From Darwin’s Darkest Hour to the Greatest Show on Earth

One of the Weblogs that I frequently read is Michael Barton’s The Dispersal of Darwin.  You will find all things Darwin on his site.  In a recent post, Michael reviewed a new PBS film about Charles Darwin and his wife Emma entitled Darwin’s Darkest Hour, which you can see on-line.  I saw the film last night on my Mac while I was watching the Angels beat the Yankees. The film was originally broadcast on PBS earlier this month, and you can purchase it as well.

Darwin’s Darkest hour begins when he receives a letter from Alfred Russell Wallace, in which Wallace describes his theory of evolution by natural selection, and in the letter seeks Darwin’s advice, and assistance on having other scientists review his work.  The picture below shows Darwin reading the letter, and it also captures his dread upon realizing that Wallace may have first claim on the theory that Darwin had been working on for 20 years.

Charles Darwin's facial expression as he reads the letter he received from Alfred Russell Wallace, in which Wallace describes his theory of origins.

Charles Darwin's facial expression as he reads the letter he received from Alfred Russell Wallace, in which Wallace describes his theory of origins.

The film explores the intense discussions between Charles and Emma, and what Charles should do with the letter, and how Charles might be able to claim the theory as his, without being unethical.  Michael Barton gives a very powerful review of the film, which you might want to read before and after you view the movie on your computer.

As an aside, if you are a parent or a science teacher you will also enjoy the way in which Darwin worked with and tutored his children in science, and how he involved his children in a hands-on and inquiry method of learning about the natural world.

Charles Darwin involving his children in science.

Charles Darwin involving his children in science.

Of course we know that both Darwin’s and Wallace’s ideas were read together to the Linnean Society; members of the Society recommended that Darwin go ahead and write a book describing his theory.  A year later, On the Origin of Species (a link to the first edition, which you can read on-line) was published.  The picture below shows Darwin, with his wife, and children opening the package that arrived by post.

Charles Darwin and his wife Emma seeing the first published copy of On the Origins of Species.

Charles Darwin and his wife Emma, and children seeing the first published copy of On the Origins of Species.

From Darwin’s Darkest Hour was published one of the most important works in the history of science, and in the view of Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (September, 2009).  In the film, you will see how Darwin struggled with how publishing his book would effect his family, friends, and society.  And of course today, Darwin’s ideas have created enormous controversy, especially for science teachers.  I agree, however, with Richard Dawkins that:

Evolution is a fact.  Beyond reasonable doubt, beyond serious doubt, beyond sane, informed, intelligent doubt, beyond doubt evolution is a fact.

So, while you are watching the Angels/Yankees baseball game Saturday or Sunday, you might watch Darwin’s Darkest Hour, and flip through a copy of Dawkin’s The Greatest Show on Earth.

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