Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Birthday, Origin!

Take a moment today to wish a happy 150th birthday to the Origin of Species, published on November 24, 1859. This truly seminal work should be read by everyone, scientists and laypeople alike. Darwin was an eloquent and passionate writer, and there are many lovely passages in the book. My favorite has always been the very last paragraph:

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

I think it's difficult not to find these words moving if you're anyone who gazes at stars or watches plants germinate or waits with bated breath for the latest news from the LHC. We've learned so much about the world during our species' short presence on this planet, thanks to the efforts of intrepid naturalists and researchers like Darwin, who live and breath for the pursuit of knowledge. The power of science to teach, to improve our lives, and to increase our understanding and appreciation of our fragile world is awe-inspiring. Truly, there is grandeur in this view of life.


Anonymous said...

Most people who read that title are taken aback by its racism.

Emily said...

I would disagree that most people are "taken aback" by the Origin's subtitle, which is what I assume you're referring to. I think most people probably don't notice. Those who do, and decide to take offense at Darwin's use of the word "race," are choosing to consider it in the context of modern times and the what that word has come to represent. In Darwin's day, "race" was nearly synonymous with "variety," and most historians agree that this was the meaning he intended. Indeed, much of the book focuses on the differences between species and varieties, so it's no surprise that he would have referenced them in his subtitle. I don't think there's any consensus on why he chose to use the word race instead of variety, but to charge him with racism because of it is naive. We know from Darwin's writings and contemporary accounts of him that he was certainly no more racist than anyone else in Victorian England (although I grant you that by modern standards their views on race were abhorrent). Darwin was staunchly anti-slavery and was sickened by the treatment of slaves he encountered in South America. Many have argued that one of his motives for writing the Origin, and certainly for writing Descent of Man years later, was to prove that there is no inherent difference between the human races, and therefore no justification for slavery.

sabahat said...

Amazing words, I agree with anonymous and Emily how these words elaborate the serious concept with the seeds, plants and Flowers. I will refer your blog to my friend who is doing a business in japan for flower delivery
. However he is using this commodity productively and doing a business of flowers in japan
but how you have used this is
amazingly amazing. Thats what he best of my understanding.