Darwin, God & Science

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was published on this day in 1859. Intensely aware of its implications, Darwin prefaced his book with two quotations that suggested that God was part of, and friendly toward, good science. One quotation was by William Whewell, a noted contemporary scientist, and the other was by Sir Francis Bacon:

To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or in the book of God's works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both. (The Advancement of Learning, 1605)

Religion had played a role in getting Darwin on the Beagle in the first place. Faced with his father's reluctance to let him go, Darwin appealed to his uncle Josiah Wedgewood (of the china company) for support. Prominent on Wedgewood's list of persuasions was his belief that "the pursuit of Natural History...is very suitable to a clergyman" -- the career that Darwin, before going, envisioned for himself.


Religion also figured prominently in one of the Beagle's oddest side-adventures, this the final act in an ethnocentric black comedy that had begun with the ship's first voyage to South America, 1826-1830. Captain FitzRoy had returned from that trip with a number of the local tribe, originally taken as hostage in a dispute over a stolen boat. Three of these were now being returned to Tierra del Fuego, made over with British names, manners, and beliefs. The hope was that Jemmy Button, Fuegia Basket and York Minster would prove models of Christian behavior and helpers to the young missionary who accompanied them. The Beagle's crew built their huts, helped unpack such articles as the well-meaning ladies of London had seen fit to provide -- the items included wine glasses, tea trays, top hats and white linen -- and went off to do science. When they returned in two weeks' time the missionary ran screaming to the captain's launch before it had stopped, refusing to return. The Fuegians did not like beards and had at that moment been plucking out his facial hair with mussel shells. On the Beagle's return a year later, the tea trays and the entire settlement had disappeared, although a naked, dirty and (according to Darwin) ashamed Jemmy Button was finally recognized among those watching from the bushes. When offered the chance to return to England, he showed no interest.


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.


Kenneth Calhoun (Black Moon) and Lysely Tenorio (Monstress) of the Discover Great New Writers program on B-movies, heritage, and finales.

Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
A Private Venus

Dubbed "the Italian Simenon," Giorgio Scerbanenco (1911-1969) began his crime-writing career with books set in the USA, but quickly shifted scene closer to home, the city of Milan.  In this adventure, appearing in English for the first time, his underdog hero Dr. Duca Lamberti finds himself in the middle of a seedy, scantily clad criminal racket, where the presence of an outsider could result in death.

The Promise of Hope

Killed last year in the infamous terror attack at Nairobi's Westgate mall, Kofi Awoonor was a national treasure in his native Ghana.  His career began in 1964 with Rediscovery, and this magnum opus serves as a tribute to his entire long journey charting his beloved nation's course through his accomplished poetry.

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

A pair of linked stories finds that, as translator Ann Jefferson relates, "[Pierre] Michon's great theme is the precarious balance between belief and imposture, and the way the greatest aspirations can be complicated by physical desire or the equally urgent desire for what he calls glory."