Because the universe is beautiful enough without having to lie about it

Darwin – Big Idea, Big Exhibition

January 11th, 2009 Posted in General Science

As you will all know, this year marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘On The Origin of Species’. To mark this event, the Natural History Museum has opened an exhibition all about the decision process that led Darwin to the publication of his masterwork, and the impact that it has had on modern society. The exhibition is not free, although all the rest of the museum (and the neighbouring Science Museum) are totally free, so they are well worth a visit. I think the entrance charge was about 9 pounds for an adult. My fiancee and I were extremely lucky – we got two of the last three tickets available that day. Which was a good start. However, this meant that we had to take the last slot of the day, and consequently didn’t have anywhere near enough time to wander round and really take in all the exhibits. I suggest you set aside at least 90 minutes, minimum.

The exhibition itself consists of a selection of objects from Darwin’s private and public life, including several specimens that he collected when circumnavigating the world on the Beagle, several of his notebooks and the various scribblings where one can see the first seeds of the Theory of Evolution beginning to take shape. The ability to see the thought process that led to one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time is a truly humbling joy, difficult though it is to put oneself back into the frame of mind of the mid-nineteenth century where species were thought to be created, immutable and constant, and were all assumed totally unrelated.

For those interested in learning the evidence for evolution, the exhibition disappoints – though mainly because it focuses purely on the evidence that was sufficient for Darwin to first develop the theory. It doesn’t cover, except extremely briefly, the huge new fields of evidence that have since arisen to fill in all the gaps in Darwin’s knowledge, most notably genetics and contemporary geology, radiometric dating and the modern, massively expanded fossil record. For those interested in the latter, there is an extremely impressive array of fossil plesiosaurs just outside the exhibition exit.

So the exhibition does exactly what it promises – it gives a thorough and insightful look at the process that began with a young Chrles Darwin invited to take a place on the Beagle, and leads up to his publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’ and the ensuing debate. I found it to be extremely good value for money – in fact, just seeing the two mockingbird specimens that kickstarted the entire thought process in Darwin’s mind, was enough for me – and those are the firist things that you see!

To summarise, the exhibition at the Natural History Museum is a wonderful opportunity to glimpse the life of Charlses Darwin and to get a better perspective on the thogh tprocess that led to his mastewrwork. I highly recommend it for all ages, though I suggest that it might prove a little too heavy going for children under the age of ten. The exhibition runs until the 19th April.

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