Galileo v Darwin

a new day
The Mathematician handed me an article from the Scientific American, and then stood back and watched me guffaw. The article in question was a discussion of the relative impact that Galileo and Darwin had on society. Which one was bigger?

First, it’s a dopey question, but on top of that, this little bit of silliness: one of the panelists claimed that Galileo was the most influential, because (and I’m paraphrasing) only fifty percent of Americans believe in evolution, whereas eighty percent believe the earth orbits around the sun.

Think about that for a minute.

Now, the Darwin thing I’m willing to let go, though I don’t believe it. A much smaller proportion of the population identifes as creationists, but let’s leave that aside for the moment.

The claim is that 20% of the American population does not believe that the earth orbits the sun.

I don’t believe this. I just don’t. I’m taken by this urge to stop people on the street and ask them a T/F question: does the earth orbit around the sun? I can predict that some small percentage will just look puzzled and have to think about it. These are the same people who can’t put France on a map (much less Iraq), and who don’t realize that the fact that there was a World War II, there must have been a Word War I. Or this person, quoted on Overheard:

Like, New York’s Technically a State Of Mind, Right?

College student with Boston accent: Yeah, I was reading this article in like Newsweek or something, that ranked the states from smartest to dumbest. Massachusetts was in the top ten.
College student with Miami accent: What about Florida?
College student with Boston accent: Florida was like, 47.
College student with Miami accent: Out of how many?

–NYU

Overheard by: Still Laughing

Some people just aren’t interested in the wider world. Maybe the student with the Miami accent knows everything there is to know about sailboat rigging, but slept through every geography and social studies class. The temptation is to laugh (okay, I did laugh), but I think it’s a mistake to assume this person is intellectually a zero. Narrow, yes. But more than that, who knows?

The earth orbiting around the sun is to me so absolutely undebatable that I put it on a par with things like, the sun rises in the east or the earth is round. Further, some people may deny they believe in evolution for religious reasons, but no such baggage has been attached to Galileo. I hope.

Does that 80% sound weird to you?

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Creative Commons License photo credit: cdemo

A new Margaret Lawrence: whooopeee!

Pam’s comment yesterday made me think about trying to sort through the many ways historical fiction weaves historical personages together with fictional ones. So I started to take some notes on the subject, and as a part of that I first looked up Margaret Lawrence’s novels  about a midwife in late 18th century Maine. The premise for her stories about Hannah Trevor  is based loosely on the diary of Martha Ballard, the subject of one of my favorite historical studies of all time. The whole diary (searchable, with lots of useful tools) is online, and more than worth a visit if you’re interested in early American history.

I truly admire and often return to Hearts and Bones and the three novels that follow. The first three  deal with Hannah while the last one focuses on her daughter Jennet.  They are all out of print, I fear, but there’s the library. Never forget the library.

[asa book]0385342373[/asa] Now here’s the great thing. When I went to look up the status of Hearts and Bones, I discovered that Margaret Lawrence has (1) a website, finally; and even better (2) a new novel out. Whooopeee! Roanoke is another historical mystery. I’ll let Ms Lawrence tell you about it herself:

The Lost Colony of Roanoke is one of the world’s great puzzles. After two earlier exploring voyages and the building of a fort, three English ships set sail for America in the spring of 1587, carrying a hundred and seventeen English settlers, along with a number of spies, a crew of pirates, and orders to find the gold and pearls belonging to the native tribes along what is now the coast of North Carolina. The war with Spain intervened and England had the Armada to worry about. By 1590, when a supply ship was finally sent out, the English colonists had all vanished, leaving only a few ruins and the name of a local island carved on a tree.  (Read the whole description here.)

Five minutes after I found this, Roanoke was residing in the belly of my Kindle, where it now waits for me to finish Mr. Timothy.  Five minutes after that, I had contacted a bookseller about a signed first edition. I have all her historical novels in hardcover, all signed. So you see, I haven’t given up on the traditional book, either.

I’ll be back with a review of this at some point in the not too distant future. Between now and the time I finish Roanoke, you might not be hearing much from me.