Sunday, May 31, 2009

Copper engraving by Cornelius Huyberts from Fredericus Ruysch's Thesaurus anatomicus, Amsterdam, 1710
"Ruysch made about a dozen tableaux, constructed of human fetal skeletons with backgrounds of other body parts, on allegorical themes of death and the transiency of life...Ruysch built the 'geological' landscapes of these tableaux from gallstones and kidneystones, and 'botanical' backgrounds from injected and hardened major veins and arteries for "trees," and more ramified tissue of lungs and smaller vessels for 'bushes' and 'grass.' The fetal skeletons, several per tableau, were ornamented with symbols of death and short life - hands may hold mayflies (which live but a day in their adult state); skulls bemoan their fate by weeping into 'handkerchiefs' made of elegantly injected mesentery or brain meninges; 'snakes' and 'worms,' symbols of corruption made of intestine, wind around pelvis and rib cage. Quotations and moral exhortations, emphasizing the brevity of life and the vanity of earthly riches, festooned the compositions. One fetal skeleton holding a string of pearls in its hand proclaims, 'Why should I long for the things of this world?' Another, playing a violin with a bow made of a dried artery, sings, 'Ah fate, ah bitter fate.'"
-- Stephen Jay Gould in Finders, Keepers: Eight Collectors
Quote and illustration found here.

In the seventeenth century science began to document the diffences between modern observation and accepted belief ranging from Scripture to Aristotle. Sir Walter Raleigh, while locked up in the tower of London wrote a memoir recounting his expeditions to the new world and in it, he addressed the serious question of how Noah had been able to transport all of the beasts of the world in his Ark, taking into account the astounding number previously unknown species found in the New World and not in the Old, and why they strayed so far from Ararat while leaving no descendants behind. Raleigh concluded that familiar animals had changed in adapting to the New World thus satisfying many theologians previously perplexed by the mystery. However, this introduction of the concept of changeability of species, began a process that would overthrow the Aristotelean notion of the immutability of nature and lead finally to Darwin and the theory of evolution, an outcome that would trouble later generations of theologians and cast doubt not only on the story of Noah, but the literal reading of Berashith itself.

"Passions are likened best to floods and streams, The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb."-Raleigh, The Silent Lover

Ironically the first paleontogists of this era were creationists, seeking evidence of the flood.
The interest they stirred in the field led to the work of those who would discredit them.
This mysterious world is so full of evidence that anything, through selective collection of that evidence, may be compellingly asserted.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."-Hamlet to Horatio before the Ghost, Hamlet, I:5, William Shakespeare

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