Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 31–50 | Cite as

E. G. Conklin on evolution: The popular writings of an embryologist

  • J. W. Atkinson
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Reference

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    See J. W. Atkinson, “The Importance of the History of Science to the American Society of Zoologists,” Amer. Zool., 19 (1979), 1243–46; M. Rudwick, “Senses of the Natural World and Senses of God: Another Look at the Historical Relation of Science and Religion,” in The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century, ed. A. R. Peacocke (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981), pp. 241–261.Google Scholar
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    An excellent example of this kind of analysis is J. Maienschein, “Experimental Biology in Transition: Harrison's Embryology, 1895–1910” in Studies in the History of Biology (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983), VI, 107–127.Google Scholar
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    With very rare exceptions over the last thirty years, scientists have tended to shun the writing of popular works for lay audiences; see P. A. Carter, “Science and the Common Man,” Amer. Schol., 45 (1976), 778–794. That this trend had begun as early as 1915 is suggested by Conklin's comment about scientists' “losing caste among extreme specialists” when they write for the general public; see E. G. Conklin, “The Cultural Value of Zoology,” Science, 41 (1915), 333–337. Recently, attitudes seem to be changing as scientists are recognizing a growing public discontent with science.Google Scholar
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    The present report is confined to published sources. A thorough analysis of Conklin's ideas awaits a careful scrutiny of his private papers — correspondence, manuscripts, and the like — housed at Princeton University. The value of a study such as this is directly related to the degree to which the ideas of one individual can be related to general questions about the nature of the scientific enterprise and its cultural role. The following discussion is undertaken despite the realization that many questions must be raised without conclusive answers; furthermore, even where answers are provided, examination of Conklin's private papers may require these conclusions to be modified or even abandoned.Google Scholar
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    A complete bibliography of Conklin's published work may be found in E. N. Harvey, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” Biog. Mem., Nat. Acad. Sci., (U.S.) 31 (1958), 54–91. The distinction between popular works and professional work is not always easily made. Some of Conklin's papers clearly belong in one category or the other based on the periodical in which they appeared (for example, Scribner's Magazine and the Journal of Experimental Zoology). Others, particularly those published in Science, can be classified only on the basis of content and style.Google Scholar
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    Krutch's book The Modern Temper was first published in 1929 and was reissued by Doubleday in 1956.Google Scholar
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    “Deny Science Wars Against Religion, Forty Scientists, Clergymen and Prominent Educators Attack ‘Two Erroneous Views,’” New York Times, May 27, 1923, Sec. 1, p. 1.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” in Thirteen Americans, Their Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. L. Finkelstein (New York: Harper, 1953), pp. 47–76.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” in Thirteen Americans, Their Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. L. Finkelstein (New York: Harper, 1953), pp. 56–57. Conklin recounts how, as an undergraduate, he heard a professor rail against Darwin. When asked if he had read the Origin of Species, the professor stated he had not and would not “touch it with a ten-foot pole.” In response, Conklin read the Origin and became an evolutionist.Google Scholar
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    A. C. Clement, personal communication; J. R. Shaver, personal communication. In his “spiritual autobiography” Conklin states that he was imbued with a love of teaching when he taught in a small country school during a year off from his own college education. See Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin.”Google Scholar
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    As an undergraduate, Conklin was noted for his ability in formal debates (Richards, “Edwin Grant Conklin”; Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin”), perhaps indicating an inclination toward involvement in public controversy. Such a disposition may have been reinforced by his association with W. K. Brooks, to whom has been attributed “a love for speculation and popularization.” M. D. McCullough, “W. K. Brooks' Role in the History of American Biology,” J. Hist. Biol., 2 (1969), 411–438, 435.Google Scholar
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    It was about William Jennings Bryan that Conklin remarked: “Apparently Mr. Bryan demands to see a monkey or an ass transformed into a man, though he must be familiar enough with the reverse process.” E. G. Conklin, “Bryan and Evolution,” New York Times, March 5, 1922, sec. 7, p. 14.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribners, 1921), pp. 6–7. “The Future of America, a Biological Forecast,” anonymous article published in Harper's Magazine April 1928, 529–539. This essay, attributed to Conklin by both Richards, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” and Harvey, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” strikes a more pessimistic tone regarding the future. Conklin's private papers may shed light on the possible difference between his personal views and his acknowledged public views.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “The Cultural Value of Zoology,” Science, 41 (1915), 333–337, 337.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribners, 1921), p. 16.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Science and Ethics,” Science, 86 (1937), 595–603, 596.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Has Progressive Evolution Come to an End?” Natural History, 19 (1919), 35–39; idem, Direction of Human Evolution; idem, “Science and Progress,” Collecting Net, 8 (September 9, 1933), 353–356, 404; idem, Man, Real and Ideal: Observations and Reflections on Man's Nature, Development and Destiny (New York: Scribners, 1943).Google Scholar
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    Conklin, Man, Real and Ideal, p. 42.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 205.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 237.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin”.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 58–59.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribners). (1921), pp. 167–168.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, Direction of Human Evolution.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, “Science and Ethics,” p. 602.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 601.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, Man, Real and Ideal, p. 199.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, “A Biologist's Religion,” in Has Science Discovered God? ed. E. H. Cotten (Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1931), pp. 75–89, 86.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribners, 1921), pp. 212–213.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribners, 1921), p. 216.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, Man, Real and Ideal, p. 110.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “What Shapes Our Ends?” Amer. Schol., 6 (1937), 225–235, 235.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “The Relation of the Psychic Life to the Nervous System,” Sci. Amer., supp. (Sept. 13 and 20, 1902).Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “The Religion of Nature,” Yale Rev., 10 (1921), 639–643. Conklin seems to have been particularly impressed with L. J. Henderson's Fitness of the Environment to which he referred his readers in this and many of his subsequent writings.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Ends as Well as Means in Life and Evolution,” Trans. N.Y. Acad. Sci., ser. 2, 6 (1944), 125–136, 136.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “The Mechanism of Evolution in the Light of Heredity and Development,” Sci. Monthly, December 1919, 481–505; January 1920, 52–62; February 1920, 170–181; March 1920, 269–291; April 1920, 388–403; May 1920, 496–515. These articles were the William Ellery Hale Lectures presented by Conklin to the National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C. (April 16 and 18, 1917).Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “The Mutation Theory from the Standpoint of Cytology,” Science, N.S., 21 (1905), 525–529. This article appears to be an expansion of a brief discussion of mutation included at the end of Conklin's monograph on ascidian development: “The Organization and Cell-Lineage of the Ascidian Egg,” J. Acad. Nat. Sci. Philadelphia, 2nd ser., 13 (1905) I, 1–119. It falls in a gray area between obviously popular works and professional reports of specialized research. See note 8.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, “Mutation Theory,” p. 529. Conklin makes the same statement in the ascidian monograph, using almost identical words. The reference to inverse symmetry pertains to Conklin's work on the reversal of cleavage direction, which is associated with the appearance of a strain of sinistral snails of the genus Limnea.Google Scholar
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    E. Mayr, The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution and Inheritance, (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, 1982). pp. 546–550.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, “Ends as Well as Means”, p. 136. Note also that Allen and mcCullough, in an article describing Conklin's private papers, claim that Conklin became “an outspoken advocate of natural selection coupled with small mutations as the all-sufficient mechanism for evolutionary change.” G. E. Allen and D. M. mcCullough, “Notes on Source Materials: The Edwin Grant Conklin Papers at Princeton University,” J. Hist. Biol., 1 (1968), 325–331. Their conclusion is not borne out by an investigation of Conklin's popular works.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “The Factors of Organic Evolution from the Standpoint of Embryology,” in Foot-Notes to Evolution: A Series of Popular Addresses on the Evolution of Life, ed. D. S. Jordon (New York: Appleton, 1898).Google Scholar
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    Mayr. Growth of Biological Thought. I find it difficult to classify Conklin's thought in Mayr's categories of essentialist vs. population thinking. Mayr suggests that population thinking was necessary for acceptance of the synthesis. Conklin's involvement with embryology did not draw him toward population concerns, yet his many discussions of human evolution and eugenics suggest an appreciation of variation within groups.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” in Thirteen Americans, Their Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. L. Finkelstein (New York: Harper, 1953), p. 60.Google Scholar
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    Conklin, Direction of Human Evolution. The attribution of progress and purpose to evolution because of the embryonic metaphor is not unique to Conklin; it also played a part in Von Baer's rejection of Darwinism. See G. S. Carter, A Hundred Years of Evolution (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1957).Google Scholar
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    G. E. Allen, “The Evolutionary Synthesis: Morgan and Natural Selection Revisited,” in The Evolutionary Synthesis, ed. E. Mayr and W. B. Provine (Cambridge: Mass., Harvard University Press, 1980), pp. 356–382. See also in the same volume A. Weinstein, “Morgan and the Theory of Natural Selection,” pp. 432–445. Note that Carter, A Hundred Years of Evolution, claims that Von Baer rejected Darwinism because he believed in teleology, whereas Allen suggests that Morgan rejected natural selection because he rejected teleology. This paradox suggests an interesting change in the meaning of “natural selection” from Von Baer in the nineteenth century to Morgan in the twentieth.Google Scholar
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    G. E. Allen, “The Evolutionary Synthesis: Morgan and Natural Selection Revisited,”, in The Evolutionary Synthesis, ed. E. Mayr and W. B. Provine (Cambridge: Mass., Harvard University Press, 1980) pp. 379–380. See also Th. Dobzhansky, “Morgan and his School in the 1930s,” in Mayr and Provine, The Evolutionary Synthesis, pp. 445–452.Google Scholar
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    Allen, “Evolutionary Synthesis.” See also G. E. Allen, “T. H. Morgan and the Influence of Mechanistic Materialism on the Development of the Gene Concept 1910–1940,” Amer. Zool., 23 (1983), 829–843.Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, The Direction of Human Evolution (New York: Scribners, (1921), p. 195. Conklin's acceptance of the limitations of science and the existence of progress and purpose allowed him to avoid the positivist paradox that Greene has pointed out in the writngs of later evolution popularizers such as Julian Huxley and G. G. Simpson—a paradox in which science, having no value component yet being the sole source of truth, cannot justify its own worth. See J. C. Greene, Science, Ideology and World View (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981).Google Scholar
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    Conklin, “What Shapes Our Ends?”Google Scholar
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    For a discussion of both Morgan's and Smuts's ideas, see I. G. Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1966), pp. 396–397. For a discussion of Morgan's ideas, see J. Dillenberger, Protestant Thought and Natural Science (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960).Google Scholar
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    In Man, Real and Ideal Conklin states, “I am in entire agreement with his [Smuts's] conclusion that ‘If life and mind have arisen in and from matter, then the universe ceases to be a purely physical mechanism, and the system which results must provide a real place for the factors of life and mind’” (p. 100).Google Scholar
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    E. A. White, Science and Religion in American Thought: The Impact of Naturalism (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1952).Google Scholar
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    In a very brief consideration of Conklin's religious beliefs, E. L. Long classified Conklin as a “theistic humanist” who later moved toward agnosticism. He appears to have been unaware of Conklin's early rejection of supernaturalism. E. L. Long, Religious Beliefs of American Scientists (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1952).Google Scholar
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    One finds very few published reviews of Conklin's work, particularly by antievolutionists. His private papers may reveal more in the way of fundamentalist response.Google Scholar
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    See Clement, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” Dict. Amer. Biog., p. 128; Plough, “Edwin Grant Conklin, 1863–1952,” p. 1.Google Scholar
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    See preface to 1956 reissue of J. W. Krutch, Modern Temper, p. xi.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. xviii.Google Scholar
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    R. N. Anshen, “Man the Microcosm”, in Science and Man, ed. R. N. Anshen (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1942), p. 472.Google Scholar
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    Conklin's public disavowal of the supernatural indicates that his conception of Christ was that of a great teacher rather than an incarnation of the Deity. Because of his upbringing and ethical position, Conklin probably considered himself to be a Christian. His private papers may reveal more on this point.Google Scholar
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    E. Benz, Evolution and Christian Hope, trans. H. G. Frank (New York: Anchor Books, Doubleday, 1968). Conklin's writings lack the romantic hyperbole and are on firmer scientific ground than the publications of Teilhard de Chardin, yet the similarities are interesting and perhaps worth a more thorough comparative analysis than can be given in the present paper.Google Scholar
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    R. Sperry, Science and Moral Priority (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983).Google Scholar
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    E. G. Conklin, “Edwin Grant Conklin,” in Thirteen Americans, Their Spiritual Autobiographies, ed. L. Finkelstein (New York: Harper, 1953), p. 47.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© D. Reidel Publishing Company 1985

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. W. Atkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Natural ScienceMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA

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