Sunday, December 2, 2007

Darwin Exhibition

One of the great delights on a Chicago visit is to wander around the vast prestigious Field Museum, named after Marshall Field. It must be one of the biggest museums in the USA, and is famous for having Sue the dinosaur greet you in the atrium. Sue, named after the fossil hunter who discovered him/her, is the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found.

This autumn the special exhibitions were on Darwin, and Native American Indians and Eskimos which will be featured in my next blog.

Darwin was descended from a medical family, his grandfather being physician to King George the Third and his father a doctor and financial advisor. The young Darwin disliked school and having to learn Latin and Greek by rote, preferring to sit and read under the dining table! Even as a child he showed an interest in natural history.

Equally he disliked his father's choice for him of a medical degree at Edinburgh University, and so didn't study. His father, proclaiming his son a family disgrace, sent him instead to Cambridge to study theology to be an Anglican clergyman.

There he engaged in a competition of collecting beetles. His talents were spotted, he took an extra course in natural history and after completing his degree joined what turned out to be a five-year mapping expedition on HMS Beagle around South America. Darwin's role was to study the geology and animal and plant life.

The Darwins were an influential family and they married into the wealthy Wedgwoods of pottery fame. Darwin's father married Susannah, daughter of Josiah Wedgwood, although sadly she died when Darwin was eight-years-old. Darwin later married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, and they had ten children.

For a man destined for the cloth - even though it was his father's choice - it is paradoxical that he devoted most of his life trying to disprove the notion of a Creator God, much to the dismay of his wife.

It was suggested in the exhibition that Darwin questioned his beliefs when his geological studies seemed to show that the earth had been formed well before Adam and Eve. His weakening faith finally petered out with the tragic death of their ten-year-old daughter, Annie.

Darwin spent the rest of his life dogged by ill-health and trying to explain how so many different species including man came to reside on this earth.

He decided that there is a link between all living creatures, a view from which his most controversial theory grew that we are sophisticated apes!

What is a shame about the exhibition, fascinating as it is, is that the museum presents Darwin's conclusions as 'the only scientific' theory on how life developed.

Darwin could never prove how life started and how different species originated.

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