In January, we recall Martin Luther King's birthday. In February, it's Lincoln's and Washington's birthday, and so on.
Charles Darwin was also born in February (February 12, 1809, the same as Lincoln's).
There is thus an International Darwin Day to remind us of his accomplishments.
It is of course a good thing that we not forget these remarkable people; but there are perhaps better ways to celebrate them and recall their significance.
The arts community celebrates musicians by playing their music and theaters present an author's plays. The advantage of an actual performance or presentation over a simple "Happy Darwin day" is that the former provokes us to think about what the work means to our own lives and to our understanding of the world.
So, to follow the practice from the arts community, I propose that we celebrate Darwin's life by reading what is arguably Darwin's most significant work, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
Published in 1859, the book is both a classic of scientific writing and one of those rare professional science books as well as having been written before professional science writing became so specialized as to preclude understanding by the non-scientist.
Its appearance was accompanied by a “torrent of ecstatic reviews.” One reviewer accurately predicted that if Darwin’s ideas were true, it “would cause a complete revolution in the fundamental doctrines of natural history.’” (Mukherjee, 2016, p. 40)
After he graduated from Cambridge (where he had prepared himself for a career as a minister) he was chosen to accompany a British scientific expedition as its naturalist. During a round the world voyage that lasted for five years, the young man “was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of flora and fauna in South America and in the geological relations of the present to the past…. These facts seemed to [him] to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries…” On his return, Darwin worked at “patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on” the “mystery of mysteries”, the profligate diversity of natural organisms. (Darwin, 2004, p.11)
His book The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection which appeared on November 24, 1859, provides an “abstract” of his findings.
When the book appeared curiosity about it was strong and all 1,250 copies sold out the first day. The strong demand for the book led the publisher to print another 3,000 copies in January of 1860.
There is a great deal written about the book but what you will learn will be second-hand and not based on your own experience with the book.
I hadn’t read the book either until several years ago. My experience was that Darwin led me through his argument, step-by-step, presenting his evidence. But that was my experience.
So, I invite you to celebrate Darwin by reading his classic yourself and make it part of your experience.
You can get a copy at your local library; an inexpensive copy at your bookstore (for example, the Barnes & Noble Classics edition for about $8.00 plus tax). You can also get it on-line at http://darwin-online.org.uk/contents.html#books where you can find all the editions as well as his complete set of writings.
I would be very interested to hear your experiences with Darwin.
Darwin, C. (2004). The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. New York: Barnes & Noble.
International Darwin Day. Retrieved February 16, 2017 from http://darwinday.org/
Mukherjee, S. (2016). The Gene: An Intimate History. New York: Simon & Schuster.
The title in the first edition was On the Origin of Species. In the second and subsequent editions, “On” was omitted.
Dr. John Holton
Dr. John Holton joined the S²TEM Centers SC in July of 2013, as a research associate with an emphasis on the STEM literature including state and local STEM plans from around the nation.