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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Charles Darwin Exhibition

This year is the 200th centenary of the birth of the biologist Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of his masterpiece On the Origin of Species. To mark the occasion the Natural History Museum in London mounted a special exhibition which I was able to visit in April.

I met up with Maalie Courtier Katrina, curator of birds at the Natural History Museum (background), who kindly guided me to the Darwin Exhibition.

Upon entering the museum, almost the first thing you see is a statue of the genius biologist Charles Darwin

Within the exhibition are specimens and examples of Darwin's research

Darwin's private study is reconstructed...

...with an example of an original notebook in his own handwriting

A pair of the original specimens of the Mocking Birds that Darwin collected during his stay in the Galapagos Islands, which were crucial in the formultation of his initial ideas about evolution by natural selection

Original specimens of the eponymous finches from the Galapagos islands which led Darwin to develop the concept of adaptive radiation

Darwin's publication of Origin of Species inevitably led to the conclusion that mankind had evolved from common ancestors, just as had every other species on the planet.

I was strangely moved by seeing these fossil skulls depicting the lineage of man from hominid precursors, dating back millions of years, arranged in chronological sequence

Ever the scientist, Darwin even applied logic to make a decision about whether or not to marry, weighing the pros and cons as if on the pans of a scale. It seems that the notion of "the nice wife on the sofa" tipped the scales in favour of marriage, which resulted in ten children, some whom did not live long.
Please click on the picture to enlarge to read the text more clearly.


Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Those skulls. Are they real, or reconstructions? Did Darwin ever see hominid skulls or did they come later with Leakey?

5:19 pm  
Blogger Charles Gramlich said...

Oh, wow, I would love to see that. I've been a big Darwin fan for a long time. What an amazing fellow. And to answer Lorenzothellama, no Darwin himself never saw hominid skulls. Nothing more than the skeletons of great apes.

5:53 pm  
Blogger donsands said...

I appreciate the visit Maalie.

Darwin seemed to have an unhappy marriage.
He surely was a brilliant man, but I think there are many who can refute his teachings.

For instance: ". Throughout history, more than 6,000 species of ape have lived, and most of them have become extinct. Today, only 120 species live on the earth. These 6,000 or so species of ape, most of which are extinct, constitute a rich resource for the evolutionists." -Harun Yahya

8:23 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2008 said...

Wow maalie...what an amazing exhibition. Now if only I could fit in a wee trip to London!!! (Actually I went to the Manawatu Proms yesterday afternoon - sang crazy things like Rule Britannia!!!!!!!- and got a competition form for a trip to the UK. Must check it out!!!

9:05 pm  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

Thanks, Maalie for alerting me to this. Quite fascinating. If I had the time, or sometime, I'd like to read a good biography on Darwin.

His wife was a devout Christian, and from what I've heard he especially struggled with faith in God after a daughter died at the age of ten. Actually here she is and an account about that. But that actually strengthened an already strong bond between Darwin and his wife, in spite of his struggles over faith- from the account I think I heard.

Too bad evolution for many, especially over here, has to be equated with the diminishing or loss of faith. It need not be at all, and such thinking on the part of some Christians did impact Darwin against faith, from what I understand. Though some Christians who knew Darwin, and/or knew of him did not believe accepting evolution meant abandoning faith in the God of the Bible, or best put, the God of Jesus (and in Jesus)- at all.

Fascinating, and it would be wonderful to be there. And even far better if we had a guided tour from you while there.

And I notice, as is true of Susan, and certainly seems true of you: you scientists are driven people. But for good reason. So much to work on and work through, and keep doing so. And fascinating.


10:42 pm  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

I think this is the program from which I heard what I shared here. Quite interesting.

10:48 pm  
Blogger simon said...

2 things-

I went to this museum in 2002 and was "blown away" by the exhibition.

Also in recent weeks I have walked in the Blue Mountains walks that Charles Darwin walked...

Darwin had an unhappy marriage Don?

Yes.. most explorers or men of note did. those who sit around and do nothing generally do not.....

8:21 am  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Simon, Ranulph Feinnes had an extremely happy marriage until his wife died a few years back. I have just been reading his autobiography 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know'.

8:45 am  
Blogger donsands said...

"Yes.. most explorers or men of note did."

I'd have to check on that.

I didn't even know Darwin was married to be honest. And so when I read about his marriage being what it was, I thought it said something about the man.

Perhpas you are right Simon.

But those husbands that sit around and do nothing I would think have wives that may not be too happy either.

2:08 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Creationists: This post is mainly to report what I saw. If you dispute the content, please contact:
The Director, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK, and argue your case there.

Donsands, I don't understand the point you are making. Most species that have ever existed are extinct. That is evidence for natural selection of course.
Unhappy marriage? He had 10 kids, there must have been at least some runcibility there!

Ted, thanks for your remarks. I will follow your link soon.

Simon, yes it is good to have such walks. I had my "personal communion" with Darwin when I visited the Beagle Channel in 2007.

Kiwi: Our proms season is just about to begin! I thought things like "Rule Britannia" were an anathema to you Down Under ;-)

Lorenzo, you mean his marriage improved after her death? Do you know why it was unhappy? Maybe she objected to his boyish enthusiasm.

Charles Gramlich: I agree Darwin was of fundamental importance in revolutionising our understanding of biology. Imagine what might have been the outcome if he and Gregor Mendel had been able to collaborate!

2:19 pm  
Anonymous Zuri said...

The Galapagos Islands are the most incredible living museum of evolutionary changes, with a huge variety of exotic species (birds, land animals, plants) and landscapes not seen anywhere else.

3:04 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Zuri, I agree. Sadly, I have not been there. Instead, I made my homage to Darwin by visiting the eponymous Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego.

3:08 pm  
Blogger Kiwi Nomad 2008 said... are right really... to someone of my Irish heritage it was a bit galling to have stuff like Land of Hope and Glory etc. But Malvina Major was singing, one of our best sopranos, and I really went to hear her;-) And I was probably not really grey-haired enough, but actually there was a lot of fooling around, so if you forgot the words, it was all a lot of fun!

3:49 pm  
Blogger donsands said...

Maybe this will help:

"William Fix, the author of an important book on the subject of paleoanthropology, makes this comment:

'As we have seen, there are numerous scientists and popularizers today who have the temerity to tell us that there is 'no doubt' how man originated. If only they had the evidence...'

There is no scientific evidence for the claim that man evolved. What is put forward as "proof" is nothing but one-sided comment on a few fossils.
This claim of evolution, which "lacks any evidence," starts the human family tree with a group of apes that have been claimed to constitute a distinct genus, Australopithecus. According to the claim, Australopithecus gradually began to walk upright, his brain grew, and he passed through a series of stages until he arrived at man's present state (Homo sapiens). But the fossil record does not support this scenario."

I may contact him: "The Director, Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 5BD, UK, and argue your case there." Thanks.

7:13 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Donsands: I refer you to the Director of the British Natural History Museum in London; indeed to any natural history museum in any country. Or simply to first grade biology text books. This post was writtten as a tribute to one of the greatest biologists ever.

8:57 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Maalie, you misread me. Ranulph Feinnes had an extremely HAPPY marriage! She accompanied him on some of his adventures, although not the more extreme of them. On those, she was his radio officer. She was the first woman to be awarded the elite Polar Medal.

Not all wives object to boyish enthusiasm, don't you know?

Are the skulls real, or reconstructions?

8:13 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

I'm afraid that your assertion that there is no scientific evidence for the claim that man evolved is simply nonsense.

Which particular Australopithecus are you referring to? There are a number of species (some of which are recently split off into a separate genus Parapithecus). The most likely candidate for an ancestor to modern man is a type called Australopithecus afarensis, discovered by your own country's distinguished anthroplogist (and namesake!) Donald Johanson. Anyway, from somewhere among the Australopithecus group evolved the first hominid that, for various reasons (including brain size, bipedal locomation, cultural development) that can be classified as "Man", namely Homo habilis ("Able man"). There is then a clearly elucidated progress through Homo ergaster and Homo erectus towards "Modern Man", Homo sapiens. Not only do we have a clear relative dating of these events, but can even trace the migration routes out of Africa into Europe and Asia.

The story is a complex but interesting one. There are some excellent proper scientific sources available for you to read (try 'googling' any of the names I have mentioned above, for example). I regret that the creationist movement is all too ready to put about mis-information and half-truths and to mis-quote incontravertible evidence in order to delay acceptance of the inevitable.

On the other hand you may consult the Director of any Natural History Museaum in any of the world's capitals, or any Biology Professor in any of your distiguished Universities.

I dispute that William Fix's book is "important" - that is your own judgement. William Fix is neither an evolutionist nor a creationist and his book The Bone Peddlers promoted a theory of his own which he calls "psychogenesis". This is not peer-reviewed science and is regarded as personal and eccentric.

10:23 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Lorenzo: The actual skulls on display in the exhibition are casts of the originals, which are far too precious risk exposing like that (like ancient manuscripts etc.). I have however seen some of the originals - they really do exist!

10:27 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Donsands: You can read a review of William Fix's book here .

The summary says:

"Fix's criticisms of the fossil record have no validity. Although creationists occasionally like to promote Fix as someone who is skeptical of evolution from a non-creationist viewpoint, his criticisms appear to have been mostly borrowed from creationist literature. Fix's book has, in fact, sunk into almost total (and well-deserved) oblivion. A web search for it found no references to it except for the occasional creationist web page.

"Almost total and well-deserved oblivion"? I hardly call that important! I think that knocks that one on the head.

10:36 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it is a very interesting history of charles and emma. growing up as 1st cousins, their difference in belief in God, along with having ten children. quite the pair.

thanks for your visit and comment, jim.

4:40 pm  
Blogger donsands said...

I won't fix my hopes on Fix any longer. I suppose I need to check a bit more on some of the scientist I quote.

".. real experts on the subject are aware that there is no scientific foundation for the claim of human evolution.
David Pilbeam, a Harvard University paleoanthropologist, says:

If you brought in a smart scientist from another discipline and showed him the meagre evidence we've got he'd surely say, "forget it; there isn't enough to go on."

He seems like quite a bright scientist.

"Thanks to developments in genetic science, it is now understood that increases in variety within one species can never lead to the emergence of another new species. What Darwin believed to be "evolution," was actually "variation.""

I have to believe there are no slam dunks here. Though the one slam dunk is that there has to be an eternal something: A Rock, Gas, dust, or Creator. Has to be.

I appreciate you allowing me to share.

9:19 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Donsands: I am astonished that you cite David Pilbeam, one of the great plaeoanthropologists who has contributed so much to our understanding of human evolution.

I quote:

> Simons’s theory was strongly supported by his student David Pilbeam, and it soon gained wide acceptance among anthropologists. The age of the fossils (about 14 million years) fit well with the then-prevailing notion that the ape-human split had occurred at least 15 million years ago.

That doesn't sound like a skepticism of human evolution to me!

And I'm sorry, your reference to Darwin is again one of those mis-quotes so beloved of creationists who try to sow the seeds of doubt about the veracity of scientific evidence.

9:38 pm  
Blogger simon said...

hey Don! thats the BEST thing you have said- I appreciate it when someone admits they need to look a bit further! good on you!

7:43 am  
Blogger Ted M. Gossard said...

This post was interesting.

Yes, I believe Creation Science does a grave disservice especially to young people. It's built on both a faulty theological and scientific premise. And from my reading, I believe "Intelligent Design" fails as well.

Though aside from science, there does seem to be a fine tuning of the universe which could point to a creator/mind behind it. But that's not a scientific question. I take it as a question for us as humans, though, because we are surely more than just matter. (I mean what's in matter is more than matter; I mean that as well!)

8:30 am  
Blogger donsands said...

"perhaps generations of students of human evolution, including myself, have been flailing about in the dark; that our data base is too sparse, too slippery, for it to be able to mold our theories. Rather the theories are more statements about us and ideology than about the past. Paleoanthropology reveals more about how humans view themselves than it does about how humans came about. But that is heresy."-Dr. David Pilbeam

It seems to me there have been misconceptions made. That never seems to be brought up though; all the mistakes.

I'm not sure where Dr. Pilbeam is coming from entirely, but at least he admits there are "flailings about in the dark".

1:14 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

>there are "flailings about in the dark".. .

In the sense that fossil finds are rare and random, that may be true. However, recent develpoments in gentetics and molecular biology have hugely improved our knowledge about the relationships between organisms (phyolgeny).

Man and the Chimpanzee share something like 95% of our genes in common, though the common ancestor of us both became extinct some ten million years ago.

In relation to a previous point, there are only about 1% of organisms alive now that have ever lived. Extinction is part of the evolutionary process.

3:28 pm  
Blogger lorenzothellama said...

Can you get DNA from old bones?

6:14 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...

Lorenzo: Up to a point. Techniques advance by the year and we are getting further and further back diown the evolutionary "tree".

10:40 am  
Blogger simon said...

I heard that too. It also depends on just how the bones have been preserved? eg in ice v in mud?

11:43 am  
Blogger Ellee Seymour said...

I have yet to see this extension, I have visited the previous exhibits and went on a behind the scenes tour of the Darwin centre at the Natural History Museum.
You may be interested to know that next Fri I am going on a guided tour of the Darwin exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. I hear it is fabulous.
Glad you are having a wonderful summer, and thanks for keeping in touch. You do have so many wonderful adventures.

1:59 pm  
Blogger Halfmom said...

Oops - sorry to post twice - I forgot to put in what I came to ask for - grandfather pictures from your recent visit! So, with that said, I'll paste in the old comment.

I want to go to the Galapagos - always have :)

I'm afraid that I missed out on the Museum of Natural History in DC last week - we only had 2 hours to tour since they are closing the museums at 5pm now - it lost out to an art exhibit and the botanical garden.

9:06 pm  
Blogger donsands said...

I found this article to be quite interesting.
This could ruin the whole idea that dinasaurs are 70,000,000 years old.

5:12 pm  
Blogger Maalie said...


"Young Earth Creationists have cited Schweitzer's work as evidence that the earth is only a few thousand years old. Schweitzer, however, who describes herself as a "complete and total Christian," has nonetheless condemned this interpretation of her work. . .

You need to be very careful when citing creationist sources. They twist the facts, repeatedly, in order to attempt to undermine orthodox science.

5:18 pm  
Blogger donsands said...

"They twist the facts, repeatedly, in order to attempt to undermine orthodox science."

And the other side has there many hoaxes as well:

"A National Geographic (NG) article ‘Feathers for T. Rex?’ by the Senior Assistant Editor, Christopher Sloan,1 has attracted fierce criticism from some prominent evolutionists for its promotion of the idea that birds evolved from dinosaurs. The article even illustrated a baby T. rex with feathers, as well as putting feathers on another theropod dinosaur, Deinonychus. In a prominent heading, the article proclaimed: ‘We can now say that birds are theropods just as confidently as we say that humans are mammals.’2 It was based on a fossil illegally exported3 from Liaoning Province, China, tentatively named Archaeoraptor liaoningensis, allegedly a ‘feathered dinosaur’."

I appreciate integrity, though there are many on both sides without having it. And so they make up things, and their consciences are seared methinks. I hope not.

I hope they come clean. Those on both sides that is.

12:28 am  
Blogger Maalie said...

Donsands, yes sadly there is fraud in all walks of life.

The difference in Science however is that the evidence is peer-reviewd in the public domain and hoaxes are always quickly exposed.

12:22 pm  
Anonymous jimm said...

key word is all of this science is "theory" -- no one can really prove any of this so, in a sense it is like a religious debate. one side believes in God as the creator of all things and one side does not. it is an interesting pursuit these theories, i don't believe anyone can prove it out scientifically. how can you be sure that the measuring tool you are using can be accurate past a few thousand years? how can you be confident in measuring to billions of years. the recent interesting term i have heard is the "God particle" that CERN is trying to create.
i am glad you enjoy your work and it is very interesting -- be mindful of how confident you are in you "facts" and remember the word "theory" is always in view

1:31 pm  

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