The last Darwin lecture and the real ‘Origin of Species’

College finished on Friday with what must have been one of the last of this year’s Darwin lectures. (In case you’ve been living in a cave, 2009 was the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ and there have been events all over the world to mark the occasion). I caught a few excellent talks on Darwin at the Faraday Institute in Cambridge last summer (see posts here) but it was good to hear one in our own college; ‘The Life and Legacy of Charles Darwin’ by Eoin Gill of WIT’s CALMAST centre for the communication of science. This was a short, informal lunchtime talk but it covered all the main points:

– the life and work of Erasmus Darwin (Charles’s grandfather) including his ideas on evolution

– Charles’s family background, his early career at Cambridge and the influence of Rev Henslow

– the famous Beagle voyage with Capt Fitzroy and the emergence of Darwin the collector

– the return to Britain and the finch exhibition

– the slow dawning of the theory of naural selection

– family tragedies and the long quiet

– the letter from Wallace and the advice of friends at the Royal Society to publish simultaneously

– the publication of the book, the effect on society and the Huxely/Wilberforce debate

– modern genetics and further support for natural selection

You can view the slides from Eoin’s talk here.

Sadly, resistance to the theory of evolution by natural selection remains as strong as ever in some parts of the world, despite the overwhelming supporting evidence for the theory. As Richard Dawkins points out, it seems that those who insist on a literal reading of the Bible cannot and will not be dissuaded by scientific evidence contrary to their views. I heard a lot on this point last summer at the Faraday Institute in Cambridge, it was interesting to hear eminent theologians crticizing creationism just as much as scientists.

Just this week, a curious book was circulated in our own college – an abridged version of ‘On the Origin of Species’ published by creationist group ‘Living Waters Ministries’ that omits several chapters of the original and includes a bizarre religious introduction that attacks Darwin. Sigh…

The Living Waters version …I prefer the original

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