Charles Darwin was born 202 years ago today in Shropshire, England. Endowed with an innate curiosity, his background in geology and the observations he made during a five year journey on the HMS Beagle sparked his desire to explain the diversity of life. During his career Darwin authored many books and publications, but On the Origin of Species is perhaps his most well-known work. His theories of evolution and natural selection still spark controversy in some circles today.
In late 2009, shortly after we were married, Chris and I were lucky enough to visit a temporary exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History entitled “Since Darwin: The Evolution of Evolution.” The exhibit, consisting of many books and specimens, outlined how Darwin’s theories have worked to unify the life sciences. I remember being particularly interested in the illustrations of the different types of birds Darwin viewed during his travels and how their beak size and shape, and other physical characteristics may have influenced his theory of natural selection.
To celebrate Darwin Day we decided to learn a little more about the scientist’s inspirations and inner struggles. We began the morning with The Voyage that Shook the World, an account of Darwin’s epic journey on the HMS Beagle. It featured a lot of commentary from today’s science communities, and some interesting information about the man behind the theory. Unfortunately, I felt that the short film tried to pack in more science than could be absorbed in an hour’s time. Interestingly, while it did offer much evidence to support some of Darwin’s theories, it also pointed out some shortcoming in is earlier geological theories.
Later in the evening we watched a drama about Darwin’s life and career, Creation, starring Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany. The movie was well-done, but overall I found it very depressing — in particular an orangutan death scene that literally had me in tears. Also, although it is widely known that Darwin was a troubled and ill man during his lifetime, I couldn’t help but feel that the movie’s depiction of him as a man who saw his daughter’s ghost would have him turning in his grave. At least one redeeming quality of the film was it’s testament to the relationship between Charles Darwin and his wife Emma. Despite their very different views regarding science and religion, they remained happily married until his death, offering each other respect, support, and love.