Chance or Planning :
Intelligence and planning are necessary factors in scientific research,
however chance and luck are also important and somewhat necessary
factors. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and the memoir, The Double
Helix, written by James Watson, prove this assertion. Charles Darwin,
James Watson and Francis Crick were all intelligent men that planned
their experiments, however without chance and luck their success and
scientific achievement would not be as great.
Intelligence and planning are important in scientific discovery, but are
not always the dominating forces that drive scientific research. Such is
the case with Charles Darwin, James Watson and Francis Crick. All three
of these men were extremely intellectual, but their intellect only
contributed partially to their success. Intellect and planning, combined
with chance and luck contributed to their overall success.
People take chances on a daily basis. If you actually stop and think
about it, life is one big game of chance. It is by chance that we are
born, that we continue to survive, and that we will eventually die. Some
people feel that this cycle occurs do to the will of God, others, like
Charles Darwin believe that it happens based on chance or natural
selection. Whatever you believe or disbelieve, life cannot be planned.
No matter how hard a person attempts to "plan" their path in life, it is
by chance and luck where that path takes us.
Darwin's career was also based on chance, not planning. Darwin never
planned to become a scientist or the father of natural selection. It was
by pure chance that he obtained the job on the voyage of the Beagle,
which started his career. Darwin stated about this voyage that, "The
voyage of the Beagle has been the by far the most important event in my
life and has determined my whole career. . ." (Darwin, p.76) Darwin had
not planned to take the trip on the Beagle, he obtained the opportunity
by mere chance. One can attempt to "plan" for a job or career, but
chance and luck are the major factors which allow for success. Although
Darwin's intellect played a role in obtaining the position, chance and
luck were the major factors.
Many scientists suffer great strokes of luck. Two other scientists that
did not "plan" their success were James Watson and Francis Crick. These
two men were not great planners of scientific research, but through
chance and luck they obtained their scientific goal. Watson and Crick
discovered the structure of DNA and its double helix. Rosalind Franklin,
Maurice Wilkins, and Linus Pauling were other scientists that were
extremely close to discovering the structure of DNA at the same time as
Watson and Crick. They all had basically the same information, however
Watson and Crick, due to chance and luck finished the race first, but not
very far ahead of their competitors. Watson and Crick admit that the
race to find the structure of DNA was close, however their luck or chance
contributed tremendously to their achievement. Watson and Crick, much
like Darwin achieved their "greatness" due to mere chance, not planning.
Watson and Crick were very fortunate that their chance or good stroke of
luck did not run out. They were lucky that they conceived the notion to
make a three dimensional model of the helix. They were also lucky that
death did not strike either of them. Crick states, in the book The
Double Helix, that, "If Watson had been killed by a tennis ball I am
reasonably sure that I would not have solved the structure alone. . ."
(Watson, p. 143) Fortunately Watson was not killed by a tennis ball and
Crick did not have to ponder the problem of DNA alone. Both men were
extremely fortunate to have each other. Again luck and chance were
important factors in their discovery, not planning.
Charles Darwin was also lucky that death did not strike him. Disease is
extremely common when traveling by ship, and by mere chance Darwin was
not struck with any life threatening illness. Darwin, while traveling on
the Beagle, could have contracted any type of disease. Medications for
illnesses were not easily available for consumption, and often the
infected patients died. By chance Darwin did not become ill, if he had
perhaps the world would not know about evolution or natural selection.
Darwin could not "plan" for the success of his book Origin of the
Species. It was by chance that some people agreed with his theory of
natural selection. Darwin stated about his religious belief that, ". . .
I gradually came to disbelieve in Christianity as a divine revelation."
(Darwin, p. 86) Darwin became disillusioned in Christianity due to the
fact that several of his closest friends did not believe in God. Darwin
stated about this that, "I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish
Christianity to be true. . . the text seems to show that the men who do
not believe, and this is my father, brother, and almost all of my best
friends, will be everlastingly punished. And this is a damnable
doctrine." (Darwin, p. 87)
Darwin went out on a limb when he expressed his disbelief in God and the
Bible. He could not plan for the general public to agree with his
radical idea. It was by chance that his book became such a success.
Both believers and non-believers purchased his book. Also, by chance he
converted many non-believers into believing his radical form of thought.
A Cambridge painter once stated that, ". . . the important thing is to be
there when the picture is painted. And this it seems to me, is partly a
matter of luck, partly good judgment, inspiration, and persistent
application." (Watson, p. 145) This statement holds extremely true to
Watson and Cricks discovery of DNA. Intellect, persistence, and good
judgment contributed to their success. However, luck and chance were
the major contributing factors.
Charles Darwin said that his, ". . . success as a man of science,
whatever this may have amounted to, has been determined, as far as I can
judge, by complex and diversified mental qualities and conditions. Of
these the most important have been - the love of science - unbounded
patience in long reflecting over any subject - industry in observing and
collecting facts - and a fair share of invention as well as common sense.
With such moderate abilities as I possess, it is truly surprising that
thus I should have influenced to a considerable extent the beliefs of
scientific men on some important points." (Darwin, p. 145) Although
Darwin stated his theory with clear and concise arguments, it was by
chance that people believed him, considering he could not plan for his
Although planning is somewhat important in scientific research and
discovery, chance plays a much more important role. Without chance most
scientific discoveries would not have happened. John Lennon was quoted
as stating, "Life is what happens as we make other plans." Science is
much like life. One cannot plan for it, it just takes place.
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