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Was Mendel a Paleyan Creationist or a Darwinist?

Post of the Month: November 2010


Subject:    | About Darwin and Mendel
Date:       | 22 Nov 2010
Message-ID: |

Chris Thompson opened the discussion asking:
>> It seems that I read somewhere (it might have been Henig's "The Monk
>> in the Garden") that an "uncut" copy of Mendel's pea paper was found
>> among Darwin's papers.

>> "Uncut" in this sense refers to the then-common practice of leaving
>> adjacent pages attached. In order to read the inner pages, you had to
>> cut them apart at the outer edges.

>> First off, it occurs to me that I don't even know if authors got
>> reprints back then. For Darwin to have received an uncut version,
>> wouldn't Mendel have had to send him an entire issue of the journal?

>> But my real question is, is this apocryphal? Did Darwin have access to
>> Mendel's work? Darwin was surely well-enough known by 1866 (when
>> Mendel published) that Mendel would have wanted him to know his work,
>> but could he have afforded to send out many copies of the journal? Or
>> afforded to have copies of his paper printed privately?

Ray Martinez (a creationist) replied:
> Mendel was a Paleyan Creationist.

Burkhard begins:
Really? How do you know that?

Mendel became famous (eventually) for just two papers,or rather, 2 variations of one paper: Versuche über Pflanzen-Hybride. Both are here:
As hard as I look, Paley is not mentioned once.  Neither, btw, is God, or creation.  Instead we find (my translation):

"It requires a lot of courage to carry out work of such far-reaching extent; but this appears to be the only way to get finally the answer to a question the importance of which cannot be overestimated in relation to the the history of the evolution of organic forms."
"For the history of plant evolution, this circumstance is of special importance, since stable hybrids acquire the status of new species"

Doesn't sound like species fixism to me - though to be totally fair, the translation of "Entwicklungsgeschichte" as "history of evolution" is a bit anachronistic.  Haeckel would later translate Evolution this way, but at the time of the writing, "history of development" is maybe more neutral.

Mendel did not keep a diary, and never wrote to the best of my knowledge about theology.  He was however an avid letter writer, and his letters to Naegeli are here: .
Again, nothing about Paley, or creation, or God.  Naegeli was Mendel's main intellectual collaborator, and a strong critic of the idea of species fixism that Gaertner, whom Mendel references but criticises, exposed.  And in his last letter to Naegeli, Mendel writes:

"unfavorable changes in environmental conditions may result in reduced reproduction, therefore they may cause a sexual weakening or complete sterility, wherein the male organs always suffer first [,,,] The naturally-occurring hybridizations in Hieracium should be ascribed to temporary disturbances, which, if they were repeated often or became permanent, would finally result in the disappearances of the species involved, while one or other of the more happily organized progeny, better adapted to the prevailing telluric and cosmic conditions, might take up the struggle for existence successfully and continue it for a long stretch of time, until finally the same fate overtook it."
Sounds pretty Darwinian to me, especially the "struggle for existence" and the "better adapted to the ... conditions"

> He was working to falsify Darwinism.

Really? What amazing foresight then given that he carried out most of his empirical work before he read the OoS.  And when he finally had the chance to "falsify" Darwin and published his letters, not a single word against him.  He had a German translation of the OoS, and underlined passages, but no comments, exclamation marks or anything else in the margins that indicated disagreement.

According to one source, we have this from him though - note the year, 1850, which would put it before the OoS:

"As soon as the earth in the course of time had achieved the necessary capability for the formation and maintenance of organic life, plants and animals of the lowest sorts first appeared.  In time, organic life developed more and more abundantly; the oldest forms disappeared in part, to make space for new, more perfect ones."  (Orel, Vitěslav (ed.) (1984). 'Mendels Hausarbeit in Naturgeschichte von 1850'. In: Folia Mendeliana 18 - though I must admit I only ever found a citation to this paper, and haven't read it myself, I remain a little bit dubious about the authenticity.
But if it is authentic, then Mendel is referring to Matthias Jakob Schleiden, whose book "Einige Blicke auf die Entwicklungsgeschichte des vegetabilischen Organismus bei den Phanerogamen." (Some idea on the evolution history of plants in the seed producing plants) he had read.  Schleiden, founder of modern cell theory, had argued that all plant life originates from the single cell - he later enthusiastically embraced Darwin's broader theory.

> The fact that Darwinists accept his facts and explain them in support
> of evolution does not mean the explanation supports evolution.

On the contrary, it does just that.  What it does not do is to prove that this is what Mendel intended.  That is not of interest to the ToE itself, but the history of science.  The myth of Mendel the anti‑Darwinist was pretty much created in the 1980s by Callender.  But he gives next to no support for his view from Mendel's actual writing.  To be fair, neither did Fisher who claimed Mendel for Darwinism much earlier, in the 1930s.

My own view is that Mendel did not really care either way.  In his letters to Naegeli, he describes himself several times as an "empiricist" and scoffs at "rationalists" - he is doing his studies on plants, and leaves the "big picture" to others.

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