The Conversation

Readers Respond to the January Issue

Natural Selections
Our cover story, Evolution World Tour, brought in enough mail to create a new Galapágos island. Some readers raised religious objections. “Complexity of all species indicates to me planning by a ‘Higher Power,’” wrote Christopher V. Munson of Seattle. But many others echoed Nick Scales of San Francisco, who praised the Evotourism™ sites we presented as “fascinating and an inspiration to start investing frequent-flier miles.” Erwin Molnar, a self-described “evolutionista” in Bellevue, Washington, said the package astonished him “with the starkness of evidence of life evolving, including humankind, on this planet over the course of millions of years.” The articles, he said, should be required reading for “every school board that contends evolution is only a theory.” Dave Farman of Irvington, New York, asked why the issue didn’t include the famed Burgess Shale site, in the Canadian Rockies, where he had “an inspiring experience.” Good point, Dave. Our report about that fossil trove is at

Religious Freedom
God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea” is remiss in not mentioning John Clarke. A physician and preacher, he set up a body politic in Pocasset, Massachusetts, in 1638, moving a year later to found Newport. Clarke is credited with drafting the 1663 charter, signed by King Charles, replacing the 1644 charter credited to Roger Williams. It is the later charter that has the revolutionary words guaranteeing that no person in the colony would be molested for differences in religious opinion. And it was the source of the seminal “hold forth a lively experiment” phrase, inscribed on the Rhode Island State House. Also, though the article claims Roger Williams is not a household name, it certainly is in Rhode Island, home to Roger Williams University, among other things.
Saul Ricklin
Bristol, Rhode Island

If Roger Williams, who was concerned with politics corrupting religion, were still around, he would probably tell us it can go both ways. History is replete with religion corrupting politics. Consider papal power in medieval Europe and Islamic power in the Middle East. Even today in the United States, we can’t seem to keep some religionists from threatening our personal space through politics.
Roland Norton
Owens Cross Roads, Alabama

Batty Austin
Austin is indeed a wonderful and strange place. I’m surprised ZZ Packer did not mention the Congress Avenue Bridge bats in her appealing portrait [“Keeping It Weird”]. A million and a half Mexican free-tailed bats live there in the summer, and viewing their nightly emergence has become a local tradition. These bats eat 10,000 to 20,000 pounds of insects (many of them pests) each night. Something worth mentioning!
Hugh L. Eckert
Arlington, Virginia

Deadly Mistake
The goal of both Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen [“Cold Comfort”] was to be the first to reach the South Pole and return alive. Amundsen planned his trip precisely. He executed his plan exactly and accomplished what he set out to do. His journey should be justly celebrated. Scott, on the other hand, planned less well and then thoughtlessly added an extra man to the trip. This crucial lapse in judgment led inevitably to a shortage of food and fuel on the return trip and ensured that the crew would die. Certain deaths may be deemed glorious, but not when they are so obviously preventable.
Steve Gietschier
St. Charles, Missouri

On Twitter
@juliadimon Evolution tourism. Love it. Tanzania is also a great spot to see footprints of the first hominids.

@JaneTribune Just bought a few @judyblume novels to add to my collection and give to 12 yo daughter. She is loving them.

Follow us on Twitter @Smithsonianmag

On Facebook
"We all do what Jefferson did if only in our minds. We cut and paste the Scripture to suit ourselves [“Cut and Paste”]. We all ignore parts of Scripture and cling to others."

Peggy Scholfield

Join the online conversation at

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.