so annoying. And every few paragraphs Darwin kinda casually drops in another reference to some other scientist’s study, in order to sensibly protect himself from appearing like a crackpot. You got a problem with Darwin? Then you also have a problem with Isidore Geoffroy St.-Hilaire. And that’s not a name you mess with, my friends.


Lisa Simeone said...

. . . Isidore Geoffroy St.-Hilaire. And that’s not a name you mess with, my friends.

That's what John McCain used to say.