Last of the Darwin Celebrations
On the 24th of November 1859, 150 years ago today, Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection and the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life sold out. Biographer Janet Browne (03/07/2009) explained in the bonus features of the film The Voyage that Shook the World (see Resource of the Week for 09/19/2009) that the image of people rushing into bookstores, bumping elbows to grab copies of Darwin’s bombshell book, is a myth. It was only a modest run of 1750 copies, for one thing – far less than the hundreds of thousands of copies a Dickens novel might obtain, “or the 60,000 copies of the solidly religious Bridgewater Treatises that had accumulated on the nation’s shelves by 1860.”1 And the Origin was sold out to booksellers – not to the public. Nevertheless, the impact of Darwin’s ideas is no myth.
With the passing of the second big Darwin celebration this year (see 02/13/2009), it is perhaps appropriate to note some of the last hurrahs of the season. Live Science reported that “Darwin is going digital” as drafts of rare Darwin manuscripts are being posted online by the Darwin Manuscripts Project. Making this information accessible can, of course, benefit both supporters and critics of Darwinism. The BBC News published winning entries in a “Darwin photo competition” that celebrated “exploring and investigating nature” (a worthy activity engaged in by both creationists and evolutionists). A cartoony image of Darwin graced Science Magazine’s Darwin Anniversary blog Origins announcing that the National Science Foundation posted an interactive, online report on “The Evolution of Evolution” – i.e., “on the influence of Charles Darwin on many walks of science.” National Geographic allowed evolutionist reporter Ker Than to clobber Discovery Institute rep Casey Luskin with a quote from Don Prothero that “intelligent design advocates simply ignore the evidence.” (Luskin typically answers such charges on Evolution News and Views.) Over at New Scientist Rowan Harper gathered quotes from Darwin’s letters and writings and organized them in interview fashion. First Q&A: “What was it like, coming up with the idea that changed the world?” – to which Darwin replied, “Like confessing a murder” (see 11/30/2005).
One last anecdote: PhysOrg reported that a rare 1st-edition copy of the Origin was discovered on a toilet bookshelf of a guest lavatory in Oxford. Perhaps its owner hoped the guest would become intrigued enough by the subject to motivate a Victorian download.
1. Janet Browne, Charles Darwin: The Power of Place (Princeton, 2002), p. 88.
Whew. Now that the silliness is over, let’s; get on with 200 years of intelligent design science.