February 14, 2018

Happy B-day, Charlie Darwin!


Charles Darwin, the naturalist made famous by his contributions to the theory of evolution and his book On the Origin of Species, was also a pretty fun and nimble writer.

Michelle Nijhuis recently wrote something of an appreciation for the writerly Darwin for the New Yorker. In it she writes how—under the influence of “a slim volume called ‘Werner’s Nomenclature of Colours,’ published in 1814 by the Scottish artist Patrick Syme,”—Darwin was able to bring a world of Galapagosian color to life for his European readership.

And so we see no need to exclude him from this writerly space — particularly on the occasion of his birthday.

This week, Darwin celebrated what would have been his 210th birthday (he was born on February 12, 1809, a date he shares with no less a luminary than Abraham Lincoln). And nobody can celebrate a birthday like a bunch of knowledge-hungry kids, the demographic that made up the majority of the celebrants at the San Diego Natural History Museum’s adorable birthday bash.

As Roger Showley reports for the San Diego Union-Tribune, the event included live animals, coloring books, a model of the HMS Beagle on which Darwin sailed, and a general abolishment of scientific ignorance. Showley writes:

Docent Bill D’Ablaing, a Montgomery High School teacher until he retired after 33 years in 2002, manned a table with books and photographs related to Darwin. He kept covered the birthday cake, complete with a picture of the bearded Darwin, until cutting time.

When he was in high school in the 1950s, D’Ablaing recalled that evolution wasn’t even mentioned in biology textbooks until the last chapters and teachers routinely never got to that subject. Current textbooks, of course, put evolution front and center.

Except, of course, for those textbooks that don’t. And so it is nice to see efforts toward scientific literacy in a world falling behind on that front.




Ryan Harrington is a senior editor at Melville House.