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    Melville on Science vs. Creation Myth
    By Michael White | February 14th 2011 11:47 AM | 1 comment | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Welcome to Adaptive Complexity, where I write about genomics, systems biology, evolution, and the connection between science and literature,

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    From Melville's under-appreciated Mardi: On a quest for his missing love Yillah, an AWOL sailor pretending to be a demi-god travels the (imaginary) Mardi chain of Polynesian islands via canoe fleet, in the company of fellow demi-god King Media and his entourage. After viewing some fossils, the group's resident philosopher, Babbalanja is asked how the islands were created. A scientific explanation being unsatisfactory to the group, Babbalanja presents an alternate hypothesis:
    Media said:—"Babbalanja, you love all mysteries; here's a fitting theme. You have given us the history of the rock; can your sapience tell the origin of all the isles? how Mardi came to be?" "Ah, that once mooted point is settled. Though hard at first, it proved a bagatelle. Start not my lord; there are those who have measured Mardi by perch and pole, and with their wonted lead sounded its utmost depths. Listen: it is a pleasant story. The coral wall which circumscribes the isles but continues upward the deep buried crater of the primal chaos. In the first times this crucible was charged with vapors nebulous, boiling over fires volcanic. Age by age, the fluid thickened; dropping, at long intervals, heavy sediment to the bottom; which layer on layer concreted, and at length, in crusts, rose toward the surface. Then, the vast volcano burst; rent the whole mass; upthrew the ancient rocks; which now in divers mountain tops tell tales of what existed ere Mardi was completely fashioned. Hence many fossils on the hills, whose kith and kin still lurk beneath the vales. Thus Nature works, at random warring, chaos a crater, and this world a shell." Mohi stroked his beard. Yoomy yawned. Media cried, "Preposterous!" "My lord, then take another theory—which you will—the celebrated sandwich System. Nature's first condition was a soup, wherein the agglomerating solids formed granitic dumplings, which, wearing down, deposited the primal stratum made up of series, sandwiching strange shapes of mollusks, and zoophytes; then snails, and periwinkles:— marmalade to sip, and nuts to crack, ere the substantials came. "And next, my lord, we have the fine old time of the Old Red Sandstone sandwich, clapped on the underlying layer, and among other dainties, imbedding the first course of fish,—all quite in rule,—sturgeon- forms, cephalaspis, glyptolepis, pterichthys; and other finny things, of flavor rare, but hard to mouth for bones. Served up with these, were sundry greens,—lichens, mosses, ferns, and fungi. "Now comes the New Red Sandstone sandwich: marly and magnesious, spread over with old patriarchs of crocodiles and alligators,—hard carving these,—and prodigious lizards, spine-skewered, tails tied in bows, and swimming in saffron saucers." "What next?" cried Media. "The Ool, or Oily sandwich:—rare gormandizing then; for oily it was called, because of fat old joints, and hams, and rounds, and barons of sea-beeves and walrusses, which then crowned the stratum-board. All piled together, glorious profusion!—fillets and briskets, rumps, and saddles, and haunches; shoulder to shoulder, loin 'gainst sirloin, ribs rapping knuckles, and quarter to none. And all these sandwiched right over all that went before. Course after course, and course on course, my lord; no time to clear the wreck; no stop nor let; lay on and slash; cut, thrust, and come. "Next the Chalk, or Coral sandwich; but no dry fare for that; made up of rich side-courses,—eocene, miocene, and pliocene. The first was wild game for the delicate,—bantam larks, curlews, quails, and flying weazels; with a slight sprinkling of pilaus,—capons, pullets, plovers, and garnished with petrels' eggs. Very savory, that, my lord. The second side-course—miocene—was out of course, flesh after fowl: marine mammalia,—seals, grampuses, and whales, served up with sea- weed on their flanks, hearts and kidneys deviled, and fins and flippers friccasied. All very thee, my lord. The third side-course, the pliocene, was goodliest of all:—whole-roasted elephants, rhinoceroses, and hippopotamuses, stuffed with boiled ostriches, condors, cassowaries, turkeys. Also barbacued mastodons and megatheriums, gallantly served up with fir-trees in their mouths, and tails cock-billed. "Thus fared the old diluvians: arrant gormandizers and beef-bolters. We Mardians famish on the superficial strata of deposits; cracking our jaws on walnuts, filberts, cocoa-nuts, and clams. My lord, I've done." "And bravely done it is. Mohi tells us, that Mardi was made in six days; but you, Babbalanja, have built it up from the bottom in less than six minutes." "Nothing for us geologists, my lord. At a word we turn you out whole systems, suns, satellites, and asteroids included. Why, my good lord, my friend Annonimo is laying out a new Milky Way, to intersect with the old one, and facilitate cross-cuts among the comets." And so saying, Babbalanja turned aside.

    Comments

    Hank
    Thus Nature works, at random warring, chaos a crater, and this world a shell.
    That's good stuff.