Christians, Frogs, and Luigi Galvani

Luigi GalvaniOn this day in 1737, the great biophysicist Luigi Galvani was born. He is, of course, the guy who showed that applying electricity to the legs of a dead frog would make them twitch. This not only showed that electricity was used within the body to send messages, it also inspired the greatest Romantic work and some of the best horror films of the last century. You are allowed to consider this a more important contribution to humanity.

Galvani was born to what might be called upper-middle class parents. His father was a goldsmith. So at 15, the future scientist went off to college to become priest. But his parents didn’t like that idea at all. It was most likely that they wanted him to have a more profitable trade. So they talked him into studying medicine. Even so, he remained devote his whole life. But despite living almost three centuries ago, he was more open minded than most American Christians today.

Consider the implications of his work, which were more than simply electrifying frog legs, even if today it all seems like “common sense.” The same thing happens in frog legs and human legs. This means that there is a continuity between amphibians and humans. If God had really created all the animals individually, you would think he wouldn’t have made them all work the same way. Not that apologists couldn’t argue that.

But I don’t think there is any doubt that if Galvani were alive today, in the intellectual environment of American Christians, people would be appalled. How dare he say that the same processes that go on inside a frog go on inside human, the creature that God created the universe for?! Of course, they do accept it today for the same reason they accept the electric light and central heating: it is useful. If they could ever be made to see that modern medicine is based on the foundation of evolution by natural selection, they might accept it to. But we aren’t likely to see that any time soon.

Happy birthday Luigi Galvani!

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