JANUARY 2003 NOTE} If you desire a recent "Darwin" item you might wish to examine my January 2003 web page (entitled "There Is A Grandeur in This View Of Life") which is a chapter that appears in Darwin Day Collection One: The Best Single Idea Ever (2002) edited by Amanda Chesworth et al. (Albuquerque, New Mexico: Tangled Bank Press). The complete 466 page volume (ISBN 0-9723844-0-5) may be purchased for $29.95 from The Darwin Day Organization ( The January 2003 page includes numerous post-1998 references, including three "Darwin videos" currently available on the WWW .

Dr. Charles F. Urbanowicz / Professor of Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
California State University, Chico
Chico, California 95929-0400
530-898-6220 [Office]; 530-898-6192 [Dept.] FAX: 530-898-6824
e-mail: / home page:

31 March 1998 [1]

[This item was printed from]

© [All Rights Reserved.] Presented at the 1998 Meetings of the Southwestern Anthropological Society and The California Folklore Society, Sacramento, California, April 16-18, 1998.


Ideas concerning Charles R. Darwin (February 12, 1809 - April 19, 1882) continue to have an impact on Anthropology and the general social sciences. Darwin the individual was Darwin the scientist was Darwin the man was Darwin the father as well as Darwin the husband! Certain myths concerning various aspects of Darwin have been incorporated into the folklore of the 20th century and this brief paper places some of these stories into perspective and, perhaps, increases our understanding of Charles R. Darwin. A brief segment of a "Charles Darwin Videotape" (produced at California State University, Chico) will be shown and mention will be made of the work being done on an interactive Darwin CD-ROM.



Long have I argued that the "history" of Anthropological theory is the most important courses in the major and my academic interest in attempting to "humanize" Charles R. Darwin (1809-1882), using the most available technology, dates from October 10, 1990, when I made my initial "first person" presentation as Darwin at a campus Anthropology Forum. There the "technology" consisted of self, slides, and transparencies. On February 10, 1993, while teaching over what was then called ITFS (Instructional Television For Students), I made another first person presentation as Darwin, utilizing self, slides, and overheads. The videotape of this "Charlie as Darwin" lecture was subsequently incorporated into various courses (and guest presentations) beginning in Fall 1993. In the Fall of 1995, Ms. Donna Crowe and I began working on a "Darwin script" and over the Spring break of 1996 (April 1-4), I once again portrayed Darwin in the first person, this time in the Color Studio: working with three cameras, teleprompters, appropriate props from the College of Humanities & Fine Arts and Theatre Arts Department, we videotaped some eight hours of my portrayal of Darwin. Over the remaining months of Spring 1996 and then through Fall 1996 and Spring 1997 the videotapes were edited (with various appropriate graphics and computer enhancements from Mr. Chris Ficken and Mr. Randy Wall of the Instructional Media Center) and one tape has been completed (Charles Darwin: Reflections - Part One: The Beginning). A fourteen second segment of "Charlie as Darwin" is available ( In Fall 1997 and through Spring 1998, videotape editing continued and the second tape (Charles Darwin: Reflections : The Voyage - Part One) is almost completed. In Fall 1997, Donna and I were encouraged by Ms. Kathy Fernandes to begin work with the Technology and Learning Program (TLP) on campus (specifically Mr. Vahid Rahbari) on a Darwin CD-ROM; work on that has been continuing to date (running in parallel to the videotape editing).



Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England, 160 miles northwest of London on the 12th of February 1809, the same day that Abraham Lincoln (16th President of the USA) was born in Kentucky, USA. Lincoln died in 1865 and Darwin in 1882. On the 12th of February 1882, Darwin wrote to a friend that "my course is nearly run" and within two months, on 19 April 1882, he had a fatal heart attack and died. His remains were conveyed by a funeral cortege on April 26 and he was interred in Westminster Abbey, London. In 1876, at the age of sixty-eight, Darwin wrote in his Autobiography that the five-year voyage on His Majesty's Ship Beagle, over the years of 1831-1836 was "by far the most important event of my life and has determined my whole career" and the scientific world should be grateful for that.

MYTH #1: Darwin is often described as beginning the voyage around the globe as the unpaid "naturalist" on the HMS Beagle's circumnavigation of the globe over the years 1831-1836; and although he may have returned as the naturalist, as Stephen J. Gould has pointed out that it was actually the Beagle's surgeon Robert McKormick who held the position as naturalist but in April 1832 he returned to England and Darwin was then the naturalist (see S.J. Gould, 1977, Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History, pages 28-31).

Much has been written about Darwin's life and, indeed, as you research it out you discover that there is a veritable "Darwin Industry" in the 20th Century. One of the most industrious books to look into part of the "Darwin Legend" is James Moore's 1994 publication appropriately entitled The Darwin Legend. Moore does an exquisite job on one particular aspect of the legend:

MYTH #2: "Did you know that Charles Darwin became a Christian before he died? It's true. I read about it once in a book--or was it a magazine. I forget. Anyway...." (J. Moore, 1994, The Darwin Legend, page 21).

Moore does an outstanding job in tracking down this myth and proving its falsehood (and the book is definitely called to your attention); he traces the origin of the "story" to one "Lady Hope" who started the story after Darwin's death. Nothing could be clearer than the following in Moore's book: a statement that Francis Darwin (1848-1925) son of Charles and Emma Darwin, made in 1918:

"Lady Hope's account of my father's views on religion is quite untrue. I have publicly accused her of falsehood, but have not seen any reply. My father's agnostic point of view is given in my 'Life and Letters of Charles Darwin,' Vol. I., pp. 304-317. You are at liberty to publish the above statement. Indeed, I shall be glad if you will do so. Yours faithfully, Francis Darwin. Brookthorpe, Gloucester. May 28, 1918."

When Darwin had his final and fatal heart attack on the 19th of April 1882, he made no deathbed statement as to his faith, but had he been asked the question by someone: "Darwin, have you made peace with God?" I personally choose to think that perhaps he would have responded with the words attributed to Thoreau on his deathbed, who is said to have responded to that question as follows: "I didn't know we had quarreled" (Huston Smith, 1958, The Religions of Man, page 328).

MIDDLE MYTHS: #3 and #4: On The Origin extensively discussed homo sapiens and evolution.

The first edition of Origin (1859) only had the following to say about mankind:

"In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be based on a new foudnation, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." [Chapter XIV: Recapitulation and Conclusion]

Darwin did not coin the phrase "survival of the fittest" but borrowed it from the philosopher, Herbert Spencer. The phrase did not appear in the first edition of Origin in 1859 but was only incorporated for the first time in 1869 in the 5th edition of Origin. All told, Origin went through six editions in Darwin's lifetime (1859, 1860, 1861, 1866, 1869, and 1872) and if you read Darwin, what "version" are your reading?

By the 6th edition of Origin in 1872, Darwin had re-written his closing passage to read as follows:

"In the future I see open fields for far more important researches. Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already well laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by gradation. Much light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." [Chapter XV: "Recapitulation And Conclusion"]

Charles Darwin did write about Homo sapiens in The Descent of Man (first published in 1871) and in the "Preface" to the 2nd edition of Descent published in 1875, he commented on "the fiery ordeal through which this book has passed." Even though the term "evolution" is associated with the name of Darwin, Darwin did not use the term "evolution" in the first edition of Origin and Freeman pointed out in 1965 that Darwin actually used the term "evolution" in his The Descent of Man publication before he used it in Origin:

"The word evolution occurs for the first time in all of Darwin's works on page 2 of the first volume of the first edition [of The Descent of Man], that is to say before its appearance in the sixth edition of The Origin Of Species in the following year [STRESS added]" (R. B. Freeman, 1965, The Works Of Charles Darwin: An Annotated Bibliographic Handlist, page 29).

MYTH #5: Darwin was a great "prophet." In 1870 Darwin wrote the following to a friend:

"It has also pleased me to see how thoroughly you appreciate (and I do not think this is in general true with the men of science) H. Spencer; I suspect that hereafter he will be looked at as by far the greatest living philosopher in England; perhaps equal to any that have lived today."

Rachel points out in Created From Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism, the following:

"Darwin was a poor prophet. Today amost no one reads Spencer. Far from being regarded as a great philosopher, university courses in the history of the subject may not even mention him at all. Nevertheless, he was an ingenious man, and he produced a series of interesting books 'applying' the theory of evolution (as well as other scientific enthusiasms of the day) to the main problems of philosophy. In their day, his books made quite a stir." (James Rachel, 1990, page 63)

This is why I attempt to humanize Darwin: he continues to make "quite a stir."

MYTH #6: Nothing like the "competition" between Darwin and Wallace concerning "natural selection" has ever taken place in any other branch of science, certainly not in the latter half of the 20th Century.

Anyone who has read anything about the "race" for Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) is aware of the fact that James D. Watson, Francis H.C. Crick, and Maurice H.F. Wilkins were awarded the Nobel Prize (in Physiology/Medicine) in 1962, but what about Rosalind Franklin (who died in 1958)?:

"The acclaim given to Crick and Watson made them household names. Justice demands that mention should also be made of Rosalind Franklin, the crystallographer who, in collaboration with Wilkins, perfected the techniques of crystallography as applied to the study of proteins. Her work was essential to Crick and Watson's discovery. Unfortunately she died at the age of 37 in 1958, four years before the Nobel prize was awarded...." Gerald Messadié, 1988, Great Scientific Discoveries (Chambers), 1991 English edition, page 55.

More recently, the fascinating story documenting the solution to "Fermat's Last Theorem" (as described in the most readable 1997 publication entitled Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve The World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by Simon Singh) describes the seven-year solitary quest of Andrew Wiles and his fear that someone would beat him to the solution if he presented his work too early. After precipitously announcing that "Fermat's Last Theorem" was solved at an international meeting in Cambridge on June 23, 1993, when the 200 page manuscript was submitted to Inventiones Mathematicae (and then distributed to six referees), Wiles sought assistance from one of the reviewers and, much like the Darwin-Wallace "joint presentation" of 1858, on October 25, 1994, two finished manuscripts were distributed to the mathematical world: "Ring theoretic properties of certain Hecke algebras" by Richard Taylor and Andrew Wiles as well as "Modular elliptic curves and Fermat's Last Theorem" by Andrew Wiles. Although Taylor's collaboration was clearly necessary for the solution of "Fermat's Last Theorem" it will be Andrew Wiles who will be remembered for solving it.

"This time there was no doubt about the proof. The two papers, consisting of 130 pages in total, were the most thoroughly scrutinized mathematical manuscripts in history and were eventually published in Annals of Mathematics (May 1995)." Simon Singh, 1997, Fermat's Enigma: The Epic Quest to Solve The World's Greatest Mathematical Problem by (NY: Walker & Company), page 279.



Science is not neutral and the personality and background of every participant plays a role in the ever-developing story: hence, my continuous desire to humanize Darwin and perhaps better understand him. By looking at the individuals who write about Darwin, we learn something about Darwin and we also learn something about the person who writes about Darwin. For some strange (and personal reason) individuals who write about Darwin often choose to select points for their own purposes. If we view the Darwin corpus inscriptionum (to follow Malinowski's phrase in his celebrated 1922 publication of Argonauts of the Wesetern Pacific, page 24) as open to all, then it is (a) foolish to selectively choose what one writes about Darwin especially (b) if anyone can check on that Darwin information; but (c) it is even more foolish if we accept the information in #a without checking #b. Make sense?

It is unfortunate to read those who quote Darwin and (who at times) quote him so badly for their own purposes. Consider a 1982 article entitled "On The Life Of Mr. Darwin." Origin went through numerous changes and one of the most striking (and important) changes that Darwin made occured in the conclusion that as written for the 1860 edition:

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely the production of the higher animal s, directly follows. There is a grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator 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 [Stress added]. [Chapter XV: "Recapitulation And Conclusion"]

After presenting an "interview" with Darwin, the article Science 82 article concluded:

"There is a 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 laws [sic.] of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved." (R. Bingham, 1992, Science 82, Vol. 3, No. 3, Pages 34-39)

Not only did Bingham not cite Darwin's specific reference to the "Creator" but he also pluralized the "law" of gravity into manu laws! If one is familiar with Darwin, one notes the difference. In a 1993 publication, even the eminent MacArthur fellow Stephen J. Gould saw fit to quote Darwin's Origin as follows:

"And I remembered that Charles Darwin had drawn the very same contrast in the final lines of the Origin of Species. When a sking himself, in one climactic paragraph, to define the essence of the differences between life and the inanimate cosmos, Darwin chose the directional character of evolution vs. the cyclical repeatability of our clockwork solar system [and Gould then quotes the following from Darwin]: 'There is a grandeur in this view of life.... [these "...." are placed by Gould in his quote, which continues as follows] 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 involved." (Stephen J. Gould, 1993, "Shoemaker and Morning Star" in Eight Little Piggies: Reflections in Natural History, pages 216-217 )

Gould must have had a reason for not mentioning Darwin's reference to the "Creator" (remember, added by Darwin in the second edition of 1860), but it is not obvious to this reader.



Throughout my work, I have attempted to stress the basic humanity of Darwin, a point others have also noted; I also stress the importance of reading items for yourself and forming your own opinions! Do your own research and go back to the original whenever possible and not to what critics and commentators say about the original (even though that commentator might be Urbanowicz or Gould). Darwin was human and so are we all. Please read and think carefully.



There are numerous publications (and WWW sites) that continue to argue (without checking the facts) against Darwin. Alas, I think Darwin is correct. For the history of this project, and some of my fascination with Darwin, the reader is directed to several web sites which provide additional information for this presentation (and numerous additional Darwin links!): [Chico Anthropological Society Papers] [Urbanowicz on Darwin/Sep 1996] [14 second video clip] [Darwin Evolves: Nov'96]'97.html [Darwin Sep'97]

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1. © [All Rights Reserved.] For the 1998 Meetings of the Southwestern Anthropological Society and The California Folklore Society, Sacramento, California, April 16-18, 1998. To return to the beginning of this paper, please click here.

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The January 2003 note was added on 27 January 2003 by CFU