Covington, Syms The young sailor who worked as personal assistant to CD during the voyage of the *Beagle (1831-6), and as his secretary to 1839 (see Fish in Spirits of Wine). Covington (1816?-61) later emigrated to Australia, where he became postmaster.
From there, Covington exchanged ten letters with CD from 1843 to 1859; he also appears to have been the only of CD's correspondents in the Pacific area to have sent him specimens (of *barnacles; Garber 1994). A fictionalised account of his life, based on his diary and correspondence (Weitzel 1995), was published by McDonald (1998). A nice read.
Covington's diary does not include more than a few casual mentions of fishes. One exception is his observations from the *Cocos Islands: "In the small *lagoons or pools on reefs are immense numbers of small fish of different species, and of the most brilliant colours and shapes I ever saw or fancy could paint. Here are great numbers. A green fish, the coral eater",
referring to *parrotfishes. The other exception is when he noted that CD "purchased the jaws of an enormous *shark killed by an English whaling crew just as it was about to crunch the men's launch, but what he did with them remains unknown".
FitzRoy (1839, p. 618), on the other hand, tells us where the jaw went: "Mr. Chafter [an Officer on the Beagle] obtained the jaw of a huge blue shark, at Hobart Town, which had been killed by the boat's crew of Mr. James Kelly whaling vessel. The extreme length of the *monster was thirty-seven feet. Its jaw is now in the United Service Museum" (and presumably lost, as the Royal United Service Museum, a repository of military objects from 200 years of British campaigns, was closed in the early 1960s).
Creationism The belief that a deity created the world and its organisms as they now are. Once a reasonable view, espoused by the best scientists of the time, creationism has since been convincingly refuted (Eldredge 2000). Even the Pope has officially conceded this (John Paul II 1996), thus beating by 150 years his team's previous world record in foot-dragging (i.e. recognizing Galileo's heliocentric system three centuries after it was proposed). The transition of creationism, from a theory compatible with the best current knowledge (of the early to mid nineteenth century; see Armstrong 2000) into the morass it is now, happened during CD's lifetime, and, of course, he was instrumental in hastening it. However, this transition would have happened anyway, given simultaneous advances in physics, geology, etc., which jointly ended up counting far more than the "Oxford Declaration", asserting that the Bible and its miracles must be taken literally, and which was signed by 11000 (!) Anglican clergymen (George 1982, p. 99).
This transition, incidentally, also spans the lifetime of Louis *Agassiz, an otherwise competent ichthyologist, whose attempts to deny evi dence staring him in the face (e.g. his *Three-fold parallelism) would strike one as funny, were it not, as well, such a sad example of social opportunism (see also Winsor 1991).
Biologists are often advised to pitch against creationism, which now passes itself as 'Intelligent Design Theory' - deja vu all over again. As my contribution to this noble effort, I reproduce here a table in Wise (1998), which compares our best knowledge of the evolutionary sequence with a text reputed to be divinely inspired:
Biblical order (Genesis)
Sun and other stars before Earth Sun before land plants Marine organisms as first life forms Fish before fruit trees Insects before fish Reptiles before birds
Earth before Sun and other stars Land plants before Sun
Land plants as first life forms Fruit trees before fish
The major feature of the natural sciences is that the sequences on the left might change, or involve exceptions. Thus, for example, studies on the Tambaqui, Colossoma macropopum (Cuvier 1818), a species of Amazonian frugivorous fish (Saint-Paul 1986) may establish that it evolved after the fruit trees it now depends on. [Note subtle choice of authority for the frugivory of C. macropopum, to show that there are good people on the left, as well.]
On the other hand, whatever the results of empirical research, the column on the right never will change. It is unfalsifiable, as *Popper would say. Hence, it cannot be taught in science classes.
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