By Deborah Heiligman
This is Darwin's year. We celebrated his 200th birthday in February and this month is the 150th anniversary of publication of "The Origin of the Species". Sadly there are still misconceptions about Charles Darwin and his science, falsehoods that are spread, making people scared to teach children about him. But we most certainly should teach our children about Darwin. Here is a primer I hope will convince:
1. Charles Darwin was a loving, caring father and a very kind man. Not a meanie, as someone one said to me ("survival of the fittest and all that."), but a softie. His children ran in and out of his study looking for rulers and scissors and tape. He hugged his children, bathed them when they were babies, and let them jump on the sofa, even though it was against the rules.
2. Charles Darwin was a genius. He had a great idea--evolution by natural selection-- that has withstood the test of time. He did not get that idea in a Eureka moment in the Galapagos. It was only after he left, on his way home that he started to think about the finches and mockingbirds and their beaks.
3. Charles Darwin was a hard worker. When he was interested in something he gave it his all (as a child he wasn't that interested in school). He was extremely organized and methodical. He took years and years to perfect his theory so that it would be as airtight as possible. He anticipated the objections and addressed them in his book in a chapter called "Difficulties with the Theory."
4. The word THEORY in science does not mean "just a theory." It means the analysis of a set of facts.
5. Darwin hated to offend and he hated controversy. In "The Origin of Species" you will see that in his voice. It pained him to think that he might cause anyone discomfort or hurt. That's why he sat on his theory for decades.
6. Darwin never said that humans evolved from apes. This is a basic misunderstanding of evolution. Humans and apes have a common ancestor. Recently scientists found an early human ancestor. In the tradition of Darwin they worked for years to put together the pieces.
7. Charles and Emma Darwin had a long and close marriage even though they disagreed about religion. The marriage survived the deaths of three children. When their 10-year-old daughter Annie died, in 1851, their hearts broke, but not their marriage. Why? They talked to each other, working hard to see each other's point of view.
8. Charles Darwin had champions among his religious colleagues and friends. Here in America Asa Gray, the botanist, championed Darwin's theory, leaving room for God in the process. And at home Emma was his first reader and best editor. She did not seek to dilute his argument in The Origin. In fact, she cleaned up his language (and his spelling and punctuation) to make the prose stronger.
9. Charles Darwin was one of the real Good Guys in history. It's true that he published the Origin after he found out that Alfred Russell Wallace also had the same idea. It was the thing that pushed him to finally publish, after decades of sitting on his work (because he did not want to rock the boat). But first he had his paper and Wallace's published together. Then he wrote his book.
10. Charles Darwin is a great role model. He was a genius who worked hard. He was a loving father and husband. His kids adored him. So did his friends. He was honored by his country when he died.
We should teach our children about Charles Darwin.