Thu, February 12, 2009
Sci-Tech > Technology > Happy Birthday Charles Darwin

Darwin, at 200, would be "a demon at e-mail"

2009-02-12 00:35:31 GMT2009-02-12 08:35:31 (Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

BEIJING, Feb. 12 -- It's well known that Charles Darwin's groundbreaking theory of evolution infuriated many people because it contradicted the Biblical view of creation. But few know that it also created problems for Darwin at home with his deeply religious wife, Emma.

Darwin held back the publication of On the Origin of Species to avoid offending his wife, says Ruth Padel, the naturalist's great-great-granddaughter.

Emma told him that "he seemed to be putting God further and further off", Padel says in her north London home. "But they talked it through, and she said, 'Don't change any of your ideas for fear of hurting me'."

As the world celebrates the 200th birthday of the man who changed scientific thought forever and the 150th anniversary of his book today, even his opponents concede he was a giant figure.

Though opposition to his theory continues, it is the elegant explanation of how species evolve through natural selection that makes his 200th birthday such a major event.

More than 300 celebrations have been planned in Britain alone, where Darwin's face graces the 10-pound bill along with that of Queen Elizabeth II.

Shrewsbury, the central England town where Darwin was born and raised, is holding a month-long festival for its most famous son. Down House, his former home near London, will hold a permanent exhibition recreating some of his most famous experiments.

Many more events have been planned worldwide.

"He was clearly extremely important, his thinking changed the world," says Paul Taylor, a spokesman for Answers in Genesis, a prominent group that rejects Darwin's theory of evolution in favor of a literal interpretation of the Bible. "We disagree with his conclusions, with the way he made extrapolations, but he was a very careful observer and we've got a lot to be grateful for," Taylor says.

Darwin's inquisitiveness outlasted his physical vigor, as his diaries show. "Late in life when he was quite ill, he would look at plants curling up at the window, bending to the light, and he would wonder, 'How do they do that'?" says Padel. "He was constantly thinking of relationships and that led him to understand natural selection."

What would he be doing if he were alive today? Padel thinks he would probably be studying DNA and the immune system.

She also thinks the great scribbler would be online much of the time. "He'd be a demon at e-mail," she says.

(Source: China Daily/Agencies)

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