Darwin and the Twentieth Century
THE 19th AND 20th CENTURIES
Darwin, the 20th Century and New Inventions
IN RECENT TIMES
In recent years the findings of Charles Darwin have once more become controversial. Science is once more being attacked by religion for no purpose other than to prop up old religious beliefs.
What's more, some of Darwin's ideas got mangled by the Nazis during the 2nd World War resulting in some people thinking the death camps, etc started with Darwin. This is of course not true.
Rightly or wrongly it was others who applied Darwin's theories to people and some of those people definitely got it wrong.
Of course Darwin's ideas were also attacked in his own age. But one would think that religious attacks on such a great man would not be going on well into the 21st Century.
Creationism is still with us. You'd think such attacks on real science would have gone out with the monkey trial of the 1920s in the USA but this did not happen.
In pondering why this may be so let's take a look at part of the century, the 19th Century, which created a man such as Charles Darwin. Then we'll look at what went on in the 20th Century.
The 19th Century
In terms of human endeavor there isn't a sharp cut off point between one century and the next.
The 19th Century ended, sure, but everything wasn't suddenly shiny and new.
There was a flow on of ideas from one century to the next as there has been a flow on from the 20th Century to our present 21st Century.
At the time Charles Darwin lived a lot of changes were happening in society. Some of these changes were social or cultural, some of them were the products of old scientific ideas given new impetus. Some of them came about because of continued advancements in methods of manufacture.
After Charles Darwin's death on 19th April, 1882, scientists continued to explore his ideas and, to this day, the exploration goes forward.
By the 1890s, thanks to the train and the bicycle, it was becoming easier for people to get about in Europe. In Australia, New Zealand and the USA this was also true.
New forms of communication, such as the telegraph, made it faster and simpler for scientists of every stripe, throughout the world, to communicate with one another.
This increasing ability to communicate over long distances in shorter and shorter spans of time pushed science even further along than it had been. It also begged the question of who we are and where our civilization is going. Various academics, including Darwin, have tried to answer this double-pronged question.
Planes, Trains, Bicycles and Automobiles
The automobiles of the 19th Century were not deemed to be practical modes of transportation. Rail was cheap and practical. People preferred horses and horse drawn vehicles to vehicles with a great many mechanical parts they didn't understand.
Besides, backfiring automobiles disturbed the neighbors and livestock much more than backfiring horses. In some parts of the USA and elsewhere a man with a red flag was required by law to walk in front of an automobile in motion to warn the populace of its coming.
In 1861 a train was used by the Confederates to bring up reinforcements at the battle of Manassas (Bull Run) during the American Civil War. Where the terrain allowed, rail was also used for the same purpose during the First World War.
Steam, for a while there, looked to be the way to go when it came to road transport. The Stanley Steamer could travel at least 60 miles an hour and who really does need to go faster than that?
Even so, by the end of the 19th Century petrol guzzling automobiles were surpassing the steam operated in relative popularity if nothing else because they were far more compact. The importance of steam was beginning to wane.
The push bike or bicycle became the rage for both young ladies and gents from the 1890s onwards. Buying a bicycle was much cheaper than purchasing a horse and it needed less maintenance.It did not, for example, require a stall with feed and water. There was also less hassle in taking the bicycle abroad. In the 1890s there were holiday tours of Europe involving the bicycle.
For the young and fit the bicycle stood for a freedom of the road and the lanes previously unknown to many.
This may be the reason why naughty French post cards had women on bikes with nothing on save, perhaps, a hat and gloves. The time of the motor bike to be a dream freedom machine was only decades away.
Automobiles were expensive to both buy and run. The petrol guzzlers were also not very reliable. They were toys for the young and well off.
The Wind in the Willows (1908) by Kenneth Grahame illustrates, through Toad, the folly of the young, the impressionable and the just plain stupid for automobiles and other shiny, new gadgets. Toad, always the instant expert at everything he does, often gets into trouble and it it is usually up to his friends to get him out. Toad the automobile driver causes more trouble than Toad the horse-drawn caravan driver.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, which is a children's fantasy touching upon the strength of the British Empire as depicted by the lion came out in 1950. It also touched upon Lewis' Christian beliefs.
From the first controlled flight by the Wright brothers in 1903, airplanes were fragile and dangerous. This fragility lasted well into the first decade of the 20th Century. Airplanes were also expensive. They were toys for the young, well off and apparently suicidal. The pilots of the early years of the 20th Century were daring if nothing else.
Louis Bleriot had made the crossing from France to England in bad weather on July 25, 1909 and had only just made it. The first English observer craft to fly across the English channel to France in 1914, in order to aid the French, weren't a great improvement on Louis Bleriot's plane.
From 1914 to 1918 the airplane improved vastly. it became sturdier and faster. It also began to fulfill other roles in the war apart from observer/spy.
By war's end it was also a proven fighter and a bomber. There were also experiments at creating seaplanes capable of taking off and landing on water. There were also experiments at creating a plane capable of taking off from a ship. The aircraft carrier, and thus a more practical way of sending a plane into combat via ship, was yet to be realized.
The first Great Exhibition also known as the Crystal Palace Exhibition was staged in Hyde Park, London in 1851. It was organized by Henry Cole and Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. Charles Darwin the scientist was a visitor and so was Lewis Carol the inventive children's writer.
British Industry and know-how were put on display. There were statues of what the scientists of the day thought dinosaurs would look like. The statues remain. Since they were created, however, new knowledge has come to light which makes them more, nowadays, a Victorian curiosity than creatures from the past given solid form.
The Exposition Universelle was a world's fair held in Paris in 1889. It was held in the 100th year of the storming of the Bastille.
The main symbol of the fair was the Eiffel Tower which was completed that year. The tower stood as it stands today as a sign of French Industry and also French know-how.
Is is any wonder that late 19th Century and early 20th century Science Fiction had a place in both British and French society? Early Australian Science Fiction, though very good, was not quite up to the standards of the works of either Jules Verne or H. G. Wells.
Is it also any wonder why scientists in the late 19th Century might be asking questions concerning humanity and where we are headed? for example, are we just an animal with a superior brain or are we something else? People used Darwin's ideas to explore this area of virtually unexplored knowledge.
There were continuing advancements in medicine. The importance of cleanliness in hospitals and doctor's surgeries had been given a fresh, scientific impetus. It was now known that drinking water has to be free from contaminants if the populace is to remain healthy.
It was now possible, thanks to advancements in microscope technology, to better observe bacteria and other forms of disease.
From the 18th Century onward it has been possible to look at the microscopic world but the life that can be found in a mere drop of water or on a glass slide was now seen more accurately and better understood.
Thanks To Louis Pasteur (1822-1895), Pasteurization and Immunization saved countless lives. Rising miasma or bad smells came to be dismissed as a cause for illness. Bad smells continue, however, to be an indicator of something being wrong.
How did bacteria come about and why was there more than one form of bacteria in the world? Scientists were looking into these questions and Darwin's ideas were of help in doing so.
Magic lantern or slide shows were all the rage both in Victorian England and Victorian Australia. Sketches and photographs could be put on a glass plate and projected onto a screen via the early projector.
A crowd would gather in Church halls and in pubs to see sights rarely seen except in exhibitions. The world could be brought to you in these slides and in a communal way. Soon the magic lantern or slide shows would give way to the motion picture.
During the American Civil War (1861-1865) still photography captured the results of major battles. George Armstrong Custer was fond of having his photo taken so what he looked like before, during and after the war is well documented.
What is also well documented in early photography is the plight of the North American Indian as well as the plight of the Australian Aborigine of the 19th Century going into the 20th Century. Those who got Darwin wrong would say that those races who could not keep up with white man's progress deserved to go extinct. Of course this was an unkind view and against what Darwin set out to do with his theories.
Cameras capable of taking photos date back to the second decade of the 19th Century but, throughout much of that century, they were considered to be too expensive for the average person to own and operate.
In 1900 Eastman introduced the American public and then the world to the Box Brownie. This was a simple, easy to carry and use camera that was inexpensive. Most people could now take snapshots of important family events as they happened. More and more amateur photographers were saying: "smile for the camera, please."
During the Boer War (1899-1902) and the Great War (1914-1918) moving pictures could be used to re-enact for an audience highlights of combat.They could also film the aftermath of a battle or the big guns in action. It was occasionally possible to capture airplanes in flight. At this stage, movie cameras were just too heavy and cumbersome to set up to make use of in actual combat conditions.
MIND YOUR LANGUAGE
Throughout much of the 19th Century, French was the most powerful and widespread of European style languages. Throughout the entire 20th Century, English, in its various forms, has been the most powerful and widespread of European style languages. In both centuries Latin and Greek have retained their importance in the arena of academia and especially in the sciences.
Charles Darwin in his Own Time
Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution caused a great stir in the 19th Century and there was, indeed some proof back then that it was a workable theory. Even so there were those who felt the church needed defending against Darwin's ideas. There were also those who felt that evolution and the bible need not be at odds with one another.
Darwin lost faith with the church but may not have lost faith with his Christian beliefs. His wife continued to be a practicing Christian even after he had decided the present day church was not for him. During the 20th Century more proof was added to the pile supporting evolution resulting in more and more scientists taking evolution seriously.
EDUCATION, BETTER HEALTH, AND BETTER ROADS FOR ALL
During the 19th Century it was decided in the West that the children of all members of society were entitled to an education. It was also decided that taxes should, at the very least, help pay for hospitals and necessary road works, tunnels and bridges in all areas and not just major cities.
Throughout the 20th Century children continued to be entitled to tax paid education. Also, hospitals, road works, tunnels and bridges were either paid entirely for by the government or subsidized.
The new libraries created for the general public in the 19th Century flourished in that century and also during the 20th Century. From the beginning of the 19th Century right to the end of the 20th Century literacy levels generally increased.
The arts at the end of the 19th Century were in a state of flux. Theater was changing. Plays no longer had to have a discernible beginning, middle and end.
A play could be set entirely in one or two locales and made as realistic as humanly possible. There's a story about a turn of the century opera singer who was placed in a very realistic garden on stage and, during the first act, was stung by a very realistic bee. Not doubt, during that performance, she reached an exceptionally high note.
There were also new plays that went in completely the opposite direction where what was happening on stage might well be representational of the turmoil going on inside someone's demented mind.
The Impressionists were beginning to make inroads into the more established art scene.
Of these artists the most famous would be the French painter Claude Monet.
THE 20TH CENTURY
Planes, Trains and Automobiles
An American by the name of Henry Ford made the car affordable for most Americans with his ideas on mass production which included the production line approach to assembly. Ford's Model T first rolled off the assembly line in 1908 changing life in America and eventually in the whole of the Western world forever.Continuing improvements to the car, once it had reached a certain state of popularity, made it reliable. It became possible for most families to buy a car and then go on family outings in it to the country or the seaside.
In the USA Yellowstone became a popular destination. In Australia the Royal National Park or the Blue mountains were the place to go.
People began to read up more about nature and to study Darwin's ideas.
Trains went from running on steam to diesel and then electricity. Some became a luxury mode of transport.
Lawrence Hargrave, who emigrated from England to Australia, is best known for his most popular invention, the box kite. It can be noted that without this invention the Wright brother's first plane would have been minus the wings required for the first controlled flight.
On the 12th of November 1894, Lawrence Hargrave successfully lifted himself off the ground via the use of four of his box kites. This happened at Stanwell Park Beach, south of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia.
Since the Wright brothers success in 1903, controlled flight has literally had its ups and downs. After the Great War, pilots in the USA and in Australia found work barnstorming and flying mail in their old crates. In the USA there were also the movies to look to for employment. Money to improve on design and to push the envelop as to what the plane could do was slow at first in coming.
Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, who had been an Australian pilot in the war, saw air travel as a way of uniting Australians with the rest of the world in ways that had never been done before. On the 31st of May, 1928, Kingsford Smith and his crew flew the now famous Southern Cross from Oakland, California to Hawaii and from Hawaii to Suva, Fiji through a massive lighting storm and from there to Brisbane. This was great stuff and made him a national hero. In August 1928 Smithy with Charles Ulm flew non-stop from Port Cook near Melbourne right across Australia to Perth in Western Australia. Kingsford Smith was knighted in 1932 for his services to aviation.
Not all the would-be record making flights that occurred after the Great War were successful. There were lives lost. On the 31 March, 1929, enroute from Sydney to England, Kingsford Smith made an emergency landing in the Kimberley region of north Western Australia. A fortnight later he was found and rescued. Keith Anderson and Bob Hitchcock, in their plane kookaburra, while searching for Kingsford Smith, crash landed in Central Australia and died of thirst and exposure.
In 1939 both Great Britain and Australia went to war against Germany.
The two allied fighter planes that showed their worth in the Battle of Britain were R. J. Mitchell's Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane. Both were marvelous plane that performed well. Over the course of the war there were design improvements to the Spitfire which included more powerful machine guns. The German fighter to watch out for was the Messerschmitt 109.
There were 32 Australian pilots who fought for the British during the battle of Britain. There were 135 New Zealanders and 7 pilots from the USA (America at this stage wasn't officially in the war.)
Bombers hitting civilian targets was against the Geneva Convention (1931). Allied pilots at first tried to avoid places in their bombing raids that contained zero war material and large populations. This changed after the Germans bombed London. Possibly the worst city in England hit by the enemy was Coventry.The Germans airmen did not knock the RAF pilots out of the air completely and so the invasion of Britain had to be called off.
There were American fighter pilots who fought as mercenaries for China in the 1930s against the Japanese but it wasn't until Pearl Harbor was attacked by Japanese zeros in 1941 that the USA officially entered the war. American bombers and fighter pilots played a decisive role in bringing Germany to its knees. In 1945 two atomic bombs destroying two Japanese cities forced Japan to surrender. The war was over.
Planes continued to improve. Passengers became less afraid to fly.
During the final years of the war both England and Germany looked to jet engines in order to create a superior fighter. England was still in the experimental stage with at least one prototype when the war ended. In 1944 Germany's jet fighters took to the air against the allies. They piloted Messerschmitt ME 262s. If there had been more of them and the pilots had been better trained they might have turned the tide of the war. And so began the jet age. After the war a commercial as well as a military use was found for the jet plane.
At war's end three countries had their hands on German technology that could literally change the world. The countries were Great Britain, Russia and the USA.
The German buzz bombs of World War 2 quickly gave way to rockets capable of doing far greater damage. On the 4th of October, 1957, the Russians sent Sputnik 1, an artificial satellite, into low orbit around the Earth thus scaring the hell out of the Americans and starting the space race. In 1969 the USA landed two men on the moon.
A Century of progress Exposition 1933 to 1934 was held in the city of Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was the age of art deco and trains and cars that looked liked bullets about to be fired out of a gun. The cars exhibited at this fair included the Pierce Silver Arrow.
The 1939 New York World's Fair included a one-off Superman comic especially made for the occasion. The exhibits also included a futuristic car based city.By this stage American science fiction had taken off in the pulp magazines of the day and the future seemed to be something to look forward to.
There was no cure for cancer in the 20th Century but the way may have been paved in the 20th Century for a possible cure in our present century. X Rays and X Ray machines came in during the final years of the 19th Century.
Today there are various ways with various machines of examining the insides of humans without the need to resort to cutting. In the 20th Century X Rays saved many a life.
Hospitals in the West now face a crisis that was realized at the end of the 20th Century. An aging population will require more and more medical care. Where is the money for this care to come from? With tax payers in the future be able to cope?
Photography really took off in the 20th Century thanks to more and more versatile cameras. Australia in the silent film period had a thriving film industry. It was as good as if not better than Hollywood. With a larger population and better distribution, however, the American product could be produced for less and so the Australian film industry petered out. It was to re-emerge periodically.
D. W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation premiered in 1915 and was a hit. Its alternate title was The Clansman. It is about the American Civil War and its aftermath. It is also a rather controversial film where, near the end of the film, the Ku Klux Klan ride to the rescue of a southern town under siege from black union officers or, more correctly, white acted painted up to represent African American union officers.
Despite the thoroughly racist ending, it is a cinematic masterpiece bringing new filming technique to the fore. It has been suggested that the ending be struck from the film but this would simply cover up the truth about Griffith and about the state the USA was in at the time of the film's release.
Sometimes it is best to remember a not-so-pleasant past for fear of experiencing something similar to it in the future. Needless to say this point of view may also be seen as controversial. Suffice to say that Birth of a Nation was one of the first full length epics to be made and thus has its place in history.
Movie stars became popular and the big studios were careful how these stars were seen and handled by the press. The American academy awards began in May 1929 and have been going ever since.
Radio made for a different star system.
In the 1920s scientists began to seriously experiment with the concept of television. It wasn't until the 1950s, however, that television came to Australia. At first it was all black and white. One of the first programs in color was Adventures of Superman.
Thomas Edison ,though born in the 19th Century, was the key inventor of the 20th Century in much the same way as James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, was the key inventor of the previous century. Thanks to Edison improving on an old idea, gas lights could be and were replaced by safer electric lights. It became possible to record sounds and to play them back. The movie camera would become more and more and more compact and this would result in not only a form of entertainment that would spread across the globe but also a form of communication that could shake up governments and halt wars.
The computer was an old idea given a new form and a new direction in the 20th Century. Attempt had been made in the previous century to create mechanical devices capable of collecting data in a more satisfactory way than the ancient abacus and also storing the data for future use. These devices were fine for people into mathematics in a profound way but, unlike the abacus, they were far from practical for most people. One such device was used by a mathematical genius to predict the results of horse races. It was not 100% accurate because, even today, there are variables in such races that cannot be measured and thus taken into account.
Electronics gave the computer new possibilities which were used to great effect by the British during the 2nd World War. Its military value established, the USA and other nations invested capital in the development of the computer resulting in, among other things, the microchip revolution.
The Cold War and the race to the moon pushed the computer along. What we now think of as the internet was originally developed for both military and spy use. Making computers do more and, at the same time, be more compact was needed for, not only the further development of jet fighters and bombers, but also for space travel. By the end of the 20th Century most Westerners had computers in the homes capable of linking them to the rest of the computer using would in various and wondrous ways. What would have seemed impossible in the 1890s or Science Fiction in the 1930s had become common place reality from the 1980s onwards.
Charles Darwin's spirit in the 20th Century
The Theory of Evolution had, for the most part, a positive effect upon the 20th Century. People, seeing themselves as just another creature on the face of this planet rather than its chosen ruler species, began to look with new eyes at the need for conservation.
Do we have a responsibility toward the other animals that inhabit our world? The followers of Charles Darwin say yes and continue to say yes to this question.
Charles Darwin researched life because he was not only fascinated by it but actually did care. We too should care.
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