Steve
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Darwin and Mendel

The Father of Genetics and the greatest Biologist of the 19th century.


Charles Robert Darwin was a great nineteenth century naturalist; nowadays we would call him a biologist.  Some people do not like his theory of evolution by natural selection, but even leaving this out his work in biology certainly qualifies him for the adjective "Great".

Gregor Johann Mendel was an obscure Austrian monk who later got promoted to an obscure Austrian abbot.  Mendel was also a biologist and for his work in a little monastery garden on peas from 1856 to 1863 is now known as the Father of Genetics.

Darwin never heard of Mendel.

Mendel had heard of Darwin and his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection.  Mendel was a churchman, a consecrated Augustinian Priest.  He was also a great scientist.  He considered Darwin's theory and was a supporter of it.  He certainly did not accept everything Darwin wrote. Darwin had a theory of inheritance, the theory of Pangenesis.  This theory was largely accepted during the lifetimes of Darwin and Mendel, but after the rediscovery of Mendel's work in 1900, it was realized that Mendel's experiments provided a much better description of inheritance.  Mendel also was able to demonstrate that Darwin's belief that a single pollen grain could never pollinate a flower was incorrect.

The irony of this situation is that one of the sources of Darwin's Doubts was that it is more difficult to see how Evolution would work using Darwin's own theory of Pangenesis than with Mendel's genetic theory.  If Darwin had known of Mendel's work, many of the problems he could see with Evolution by Natural Selection would have disappeared.  In fact, as Mendel apparently realized, the work of the two great biologists complemented each other.

A minor mystery is why Mendel apparently never contacted Darwin himself.  Unfortunately, when Mendel died in 1884 the next Abbot burned all his papers to end disputes over taxation, so we do not know if Mendel ever considered writing to Darwin.

Notes

Mendel was born Johann Mendel, and adopted the name Gregor when he became a monk.

Mendel was born at Heinzendorf bei Odrau then in Austria, but now in the Czech Republic.

Obscure is the adjective normally used for Mendel.  Since he was promoted to Abbot, he must have been recognized by the Church Hierarchy.  He was obscure as a scientist and his paper, "Experiments on Plant Hybridization", was criticized, but mostly ignored.  It was only about 16 years after Mendel's death that its extreme importance was recognized.

Darwin never heard of Mendel.  This statement is sometimes disputed, but the bulk of the evidence points to this conclusion.
 
Steve Challis
 
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