On The Science Lectures Mentioned In the Novel

Throughout the novel, the parson Jonathan Moore issues a series of eight science lectures to his towns, in the late Fall and Spring seasons of 1820 and 21, occurring every other Sunday, after church services.  Two of these lectures are featured in the novel, and the other six are only alluded to, usually inside readings of the antagonists’ propaganda pamphlet called The Balanced Scale, whose title is derived from Fox New’s ‘Fair and Balanced’ motto, or the phenomenon of false balance that the corporate media spills onto the public, where both a settled scientific stance is ‘balanced’ against a non-scientific one, in order to create the illusion that the scientific position is less credible than it is.

The two lectures featured are 1) a summary of James Hutton’s Theory of the Earth Volume I. (1795); Summary of Part I., Chapter I. – an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe; and 2) a summary of Erasmus Darwin’s Zoonomia, Or the Laws of Organic Life, Vol. I; Summary of Section XXXIX.: Of Generationas well as ancillary material provided, so that the primary subjects may be better understood.

W&H_Hutton_Theory1
Jame’s Hutton’s ‘Theory of the Earth’

The first quarter of the 19th century was something of a drag regarding geology and evolution:  the unifomitarianism and transmutation hypotheses had been put in place in the late 18th century, but it wasn’t until Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology from the 1830’s, and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species from the late 1850’s before cohesive and well polished theories on these subjects would emerge (discounting Lamarck’s Philosophie zoologique (1809): the debut of a formal theory on the subject of transmutation).  Along the way, Werner’s Neptunism, Cuvier’s Catastrophism, and perhaps even some vestige of Newton’s Christianic belief in a young earth confounded their placement onto the historical timeline.  If history is any guide, then perhaps Global Warming’s Standard Greenhouse Gas Theory will too be settled in the minds of the public by 2050 or 2100 (though to be fair, it’s been around a lot longer than its present detractors would have one believe).  [All these ‘-ism’ titles were coined by William Whewell long after their principles were introduced, by the way.]

Erasmus Darwin
Erasmus Darwin

Anyway, I’ve constructed a companion for readers that shows the subject matter addressed in all of J. Moore’s lectures, in order to garner a deeper understanding of the flow of novel:

Companion Section

~ Mr. Moore’s Lectures ~

Lecture I. – Given Sept. 17th, 1820

James Hutton: Theory of the Earth Volume I. (1795); Summary of Part I., Chapter I. – an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: incidental mention of iron globe cooling experiment in search of the true age of the earth.

Lecture II. – Given Oct. 1st, 1820

 Nicholas Steno: De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus (1669): Introduction to the Law of Superposition, Principle of Original Horizontality, and Principle of Lateral Continuity.

William Smith & Georges Cuvier: understanding relative antiquity, the Principle of Faunal Succession and the use of fossils to help indentify sedimentary strata with respect to their time of formation; Mr. Cuvier’s lost species (extinct species) and the examination between his Siberian elephants (mammoths) and those of India and Africa.

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: application of Newtonian concepts to discovering age and origin of the earth; globe cooling experiment showing the earth to be 74,832 years old by defining cooling time as a function of sphere volume; sedimentation observation in which he decides the earth might be 3,000,000 years old; “[Of the age of the earth], the more we extend time, the closer we shall be to the truth”: (Époques de la nature, p. 40; (1778)).

Lecture III. – Given Oct. 15th, 1820

Carl Linnaeus: Philosophia Botanica – Introduction to binomial nomenclature: the coupling of the generic name and nomen triviale to form the species name; the convenience of this system in comparison to that of the nomen specificum, which often entailed laborious polynomials, subject to change as more discoveries and observations accumulated; distinctions from biblical nomenclature (Latin Vulgate); Species Plantarum (1753) – the historical significance of this work in that it published a comprehensive list of all species known to Europe, applying the botanist’s binomina throughout; Systema Naturae (10th ed.; 1758) – introduction to Linnaean classification, taxonomic ranking, aggregation of taxa, and rules that instructed such; balancing the dispositio theoretica against empiricism; the ‘sexual system’ of plant classification.

 Lecture IV. – Given Oct 29th, 1820

Georges Cuvier: briefly mentions Cuvier’s thoughts on multiple, ‘revolutionary upheavals’ (large crustal changes having a significant vertical component to them) of the earth secondary to sudden, catastrophic events, perhaps involving climactic changes, which gave rise to mass extinctions.±

Erasmus Darwin: Zoonomia, Or the Laws of Organic Life, Vol. I; Summary of Section XXXIX.: Of Generation

Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon: rebutting local criticism that relies on ‘mathematical distractions’; any retractions regarding age of the earth were secondary to pressure from theological department at the local university in Paris.

Abraham Gottlob Werner: Criticism of the mineralogist’s Neptunism: To where did all the receding ocean water exit?; James Hutton’s examination of basalt shows no signs of fossils, and further, that the rock was insoluble, of hard crystalline material, and often intrusive in a manner inconsistent with sedimentation.

James Hutton: rebuttal of local criticism derived from Mr. Kirwan’s Examination of the Supposed Igneous Origin of Stony Substances

Lecture V. – Given April, 1821

Erasmus Darwin: Reexamination of transmutation as it applies to man – an unexpected and improvised question and answer session; rebuttal to local criticism regarding the application of mathematical chance to transmutation and deep time.

Lecture VI. – Given May, 1821

James Hutton: An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy, Book 2, Chapter 3, Section 13 – Principle of variation of organized bodies of plants and animals: the power of variation instilled in creatures that both local habitat and climate, as well as the hand of man, may influence the properties of such by preferred selection of those with the most advantageous characteristics to produce their next generation who own the selfsame characteristics.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: Philosophie zoologique (1809): the debut of a formal theory on the subject of transmutation; Le pouvoir de la vie or la force qui tend sans cesse à composer l’organisation – the tendency for transmutation to create complexity through graduation; L’influence des circonstances: influence of habitat upon a plant or animal through local pressures or absences of such upon individual organs; the preservation of acquired characteristics through reproduction; notable reiterations of Hutton and Darwin’s sentiments.

Lecture VII. – Given May, 1821

Archbishop James Usher and Sir Isaac Newton: on these men’s methodologies for calculating the age of the earth using solely biblical references, and criticism of such.

William Paley: criticism of Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, (1802).

General thoughts on rationalism and empiricism, and the propriety in accepting a claim, theory or otherwise as being the most reasonable explanation of that which is in focus. The robust nature of multiple lines of reproducible evidence derived from such philosophies, converging upon a particular claim. The confounding nature of contradictory evidence upon a claim. Simple fallacies to be avoided. Reiteration of what can and cannot be known, and what can and cannot be said to be likely in the presence of ambiguity and want of further experimentation and discovery.

Lecture VIII. – Given June, 1821

Recapitulation of all previous lectures.

James Hutton and Georges Cuvier: gradualism (uniformitarianism) versus catastrophism: Which is most likely? Is there a chance they both may have merit and not detract from one another?; The lecturer’s thoughts on the former’s hospitable nature with regard to mankind and agriculture.

General remarks on the Enlightenment and the betterment of society through the practice of science and engineering. Briefing on other current topics of interest.

Closing remarks and formal dedication of lectures to Charles Moore.


± These particular thoughts of Cuvier were derived from his 1825 Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Globe and on the Changes They Have Produced in the Animal Kingdom. Mr. Moore’s lecture predates this particular reference, but there is no cause to believe the philosopher’s hypotheses were of a secretive nature prior to the discourse.

[Note: this post was originally published in February of 2015]

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