Monday, February 26, 2007
Asa Gray -- Darwin's "Dove"
Asa Gray (1810-1888) was one of the three scientists Charles Darwin trusted enough to provide pre-publication comments on his famous 1859 work Origin of Species. Gray, born in Oneida County, New York, was by 1857 a professor of Botany at Harvard and an internationally recognized scientist.
Gray and Darwin had been friends from the late 1830's. A fascinating exchange of letters beginning in 1857 between the two presage the entire debate over the implications of Darwin's theory for belief in God.
Gray, a believing Christian and strong Presbyterian his whole life, though critical of Darwin's insistence on the random nature of mutations (not a surprise that Gray would lean more towards design, now is it ?) became Darwin's strongest support in America. Called Darwin's "dove" to contrast him from the aggressively atheistic Thomas Huxley (Darwin's "bulldog"), Gray debated with his Harvard colleague, Louis Agassiz, on the topic for several years subsequent to the publication of the theory.
Beginning with Gray in America and Temple in England, a long line of Christian scientists were strong proponents of Darwin, including Fisher in the 1930's, and of course Francis S. Collins today.
Thanks to David Dobbs, author of Reef Madness, for emphasizing to me the important role Asa Gray played in the acceptance of Darwin's theory.