Wed, Feb 11, 2009 - Page 9 News List

Offspring offer glimpse into Darwin’s mind

By Dean Carson  /  AP , LONDON

It is well known that Charles Darwin’s groundbreaking theory of evolution made many people furious because it contradicted the Biblical view of creation. But few know that it also created problems for Darwin at home with his deeply religious wife, Emma.

Darwin held back the book to avoid offending his wife, said Ruth Padel, the naturalist’s great-great-granddaughter.

“She said he seemed to be putting God further and further off,” Padel said in her north London home. “But they talked it through, and she said, ‘Don’t change any of your ideas for fear of hurting me.’”

The 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species changed scientific thought forever — and generated opposition that continues to this day. It is this elegant explanation of how species evolve through natural selection that makes Darwin’s 200th birthday tomorrow such a major event.

More than 300 birthday celebrations are planned in Britain alone, where Darwin’s face graces the £10 bill along with that of Queen Elizabeth II. Shrewsbury, the central England town where Darwin was born and raised, is holding a monthlong festival for its most famous son. And a permanent exhibition re-creating some of his most famous experiments is opening at Down House, his former home near London.

Many more events are planned worldwide, including the Second World Summit on evolution in the Galapagos islands in August. In Australia, the Perth Mint is putting out a special commemorative silver coin.

Even Darwin’s ideological adversaries concede that he was a towering figure.

“He was clearly extremely important, his thinking changed the world,” said Paul Taylor, a spokesman for Answers in Genesis, a prominent group that rejects Darwin’s theory of evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the Bible. “We disagree with his conclusions, with the way he made extrapolations, but he was a very careful observer and we’ve got a lot to be grateful for.”

Bob Bloomfield, special projects director at London’s Museum of Natural History, said Darwin was cautious not only because he didn’t want to offend his wife, but also because he understood that the concept of man’s evolution from other animals was controversial. He didn’t want to present it simply as a hypothesis, but as an explanation buttressed by many observations and facts.

“He knew he had to make an absolutely iron-cast case for his theory,” Bloomfield said. “He was one of the earliest true scientists where everything he was prepared to write about had to be based on evidence.”

Darwin’s small, handwritten diaries will be on display at a major exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, as will thousands of specimens he collected. Some came from his fabled five-year trip to South America aboard the Beagle, when he visited the remote Galapagos Islands and saw how some species had adapted to its strange, demanding environment.

The diaries offer insights into Darwin’s meticulous, analytical approach. He even lists the pros and cons of getting married.

The advantages? A wife would be a constant companion, a friend in old age and fill the house with music and feminine chitchat. The cons? Losing the freedom to come and go as he pleased and to read as much as he wanted at night. Visiting relatives. And he would have to spend money on children, not books.

After much deliberation, Darwin renounced the single life.

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