Skip all navigation and go to page contentSkip top navigation and go to directorate navigationSkip top navigation and go to page navigation
National Science Foundation
Special Report
Text-only
design element
Evolution of Evolution — Home
Timeline
Charles Darwin
1
Anthropology
1
Astronomy
1
Biology
1
Geosciences
1
Polar Sciences
1
Resources
1
Credits
1


Evolution of Evolution — Text-only | Flash Special Report
Interview with Ron Numbers

Video Transcript

What does the study of Astronomy mean to our understanding of “Origin?”
I don’t think there was much direct influence. For example, we know that in 1844, a Scottish writer anonymously published a book called “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.” This outsold Darwin’s “Origin of Species” that appeared later and continued, even after the appearance of the “Origin” to outsell it. The author of that, who turned out later to be Robert Chambers, began with astronomical evolution, with the evolution of the solar system and it apparently was that idea, that the solar system had developed naturally over long periods of time that got him thinking, “Well, what happened at the end of that?” So, then he wrote about the development of the earth’s surfaces and the fossils and all the way down to humans.

What do we know about stellar evolution that we didn’t know in Darwin’s time?
We know everything differently now. It was not until the early part of the 19th century that William Herschel was able to identify what appeared to be stellar evolution. He was able – he had a very good telescope and was able to identify what came to be called nebulae, and they were in – appeared to be in different stages of development. He was able to line them up and it looked like he was finding – he was certainly finding evidence of stellar evolution and perhaps observing in the heavens what had happened in our solar system much earlier.

Why don’t we think more about astronomy when we think about evolution?
I think one of the biggest reasons is that biological evolution, from the beginning, implicated humans and that’s always been the rub with the public, is the notion that instead of being created recently supernaturally in the image of God, that humans evolved from lower forms of animals.

Did “Origin” influence astronomy?
Any number of commentators appealed to the prior acceptance of the nebular hypothesis. This was especially true in the United States. In accepting the nebular hypothesis, Americans had to adjust both their interpretation of Genesis I and their interpretation of natural theology, and so one of the most popular explanations in the middle decades of the 19th century of Genesis I was that each of the so-called days represented long cosmic periods.

Did Americans initially resist the secular notions of evolution?
Americans were more likely to accept the nebular hypothesis than Europeans. So, by the 19 – by the 1840s and 50s, it was being widely taught in American colleges, religious writers were writing about it, generally in a positive light. Most Americans who accepted evolution were theistic evolutionists of one kind or another, not atheistic evolutionists.

What will be the next big discovery in Astronomy?
I am the son and grandson of prophets. What I vowed many years ago, that I would not try my hand at predicting the future. It’s hard enough for us to come to grips and understand the past. I have not the foggiest notion of what's going to happen in the future.