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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Darwinism and popular culture: Vladimir Nabokov, "Furious" Darwin Doubter

So was Vladimir Nabokov (1899-1977) secretly a fundamentalist Christian, a mad man, or just plain ignorant? The great novelist (Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin) was, in his own telling, a "furious" critic of Darwinian theory. He based the judgment not on religion, to which biographer Brian Boyd writes that he was "profoundly indifferent," but on decades of his scientific study of butterflies, including at Harvard and the American Museum of Natural History. Of course, this was all before the culture-wide sclerosis of Darwinian orthodoxy set in.

As Boyd notes in Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years, "He could not accept that the undirected randomness of natural selection would ever explain the elaborateness of nature's designs, especially in the most complex cases of mimicry where the design appears to exceed any predator’s powers of apprehension."

Boyd summarized the artist's scientific bona fides in an appreciation in Natural History.
For most of the 1940s, he served as de facto curator of lepidoptera at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, and became the authority on the little-studied blue butterflies (Polyommatini) of North and South America. He was also a pioneer in the study of butterflies' microscopic anatomy, distinguishing otherwise almost identical blues by differences in their genital parts.

Read the rest here.

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