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Handwritten letter by Giuseppe Barilli (1872)

Handwritten letter by Giuseppe Barilli (1872)

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Giuseppe Barilli, the inventor of time zones, exposes his view on Charles Darwin's debated theory of evolution.

Handwritten letter in Italian from Giuseppe Barilli to Andreini, a physician friend. 4 pages, each page is 13.6 cm x 21.2 cm. City of Cento, Italy, August 18, 1872. Paper yellowed by time, some stains, writing with quill pen. Single piece.

  • It comes with an Italian-French translation of that same letter by Andreini. 4 pages, each page is 13.6 cm x 20.8 cm. Between 1872 and 1879. Good condition.
  • Also included (no image here) is a biographical note in French on Giuseppe Barilli by Andreini. 3 pages, each page is 13.6 cm x 20.8 cm. 1879. Good condition.

Giuseppe Barilli (1812 - 1894) was a great curiosity seeker, a man of reflection but also of action. Mathematician, astronomer, inventor and politician, he contributed, for example, courageously, to the creation of the Italian Republic.

This document shows the debate that generated the publication in 1859 of the book Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, one of the most important books in the history of science, presenting the Theory of Evolution, the basis of all modern biology. Giuseppe Barilli, scientist, disagrees with his doctor friend and exposes his vision.

This correspondence, between two scientist friends with very different opinions, but with a deep respect, has a very rare scientific content.

Erasto Villa Branco, Professor of Evolution at the Department of Genetics at the Federal University of Paraná, opines about this document:

As this letter is from 1872, it is evident that the author was well informed and willing to accept new ideas of his time. The letter contains several ideas that at the time were “hot” discussions that have now “cooled off” and at least one that is still very much “alive”.

It is curious that a Darwinist or half-Darwinist should consider his friend a materialist, as this was one of the main accusations leveled against Darwinists themselves. Doctors were even more skeptical and more materialistic, but they restricted their explanations to biological and organic phenomena, diseases and “states of the soul”.

The idea that Nature is hormonic is an idea that has existed for a long time and gained great strength with ancient Christianity, which believed that the universe was a ready-made work of God and, therefore, as God was considered perfect, his work could also not contain imperfections. This is today an idea that is not part of discussions within Science, but is present in many philosophical and religious currents.

As for the origin of the Solar System, it was in agreement with most scholars today. It is almost agreed that the Solar System was formed from the gathering of dust originating from other bodies that disintegrated. At the time this was not a very credible idea. The idea that there are forms of life outside Earth similar to those that exist here is an idea already completely discarded. This would require a “channeling” that would make the species follow the same evolutionary “trails” here and elsewhere. This is no longer accepted within Science, although I hear a lot about it outside of it.

A time-honored debate that is still ongoing is that of the origin of life. It is a long way from presenting a consensus. There are several attempts to explain it and one of them is panspermia. It is an old idea that had a new impetus within Science at this time, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is positioned in favor of one of the explanations that consider life to originate from outside the Earth. Even Darwin in his time did not claim that the evolution of living beings was a progressive evolution, that is, Darwin saw evolution as change and not as improvement. The reason that probably leads Quirico Filopanti to say this is the same that leads most people of his time to accept evolution: the world would be in continuous improvement. This idea is no longer valid today within Science, but it continues to be the reason that leads most people to accept it. Finally, the idea that a current species descends from another current one is not accepted by Science today but it is strong outside Science, as with the other previous idea. It is clear that within Science what is considered are the sharing of ancestors, more closely or more distantly.

Quirico Filopanti was willing to think about the new ideas of his time and clearly took sides in favor of some of them, generally speaking more in line with current ideas than most of his contemporaries.

November 2010. Erasto Villa Branco, Professor of Evolution at the Department of Genetics at the Federal University of Paraná.

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