Monday, April 7, 2008

Darwin and his bulldog at the ROM

The last lecture I attended at the ROM last weekend was about the Darwin exhibit. The exhibit follows the timeline of Darwin's life and work. It starts with an introduction about the state of evolutionary thinking in his time, the various ideas about how the great variety of living things came into being. There were two main lines of thought, that God created everything as we see it today and nothing has changed, and that there was some sort of evolution of living things from past forms to current ones, but how or why it occurred was a mystery. Then it traces Charles Darwin's life from early childhood until his death (1809-1882). The last area is about the aftermath of his ideas on evolution, how the Darwinian Theory of Evolution has fared since his death. I think I will try to take Tristan to this exhibit, it has a lot of interactive parts that he will appreciate.

I've done a lot of reading about Darwin over the years so there wasn't much that was new to me, but I thought it was well done. There was one interesting little anecdote about Thomas Huxley, "Darwin's Bulldog". After Darwin formally presented his Theory of Evolution to the Royal Society, the theory came under considerable attack particularly from religious critics. Huxley took it upon himself to defend the theory, which he did admirably. Hence his nickname. At any rate, before all this happened, he applied for a position as a professor in the biology department at the University of Toronto. One of his references was written by Charles Darwin. However, he was not hired. In his stead, U of T hired the brother of the current governor of the province of Ontario (well, actually he would have been the governor of Upper Canada, since Canada as a nation and Ontario as a province did not yet exist), who had some rather unfortunate theories of his own about evolution and taxonomy. While U of T fell victim to nepotism, Huxley remained in England to become Darwin's Bulldog, a fortuitous end to that story. As part of the exhibit they have two tortoises, an iguana and a frog. I saw the tortoises move so I know they are alive, the frog looks alive but I never saw it move and the iguana looks like a statue of a sleeping iguana draped over a branch. They say it's alive but I've been there twice and it hadn't changed position at all.

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