February 8, 2009

Darwin’s Diaries Reveal Meticulous, Caring Husband, Dad

The name Charles Darwin is synonymous with the infamous theory of evolution that infuriated many because it conflicted with the Biblical view of creation. However, not many know that his theory also launched problems in Darwin's marriage with his very religious wife, Emma.

"Darwin tried not to hurt his wife," Ruth Padel, the naturalist's great great granddaughter, told the Associated Press. "She said he seemed to be putting God further and further off. But they talked it through, and she said, 'Don't change any of your ideas for fear of hurting me' ," she said.

The 1859 release of "On the Origin of Species" altered scientific reason evermore and produced resistance that exists even now. With Darwin's 200th birthday approaching on Feb. 12, there are more than 300 birthday celebrations in Britain alone, where Darwin's face is on the 10-pound bill.

Other events are planned, including the Second World Summit on Evolution on the Galapagos Islands. In Australia, the Perth Mint is releasing a commemorative silver coin. Even those opposed to Darwin's theories admit that he is an important figure.

"He was clearly extremely important, his thinking changed the world," said Paul Taylor, a spokesman for Answers in Genesis, a group that denies Darwin's theory of evolution.

"We disagree with his conclusions, with the way he made extrapolations, but he was a very careful observer and we've got a lot to be grateful for."

Bob Bloomfield, a director at London's Museum of Natural History, thinks that Darwin was careful not only because he was concerned about his wife, but also because he knew that the theory was controversial.

"He knew he had to make an absolutely iron-cast case for his theory," Bloomfield said. "He was one of the earliest true scientists where everything he was prepared to write about had to be based on evidence."

Darwin's handwritten diaries are on display to the public at an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History, including specimens he collected. The diaries may provide insight into Darwin's scrupulous, analytical approaches.

Darwin even listed the reasons why he should, and should not, get married.

In the end, Darwin agreed to the union: "One cannot live this solitary life, with groggy old age, friendless & cold, & childless staring one in ones face, already beginning to wrinkle," he concluded.

That's where his real life was," Padel said about the diaries, a commended poet. "He had the most amazing sense of wonder. He was always thinking, 'How does that work?' And that led him to everything."

Stephen Keynes, a great-grandson, stated that Darwin also recruited his children to toss flour on bees so their paths could be followed.

"He was the most wonderful father, ever," said Keynes, 81. "He allowed his children access to his study where he was working at any time."

Darwin was a regular visitor to the London Zoo, where he was a friend to an orangutan named Jenny. He gave Jenny a mouth organ and a mirror to see her reflection. He wrote that when she was denied an apple, she sulked like a child. These notes aided Darwin in developing his idea that man evolved from primates.

"He was very interested in the expressions of animals and in particular primates and how similar they could be to humans," said Becky Coe, an education director at the zoo.

Darwin's curiosity lasted longer than his physical energy.

"Late in life when he was quite ill, he would look at plants curling up at the window, bending to the light, and he would wonder, 'How do they do that?'" said Padel. "He was constantly thinking of relationships and that led him to understand natural selection. He realized that every population is in competition with every other. He realized that is how species adapt, because they are always competing for light, water and food."

What does Padel think he would be doing if he were living today?

She says he would most likely be investigating DNA and the immune system. She also thinks the scientist would be online a lot.

"He'd be a demon at e-mail," Padel said.


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