Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Charles Darwin was an all-round good egg.

2009 sees both the bicentennial of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of the Origins of Species, making it a good time for all things Charles Darwin related.

I’ve been doing some reading on the Great Man himself and I’m mildly surprised to find that he was thoroughly decent human being and an all-round top bloke.

I already knew he was a loving father and husband and not the remote, aloof authority figure expected for a man of his class and age. But Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s most recent book Darwin’s Sacred Cause (review here) argues convincingly that Darwin’s quest for a common human ancestor grew out of his revulsion of slavery and his horror of the racist argument that black people were inherently inferior to whites.

An important part of this was the Christian belief in the essential brotherhood of humanity. Although Darwin drifted away from religious belief later in life, the lessons and impulses of his early life continued to influence him.

In the end of course, Darwin’s moral code was completely irrelevant to his scientific theories. It doesn’t matter if he was a brute who beat kittens* and farted in drawing rooms, the power of his theories derives from the empirical evidence.

But it’s still comforting, somehow, to find out that one of the most important thinkers in the modern world was a good egg.

*He also hatred cruelty to animals. What a nice man.

19 comments:

wari lasi said...

I can't think of anything else to say but, Yep. And of course he married a girl called Emma, which is a really great name for a girl. She was his cousin though. Is that bad? I remember being hot for one of my cousins when I was young, but I was told it was really naughty, so I decided to venture further afield.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

He did indeed marry Emma Wedgewood, a first cousin - which was not uncommon for upper class English families of the period.

He did worry about the effects of in-breeding on his children for the rest of his life, although eight of his 10 children lived long and happy lives.

squib said...

Talking of his family, I saw his grandpa's name in Frankenstein

You should do an Erasmus Darwin poem one Friday - he wrote poems about botanical sexual organs and steam engines

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

You should do an Erasmus Darwin poem one Friday

I'm onto it, Squib.

His granddad was quite the lad.

wari lasi said...

he wrote poems about botanical sexual organs and steam engines

But of course. Such an obvious relationship between the two. Orchids are all the go here, and seriously, some of them are downright gynaecological.

Perseus said...

I've always liked the sound of his name, 'Charles Darwin'. Chicken/egg as to whether it's his name or his contribution that makes it sound so distinguished. But I'm glad it's his theory, and not, say, Noel Smith's theory of evolution.

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

How about "Noel Crighton-Smith's theory of evolution"?

Or "Nigella Lawson's theory of evolution"?

Perseus said...

Crighton-Smith's Theory and Nigella's Theory are both fine, but people called 'Noel' shouldn't be allowed into the public sphere.

Nor should Trevors.

'Neville' is treading a fine line.

Boogeyman said...

But I'm glad it's his theory, and not, say, Noel Smith's theory of evolution.

So, as a former economist, you're not enamored of Adam Smith's theory of economics?

Fad MD said...

On the slavery thing, I'm reading a great book called "The Slave Ship" which focusses on that aspect of the trade and is a fantastic read.

Just sayin'

Ramon Insertnamehere said...

'Neville' is treading a fine line.

Neville Chamberlain being a prime example.

Perseus said...

We had to do a whole semester on Adam Smith. He was alright in small doses.

Boogeyman said...

My question was more whether you felt that his name - Smith - was particularly distinguished or not.

Perseus said...

Oh, I see. For economic theory, I think there is a not a more appropriate name than 'Smith'.

But for the Origin of Species, 'Darwin' suits well.

Lewd Bob said...

I think Lando Calrission's Theory of Evolution works best. Yes, let's begin calling it that.

shitbmxrider said...

Even better:

Marslando Calrissian's theory of evolution

Melba said...

RIP Mars Bar. Still can't believe it.

Fad MD said...

RIP Mars Bars??

Whatchoo talking about Willis?

Melba said...

shitbmx knows. It refers to Richard Marsland, a comedian who died last year. He had lots of nicknames, and Marslando Calrissian was one, Mars Bar another.

C'est tout.