Tag Archives: Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin and his way of thinking

Charles Darwin achieved the most important breakthrough in the annals of scientific thinking with the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. But Darwin did not see himself as a great intellect or even a particularly clever person.

His self-awareness was not the product of humility, as Shane Parrish points out in a short but insightful article on his blog Farnham Street. Rather, it came from a devotion to understanding reality.

He had possibly the most valuable trait in any sort of thinker: A passionate interest in understanding reality and putting it in useful order in his head. This “Reality Orientation” is hard to measure and certainly does not show up on IQ tests, but probably determines, to some extent, success in life.

Parrish highlights Darwin’s way of looking at the world, his method of knowledge acquisition, and his attitude toward himself as the reasons for his ability to achieve the scientific breakthrough of natural selection.

Darwin, with a passion that was extraordinary, sought information that would challenge his beliefs and impressions. He welcome evidence that would change his mind or refine his beliefs.

Parrish’s article takes about six minutes to read and is well worth it. If you read it, you’ll be thinking about it for a while.

Charles Darwin’s plan for Origin of Species – and his luck

It helps to have a plan. It also helps to have luck.

Charles Darwin had both.

In fact, Paul Johnson, one of Darwin’s many biographers (Darwin: Portrait of a Genius), calls Darwin the luckiest man of his age.

The luck

Darwin’s stokes of luck began when he was born into a wealthy family — the kind of wealth that would free him to pursue his scientific research without worrying about feeding and housing himself or his family. Darwin came of age when science and scientists were creating new foundations for human knowledge, and many people were participating in building these foundations with avid enthusiasm. Darwin became part of this movement and exhibited a demeanor and temperament that attracted people to him.

Charles Darwin

He took great care in developing those friendships. One of the many friendships was with Sir Charles Lyell, a geologist whose book The Principles of Geology (1832), argued that scientific evidence showed that the earth, without any doubt whatsoever, was thousands, maybe millions, of years old. Such an argument flew directly in the face of Biblical scholars and theologians who had used the Old Testament to set the time of creation as occurring only about four to six thousand years before.

Over the years, Lyell became aware of the work that Darwin was doing, and he — as had others in Darwin’s retinue — urged him to publish his work identifying natural selection as the process whereby living organisms evolved.

But Darwin hesitated. He feared the rejection of his ideas by his colleagues, and he feared the reaction of Emma Darwin, his devout and devoted wife. (See The Three Fears of Charles Darwin, an earlier post of JPROF.com.)

Then came what biographer Johnson called “the greatest stroke of good fortune” in Darwin’s “remarkably lucky life.” (p.76)

Darwin received a letter and manuscript from Alfred Russel Wallace, a scientific researcher who was looking at natural life in the Pacific. Wallace was coming to the same conclusion that Darwin had reached — that the method of evolution was natural selection. Darwin shared Wallace’s correspondence with Lyell. The geologist knew that Darwin had written a paper about natural selection that pre-dated Wallace’s manuscript. Lyell and other friends of Darwin arranged to have both Darwin’s and Wallace’s manuscript read together at a scientific meeting, thus establishing that Darwin was first with the idea.

The meeting itself drew little notice, and the audience had difficulty in understanding the meaning and significance of the paper, but the record was there.

Wallace’s correspondence was what spurred Darwin to write Origin of Species. Darwin had envisioned a multivolume work that would be published over several years. Wallace’s work precluded that — another lucky stroke for Darwin. Origin of Species was a well-written, tightly argued, and thoroughly understandable book when it came out in November 1859.

The plan

Darwin’s basic marketing plan, according to Johnson, was to let others promote the book while never appearing to do so himself. He planned to be drafted into immortality. And so he was.

Darwin had studied the work on many others as he was developing his theory, and he referred to their work with generous praise in his book. It is difficult to criticize the work of a man who praises your own. Besides, Darwin had many genuine admirers, among them Charles Lyell, of course, who held a public meeting to announce the publication of the book and to explain its significance. Asa Gray at Harvard was Darwin’s chief American supporter, and he did the same thing even before the book was available in America. In addition, he wrote a long review of the book for Atlantic Monthly magazine, one of the most influential publications in the country. Darwin had the review reprinted and distributed in Great Britain.

Given the nature of the book and the controversy it stirred up — and continues to engender more than a century and a half later — Origin of Species attracted little hostility in the first months of its publication.

That would come later.

By then, Darwin was where he wanted to be. He was the world’s most eminent scientist.



The fears of Charles Darwin; Typhoid Mary; installing the bees: newsletter, April 6, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,171) on Friday, April 6, 2018.

Planting the garden was the first order of business on the farm this week. After I had completed the tilling last week, we had some more rain, so the planting did not begin on Good Friday, as is our usual custom. But we did manage to get in some beans and broadcast some buckwheat. It always feels good to do some planting. You never know what will happen.

And speaking of never knowing, I installed three new hives of bees last week. More on that below. You never know about them either.

So, these past few days have been fun for me. I hope the same can be said for you.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


The fears of Charles Darwin

In the late 1850s, Charles Darwin was haunted by three fears. The first two kept him from completing is world-altering book, Origin of Species. The third spurred him to finish it.

Darwin feared what his colleagues would think of his work; more specifically, he feared that it would be dismissed as irrelevant. His second fear was his wife Emma. She was a highly religious woman, and his scientific work — as well as that of fellow scientists — was being increasingly challenged by the Church of England — just as those scientists were challenging the position of the church as the primary arbiter of truth.

The third of Darwin’s fears was that he thought he might get scooped. That fear came rushing through the door in the form of a letter and manuscript that arrived at his house in the late spring of 1858. It caused Darwin to begin writing a concise, coherent argument for his idea that evolution occurred through natural selection. A year and a half later, he was finished and Origin of Species was published.

You can read more about all of this in this post on JPROF.com.


Major League Baseball teams with Facebook

Major League Baseball got together with Facebook for an interesting first this week: It was the first time MLB had broadcast a live game only on Facebook. There are several more such games scheduled throughout the season. (See the post I did on JPROF.com for the schedule.) So, why is this interesting?

Facebook is a social media platform, not a broadcast network. It’s not ESPN or MLB.TV or one of the local stations that carry the games of the local teams. There’s a different audience there — an interactive audience. Indeed, the broadcast was set up to allow viewers to comment, to respond, to chat with their friends about the game, the players, the weather conditions anything and everything. This may or may not be good for baseball or for Facebook, but it’s different and interesting.

And it’s something new for Facebook, too. Is Facebook morphing into something more than a social media platform? Will it start producing and broadcasting its own programming, ala Amazon? Given Facebook’s current public relations problems, I wouldn’t be surprised at any of this.


Typhoid Mary

Typhoid Mary is not just an expression, and she’s not a ghost from some mysterious past. She was a real person who lived in the 20th century and whose story is a sad one. Her name was Mary Mallon. She lived and worked in New York City during the first decade of the 20th century. She was a cook, and during those first years of the new century, she worked in the homes of a number of wealthy families.

Seven of those families suffered typhoid outbreaks, and in 1906 she was named by public health officials as the cause. She never had typhoid or suffered any symptoms, but she was a carrier.

She was quarantined in 1906 and released four years later after promising she would not work as a cook again. Soon thereafter she disappeared. Five years later, public health officials were again investigating an outbreak of typhoid at a New York hospital when they discovered she had been working there as a cook under a different name. Again, she was quarantined, but this time it was for 23 years — the remainder of her life.

Mallon was born in Ireland in 1869 and came to the U.S. when she was a teenager. She is thought to be the cause of several thousand people contracting typhoid during her working years, and some of those people died. According to the National Institutes of Health, no one ever explained to her the significance of being a carrier of the disease. She eventually accepted her confinement and took solace in her religion. 



The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

Amazon Gift Card raffle. Here’s a chance to win an Amazon gift card worth $100 with which to do some spring shopping. All you have to do is sign in (if you’ve use rafflecopter.com before, you may not even have to do that). You will get yourself on some author mailing lists, but you can always unsubscribe if you prefer. https://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/ad6cea034/


Installing the bees

For about a decade now I have been keeping bees, and one of the most exciting times in the life of a beekeeper is when you get to install a new hive of bees. That happened for us this week as we picked up three new packages of bees and put them into hives. A standard “package” of bees is a box with three pounds of bees (about 10,000 bees) inside. Also inside is a queen in a separate small cage.

So, how do you persuade the bees to go into the hives that you have prepared for them? Well, you pour them in — literally.

To see this process, watch this three-minute YouTube video that I posted several years ago. https://youtu.be/hmHFjyYO0cE

Next week I’ll tell you more about what was going on in the video and how we get the hives going.



The email bag included the following reactions to items in last week’s newsletter:

Bach’s birthday

Jack S.: There is much confusion in changing dates from Old Style (O.S.) to New Style (N.S.) because different countries and different religions made the change at different times.  The O.S. Julian calendar presumed a year was 365.25 days.  By the mid 16th C. scientists had determined the year was exactly 365.2425 days.  This meant the Julian calendar had too many leap years.The difference between the Julian and Gregorian calendars adds up the accumulated days to 10, therefore there are 10 days difference between the 2 calendars (slightly different in the UK and its colonies).
Bach is generally said to have been born on March 21; the Gregorian calendar had already been adopted in Catholic countries in 1582, but the Protestant areas of Germany didn’t adopt the new calendar until 1700; 15 years after Bach’s birth.  Thuringia had been Protestant since the Protestant Reformation, so we can assume the calendar change was in 1700.
Bach’s birthday as March 21 is O.S., which makes March 31 correct—probably.  However I’ve read that the coming calendar change was known for almost 50 years before the change actually occurred.  I’ve seen reports (no, I don’t remember where or when) that many dates had already been transposed for 20 years before the actual fact of the change.
Since March 21 was the date I adopted my wife’s twins 40+ years ago I’ve always chosen to keep March 21 as Bach’s birthday.  Such a great excuse for playing Bach’s music all day, even over the complaints of 2 teenagers wanting someting “more relevant.”
De gustibus and all that.

Opening Day

Tod: . . .  thanks for the Casey at the Bat. I remember our 5th grade teacher, Miss Everett, reading that to us, with her own dramatics.

The Stone Fleet

Angie L.: I remember stories about the sinking of ships in the Charleston Harbor, I was born in Charleston and grew up close by I also remember them having to dredge it out because the debris was stopping the port flow. Since the Navy closed the base, they still have the Naval Weapons Station there and with the new Author Ravenel Bridge, things have changed. They have the maritime museum which has the USS Yorktown and a few others that are great to walk through. The Cooper River has always held a special place in my heart as it has to others who watched the old bridges being replaced by the suspension bridge.It is a beautiful place to visit.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Charles Darwin

Best quote of the week:

“There are two ways that a human being can feel confidence. One is knowledge, and the other is ignorance.” — Charles Darwin

Helping those in need

This is my weekly reminder to all of us (especially me) that there are many people who need our help. It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here). When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org)is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 


You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Free audiobooks and more; Churchill the writer, part 3; the Stone Fleet; newsletter, March 30, 2018 



The three fears of Charles Darwin and the writing of The Origin of Species

Three fears haunted Charles Darwin during the 15 years it took him to write and publish his history-changing work, The Origin of Species.

Two of them slowed his writing down. He feared that his work would be dismissed by the fellow scientists for whom it was written. That would have been a humiliation that he did not believe he could stand.

He also feared what his wife, a deeply religious woman, would think.

The final fear had the opposite effect from the first two. It drove him to finish and finish quickly.

He feared getting scooped.

Charles Darwin

All three of those fears were far worse in Darwin’s mind than they turned out in reality. Darwin had been a working scientist for more than a quarter of a century at that point. He was careful, meticulous, and thorough — far more thorough than he needed to be. Darwin spent years collecting evidence to support his theory and ended up with far more evidence than he needed.

During all of that time, Darwin carefully cultivated many friendships and relationships among scientists. He spent much time reading and responding to papers sent to him by other scientists. He gentle and gentlemanly manner often won people over even when they did not agree with his solutions.

When Origin of Species was published in November 1859, it was favorably and sometimes glowingly reviewed by many of the people who knew him and his work very well. The reception of the book, both by the public and by fellow scientists, was immensely favorable.

As to the second fear — Darwin’s wife’s reaction — he had taken some pains to alleviate what might be a problem. He had been careful not to deal with human evolution in this book. The idea of evolution had been a matter of public and scientific discussion for a while, and the idea that man had “descended” from apes was already in the public’s mind. But Darwin did not say that, and the Church of England’s response to the book was initially fairly mild.

Darwin’s wife Emma rejoiced at Charles’ good fortune in having the book so well received. According to Paul Johnson’s biography of Darwin (Darwin: Portrait of a Genius):

She was a loyal wife, and her support and evident approval of the book as a work of professional scholarship removed a huge burden from Darwin’s shoulders. (p. 95)

Darwin’s third fear arrived in the form of a letter and a manuscript in the late spring of 1858 from Alfred Russel Wallace. Wallace had been researching the development of species along the same lines as Darwin and was coming to the same “natural selection” conclusion. Darwin has first outlined his idea of natural selection in 1839 and had expanded its explanations in 1844. Darwin could thus claim that he had the idea first.

But the claim would be meaningless unless he formalized the idea and published it in a book.

Darwin quickly set to work that summer. He had envisioned a multi-volume work that would include much of his research.  Now he had to summarize it in one tight volume. And he had to do it quickly. In the words of biographer Johnson:

. . . Wallace’s intervention was an astounding stroke of luck for Darwin, typical of the good fortune that attended him throughout his life. For it did stir him into action of precisely the kind required. He began to write, with all deliberate speed, a general account of evolution by natural selection, that could be understood by the public and contained to one reasonable-sized volume. (p. 79)

The book was ready by the fall of 1859 and was published on November 22. The first printing of 1,200 sold out in a day. It continued to sell and has not been out of print for more than 150 years.

Nothing about how mankind viewed its origins would ever be the same.


Note on Alfred Russel Wallace: Wallace was doing research in South Asia when Darwin’s book was published, but he never felt that Darwin had cheated him out of the proper credit for the idea of natural selection. Wallace continued his line of research, and he and Darwin remained cordial for the remainder of their lives. Watch this five-minute video about Wallace by the BBC’s Richard Attenborough.


Handel, down and out; ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’ up and away; more Shakespeare and Vietnam: newsletter March 9, 2018

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (4,116), on Friday, March 9, 2018.


You may think that I am obsessed with William Shakespeare, that I just can’t leave him alone. Actually, it’s the other way around. He won’t leave me alone.

The last three newsletters have had items about The Bard, ending last week (I thought) with a grand finale about what he looked like. I was ready to move on the 18th century and tell you something about George Frederick Handel. But then Will popped up the news again this week. So what’s a Shakespeare lover like me to do?

Still, I am going to tell you something about Handel, and about what may be THE most beloved painting in the world today, and about Vietnam. Then there’s the grand giveaway you won’t want to miss. Anon, let the newsletter begin.

Important: The newsletter usually includes this:

Viewing tip: Click the display images link above if you haven’t done so already.

But that, I am told, has confused some folks, so here’s the point: Make sure that the images in the newsletter are displayed. Some browsers and email programs will display them automatically. For others, you must click on a link to make that happen. However it’s done, please make sure that happens. That’s how we know that you have opened the newsletter, and that’s important. Thanks.

George Frederick Handel: finished, washed-up . . . but then . . .

You will have to work pretty hard during this month of March to avoid hearing some of the music of George Frederick Handel. Handel’s Messiah oratorio is standard fare during the Lenten and Easter season, and everyone knows that you are supposed to stand during the Hallelujah chorus (although no one knows exactly why).

Handel was born in Germany in 1685, studied music is several places including Italy, and came to London in 1710 to seek his musical fortune. London had a thriving and avid musical audience, and Handel — one of the great organists of the day as well as a composer — quickly became the toast of the town with his keyboard genius and his mastery of the highly popular Italian-style opera. During the next 25 years he achieved great success and made plenty of money.

By 1741, however, things weren’t so good. London’s musical tastes had changed — Italian opera was no longer the in thing — and Handel’s productions met with repeated failures. He was facing bankruptcy, and his health was increasingly fragile. Critics descended, and even the Church of England pounced, criticizing his secular productions.

Handel, everyone said, was finished, washed-up.

Then in August, 1741 — just when Handel wondered if he could ever mount another production — his friend Charles Jennens, a poet, handed him a libretto for an oratorio about the life of Christ.

What happened after that showed that Handel was no one-tune keyboard tickler. You can read about it in this post on JPROF.com,

What’s your favorite piece by Handel? Lots of people would name the Hallelujah chorus, but there is much to choose from: Royal Water MusicRoyal Fireworks Music, etc. Personally, I like the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba from Handel’s oratorio Solomon. You can hear that one and the Hallelujah chorus in my post about Handel on JPROF.com.

The Roosevelts and radio

The item last week about the mastery of radio by both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt drew this response from a newsletter reader:

Fred F.: President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanore was the “First Family” of Radio. Then we had President John Fitzgerald Kennedy and his wife Jackie were the “First Family of TV. What a rich history we had due to the electronic marvels of Radio and TV.

Vietnam, Robert McNamara, Daniel Ellsberg, and the Pentagon Papers

The New York Times this week has an interesting article by Rick Goldsmith about the origin of the Pentagon Papers. It begins with the story of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense, and Daniel Ellsberg, then a State Department official, being on the same flight from Saigon to Washington in October, 1966. McNamara and Ellsberg spoke to each other during the flight, and in the conversation, McNamara expressed doubts that the strategy the U.S. was then pursuing in Vietnam was working.

When the flight landed in Washington, McNamara was met by reporters as soon as he got off the plane and was asked about his trip and the American strategy. He told the reporters exactly the opposite of what he had said to Ellsberg: that what the U.S. was doing in Vietnam was working and that they were making progress in defeating the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong.

The article is well worth reading.

I have written a reaction to the information in the article and posted it on JPROF.com, in case anyone is interested.

More on Shakespeare’s sources

An independent Shakespeare researcher in Great Britain, according to a recent article in The Guardian, thinks he may have found a sample of Shakespeare’s actual handwriting. John Casson says he was looking through François de Belleforest’s Histoires Tragiques, a 1576 French text many believe to be a source for Shakespeare’s plays, when he noticed some hand-written notations on the pages of a story of a Danish prince whose father was murdered by the prince’s uncle.

This recalls an item we discussed a couple of weeks ago about a new book identifying possible sources for Shakespeare’s writing.

There’s a problem with John Casson, however. He doesn’t believe Shakespeare wrote the plays that are attributed to him. He thinks it was Sir Henry Neville, a courtier of Elizabeth I.

Correction from last week: I said that Shakespeare’s birth is celebrated on April 26. Wrong! A sharp-eyed reader informs me it April 23. I stand corrected — and I thank the reader: Jean T.

Johannes Vermeer’s ‘Girl with the Pearl Earring’

Few of the world’s great works of art — even Leonardo’s Mona Lisa — can match Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring for admirers and adherents. A best-selling novel and stage play have been written about this enigmatic painting from the great Dutch master.

The painting was created in about 1665, but for the first two hundred years of its life, few people knew of its existence. Where it was all that time is also a mystery. Today it is the star of the show in the Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery, The Hague, Holland, where the gallery is conducting a close — really close — look at the painting.

Read more about all this to-do in this post on JPROF.com.


Dictionaries — still the one, after all these years

Last week’s item about the making of the Oxford English Dictionary (read the JPROF.com post here) brought in these interesting tidbits:

Helen P.: Dictionary response. When my husband joined a French company in late 90’s, management was given French classes at work. I loaned him my mother’s french/english dictionary from when she took college French prior to WWII. One week after he turned in his assignment he was called on the carpet, threatened with harassment charges. Yes, the teacher was young female and very upset at what she said was incredibly filthy. She did not relent until he brought the book in and showed the phrase he used. Yes, language changes, and not always for the better.

Sunny S.: As with many things in life, I wish the English language, and therefore the dictionaries which catalog the meanings of all those delightful words, would stay the same! I, too, still have the (Webster’s Collegiate) dictionary and thesaurus given to me in high school. The thesaurus is especially well-used and loved!


Art of the Arcane: Ides of March Mystery, Thriller, and Crime Giveaway. Once again, I have teamed up with a number of excellent writers to put together a truly fine selection of books to give away to our email lists and newsletter reades. This one has some great titles in it (including, of course, Kill the Quarterback), and you have an excellent chance of finding a great weekend read. Head on over there right away and see what’s available: https://artofthearcane.com/march-mystery-giveaway/…

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery/

https://www.instafreebie.com/gg/HCqRcAvQK0Pr9IpLcGT4Addictive Suspense and Thrillers Giveaway. This giveaway, which includes Kill the Quarterback, is a carefully compiled selection of high-octane, fast-paced mystery-suspense-thrillers, full of action, suspense and drama from debut to bestselling authors. Some of the books are already available while others are coming soon. Take a moment to check them out and claim any that intrigue you for absolutely free.

A name for this newsletter?

We had one late entry in the name-the-newsletter sweepstakes last week — this one from my good friend Dan C. in Las Vegas: Seventh Inning Stretch.

Any reactions?

I like this one but still tend to favor the Hot Stove League. Seventh Inning Stretch might be good for something else I have in mind, which I will reveal when it’s developed a bit more.

I’d still like to hear from anyone who has an opinion or a suggestion.

Author! Author!

From time to time, I mention authors and books I think newsletter readers might be interested in. If you are a newsletter reader and have written a book you’d like for me to highlight, I am glad to do so. Send me an email. A description or blurb and an Amazon link would also be helpful.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: George Frederick Handel

Handel’s musical genius was widely recognized during his life, but by all accounts he was an affable, generous man — even though the performers he hired for his operas could drive him into fits of rage. He was also a workaholic who pursued his musical ideas into exhaustion and eventually ill health.

Best quote of the week:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin, naturalist and author (1809-1882) 

Do not forget the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate. Add to these those devastated by the California wildfires — and now floods. These and many other disasters mean that people need our help. The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall 

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletterShakespeare’s appearance, Eleanor’s mastery, and Cronkite’s broadcast – plus a new book giveaway: newsletter, March 2, 2018