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It is interesting to contemplate…

Memorizing the final paragraph of Darwin’s Origin of Species has been an assignment in many of the courses I have taught. Sometimes students really get into the spirit of the exercise.

[Blackboard with student inscription]

[A very large version is also available.]

It is interesting to contemplate a freshman biology class; taught by many professors of many kinds, with Professor O’Hara and his cartoon ex-girlfriend, with Professor Ward and his Metallica riffs, and with that crazy Canadian and her PCR dance, and to reflect that these biology-crazed professors, so different from each other and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all enforced on us the laws of BI 195. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being: students are easily bribed by chocolate; you can’t spell evolution w/o “I love you”; Robert FitzRoy; “bacteria are huge sluts” (Backus); have created grades so low as a consequence of not studying, entailing shrinkage of GPA and the extinction of pre-med ambition. Thus, from the war of professors, from several all-nighters, the most exalted grades which we are capable of receiving, namely, above a 50% on the final exam, directly follows. There is a grandeur in this view of this course with all its knowledge having been learned by a few kids or none, and that, whilst this College has gone cycling on according to the fixed laws of campus security, from so simple a beginning, endless forms, most beautiful (Darwin) & most wonderful (Mendel) have been, & are being, evolved.

For comparison, Darwin’s original text appears below.

It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.


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