Saint of Science


The Victorian age had a penchant for creating secular saints. Heroes of the intellect and “adventurous spirit”. Worthies who were meant to usher in the next great age of man, an age of science triumphing over superstition. One of the greatest of these was Charles Darwin.

Even during his lifetime, the man was canonized and demonized and endlessly argued over, his gift to science equal parts brilliance and controversy. He himself never intended to create intellectual rifts that persist to the present day. He simply wanted to put down his observations of natural sciences, and what he interpreted them to mean. Even then it just wasn’t that simple. However, the legend of Darwin was as much a creation of London as it was the Galapagos…as the following article explains.

The full article may be read at the Atlantic.

Heart of Darwin

by Richard Conniff

In paintings and sculptures from the last years of his life, Charles Darwin gives the impression of a man deeply wishing he could be somewhere else. At the National Portrait Gallery in London, he keeps his rumpled hat clutched in one hand, ready to bolt for the door. At the Natural History Museum, he has his coat folded across his lap, as if yearning to shed the burden of fame and slip quietly into oblivion. On the £10 note, his eyes are haunted beneath a vast furrowed brow, and there’s dismay behind that biblical white beard.

Exploring Darwin’s London

This image of Darwin is everywhere, and that seemed to me, on a recent trip to London, to be a pity. Even the founding father of evolutionary theory was not born a gloomy old man. I began to wonder if it might be possible to walk Darwin’s London and get a sense of him as a young man caught up in the fray. The landmarks of his life turned out to be all around. One day, for instance, I ducked into the Burlington Arcade—a handsome 1819 predecessor of the enclosed luxury shopping mall, where the bon ton of Darwin’s day shopped—and then, via another arcade, out onto Albemarle Street. To the right was the Royal Institution, where Darwin attended lectures. Brown’s Hotel, where a pro-Darwin group called the X Club used to meet in the 1860s, stood in mid-block. And though Darwin’s publishing company was sold off a few years ago to a conglomerate, the seventh generation of John Murrays still presides over the company’s old house just down the street. Murray told me he was already being inundated with visitors anticipating next year’s big anniversaries of Darwin’s birth (1809) and of the publication of his book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859)….


1 Comment

  1. Evolution is the single most revolutionary idea in the sciences, both social and biological. It’s hard to think of another idea aside from free markets (which are very much its ideological cousin) which has had so much opposition from so many quarters, both left and right. It is by virtue of the weight of evidence to support it, that it’s been able to survive all its enemies.

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