Now that we’re into the year of Darwin200, I’d like to share some thoughts on how this is celebrated/commemorated. Yes, we should recognise the enormous significance of Darwin’s work to our current understanding of evolution – but we should also acknowledge, as National Geographic has, that there were things he didn’t know. (How could he, lacking knowledge of genetics & molecular biology, for example?) And that, like all scientists, he got things wrong at times.
And I hope we’ll hear more about Darwin the man. Because if all we do is talk about the science, then we lose track of the fact that science is done by people. And when that happens, we run the risk of people seeing science as something disconnected from society, something that’s too hard for ‘ordinary people’ to come to grips with, something that may have little to tell them & little relevance to their lives. And that is both extremely sad, & extremely concerning.
So, why not share some of Darwin’s humanity, as well as his science? The strong youngster who didn’t always enjoy school, & who liked to show off a bit (how fast he could run, for example), & who loved ‘doing chemistry’ in the garden shed at home with his elder brother. The young man who enjoyed riding, shooting, socialising – but whose imagination was caught by some gifted teachers who encouraged & supported his interest. The inveterate bug-collector. The developing scientist who went aboard the Beagle in 1831 not altogether sure of his future path in life, & who left it in 1836 with the beginnings of a theory that would forever change our understanding of the living world. The devoted and loving husband of Emma, and the adoring father devastated by the early deaths of his children Annie & Charles Waring. The man who throughout his life was alert to & touched by the beauty and wonder of the natural world.
Let’s not lose sight of all that.