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James Brody
November 30th, 2005, 01:49 PM
Darwin Gets His Due
"It is like confessing a murder." So wrote Charles Darwin in 1844 to botanist Joseph Hooker of his now famous theory of evolution by natural selection. At the time, the dominant belief was that all species were created by God in their present form. So Darwin, loath to provoke controversy, nurtured his idea in secret for nearly two decades before finally revealing it--first to a few trusted colleagues, then to the world in his book, On the Origin of Species. Published in 1859, the book quickly became the talk of Victorian England.

Tomorrow the Darwin exhibition opens at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. In it, visitors trace the steps of the legendary naturalist leading up to the birth of the idea that today stands as the cornerstone of modern biology. And from the live Galapagos tortoises stationed at the start of the exhibit to the orchid display at its end, the show is well worth the $21 price of admission ($16 for students and seniors; $12 for kids).

Lucky for us, Darwin was a prolific letter-writer and journal-keeper, and many of his writings are on exhibit. The most thrilling, to my mind, is a page from one of his notebooks on which he sketched the first evolutionary tree in 1837. It's nothing fancy, just a stick figure with a trunk labeled 1, branches labeled A through D, and the words "I think" scrawled at the top. But it compellingly illustrates his ground-breaking realization that all organisms on earth are related.

Darwin the man is also revealed, mostly through his correspondences. We find out that he was a slacker in school; that his father thought his plan to sail around the world on the HMS Beagle was "a wild scheme" and nearly refused him permission to go; that he made a list of the pros and cons of getting married before proposing to his first cousin Emma Wedgwood; and that he agonized over the anguish that his ideas caused his devout wife.

Full Text at ScientificAmerican
http://blog.sciam.com/index.php?title=on_the_origin_of_evolution&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1

Taken from the Evol Psych listserve.

JB