Darwin Presentation and Panel Discussion
The following presentation has been performed several times with a Darwin impersonator. In the absence of an impersonator, all the roles may be performed by readers. The questions at the end of the reading are excellent topics for discussion.
Introduction – addressing Darwin: Thank you Dr. Darwin, for coming to talk to us. We are aware in the past, you avoided making public appearance; your research was usually presented by others in your stead. We are grateful you made this one exception today.
Addressing the audience: Our esteemed guest, did his best to present his earth shaking research in such a way that it would not offend the scientific and religious community. Although he was the brunt of ridicule from the press, from many fellow scientists, and, of course, from the religious community, he never responded in kind. Before his passing in 1882 and State burial in Westminster Abbey, the scientific community had finally come to realize that evolution was, indeed, a proven theory.
Today the significance of biological evolution has been confirmed by all the physical sciences, including geology, paleontology, biology, physics, cosmology, embryology, and genetics, to mention just a few. Over 99% of biological scientists embrace evolution as the explanation of how life has changed over billions of years. There have been NO recognized peer reviewed scientific papers ever presented that have successfully refuted evolution.
Currently, religious communities, with the exception of Young Earth Creationists, acknowledge that evolution is good science. Some have quietly abandoned Creationism and the literal interpretation of the Bible and now believe in a concept called Intelligent Design, where evolution plays a partial role. Dr. Francis Collins, an Evangelical Christian and noted geneticist who co-led the mapping of the human genome, calls evolution The Language of God. Whether or not one believes in a higher power, evolution remains the foundation of all physical science.
Without an understanding of evolution, there would be no antibiotics, vaccines, stem cell research, gene splicing, medical science advances, and agriculture advances. Plagues and starvation would have taken a terrible toll on humanity.
Addressing Darwin: We are forever indebted to you Dr. Darwin, for your insight and enormous contribution to humanity.
Darwin – Thank you Mr. ——-. It is a privilege to be here in this beautiful edifice with you good people. I understand the Tampa Unitarian church has a rich history of doing good, helping the needy, and inspiring members. In my day, Unitarianism was in its infancy. Traditional religion was involved in colonialism, it condoned slavery, did little to help the needy, and participated in the subjugation and destruction of indigenous people and their culture. Times have indeed changed, but there is much yet to be done. I wish you the best in your endeavors.
My personal views concerning religion may distress some of you, and for that I apologize. I was a Creationist in my youth but gradually rejected superstition and became an Agnostic. I had no choice but to reject superstition and follow science wherever it led. The terms atheism and agnosticism are variable depending who defines them. I am comfortable with agnosticism although both terms may well be interchangeable in my mind. I generally avoided debate whether it be concerning evolution or religion. From what I have heard about you good folks, we must certainly agree on all aspects of science and religion. I feel comfortable and very much relaxed speaking to you today.
Jim explains format of the panel presentation and introduces the panel. The panel will take turns asking questions. Many of Darwin’s replies will be his own words (quotes) or very close summaries of his words.
1) – Most of us know nothing of your youth Dr. Darwin. Was there anything in your childhood that might have indicated that you were to go on and contribute so much to science and humanity? We would all be interested to hear about your childhood and family. Did they encourage you to follow your dream? Were you always interested in nature?
Darwin – As a small boy I had an obsession for collected things, shells, rocks, stamps, coins… and beetles. I remember letting my imagination slightly distort truth on several occasions, but haven’t we all been guilty of that?; I claimed to have watered flowers with colored liquid resulting in blossoms of a like color…I was greeted with laughter and not taken seriously. On another occasion I hid fruit from our orchard and then claimed to have found a secret stash hidden by thieves. My father was not amused, but under his mustache I detected a smile. Such was my early childhood.
I remember nothing of my dear mother who died of a stomach ailment when I was barely eight years old. Father refrained from talking about her and strictly prohibited us from ever mentioning her name. I believe that under his stern countenance he loved her so dearly he could not bear to recall their happy times together.
No, I was not encouraged to make science a career although I always had a natural interest in nature and wondered how things came to be. Far from being encouraged to study nature, I was ordered by my father to study for the clergy. He imagined me as a pastor of a sleepy farming town with much leisure on my hands, time to read and think, and raise a large family as did he.
2) – Dr. Darwin, please tell us more about your early education. Did you attend special schools because there were no public schools back then? How about elementary school, high school, and college. I understand you attended medical school and divinity school.
Darwin – Ah, you are correct. There was no public education in England at that time. At seven years old I began taking lessons from my older sister Caroline, who was a teenager. Hah!, she often lost patience and scolded me, justifiably, I must admit. Father finally enrolled me in a nearby private boy’s boarding school. It was a fearsome place, and beatings were common for those who did not get the good grades, such as me. I disliked being there.
After school each day I ran the mile to my home and played with my sisters, until I had to run the mile back to school before the doors were locked at night. I was a vigorous boy with more energy than I knew what to do with.
I remember my brother Erasmus and I set up a home-made chemistry lab in an old shed at home. We managed to make some most horrible concoctions of sickening odor, that drew the attention of our sisters and the servants, .. to our great pleasure. I enjoyed the learning experience.
I spent much time outside as I could. I had a passion for collecting things such as newts, bugs and other little gems of nature. I loved fishing and hunting and became quite a good shot. But, I thoroughly disliked my studies and could see no future in studying dull subjects which I could not see would be any help in my future life. I had no interest whatsoever in bible study.
3) – It is rumored that you were a terrible student, a cheat, you did not study your lessons, got poor grades, and squandered your youth?
Darwin – “Nothing could have been worse for the development of my mind than the boarding school, as it was strictly classical, nothing else being taught except a little ancient geography, ancient history, Latin and Greek. The school, as a means of education to me, was simply a blank.” Had they taught science and recent history I might have been a better student.
3) again with follow-up question – Is it true your father admonished you numerous times for your terrible performance at school and he actually berated you, and I quote, “You care for nothing but hunting, dogs, and rat catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all of your family.”
Darwin – Nodes his head. Ahhh, Exactly. That is very true. I was a great disappointment to him. Neither I nor my brother wished to follow in his footsteps. Father took our choice as a personal affront to him, for which we did not blame him.
3) again – And, your school headmaster also berated you before the whole school saying you wasted your time on useless subjects. Is it true he claimed you were “… a very ordinary boy, rather below the standard of intellect.”
Darwin – Truthfully, I was an awful student and did not pay attention in class. It is true that on occasion, I copied from fellow students and promptly forgot everything I had learned. And, yes, I felt badly about my father’s disappointment in me and resolved to make him proud of me…sometime in the future.
1) – You did not finish telling us about the rest of your education. What about medical school and divinity school?
Darwin – Oh yes, forgive me. Father soon realized I was a failure at the boarding school. He pulled me out, and sent me on to Edinburgh University Medical School to join my brother Erasmus, who was now attending there.
1) – Did I hear you right Dr. Darwin, you went directly from boarding school to Medical school?
Darwin – Ahh, yes. It may seem strange to you now, but back then there were no prerequisites for admission. All one needed was money, and my father was well positioned. I confess, I did no better there than at the boarding school. I barely lasted two years and then dropped out without my father’s knowledge. I kept it from him as long as could manage, for fear of his anger. Needless to say he was disappointed when he found me out, very disappointed indeed. I did however manage to meet a professor Robert Grant whose creative ideas about science set my mind to answer the mysterious questions about nature.
About that time, I also had the privilege of attending a fascinating lecture and demonstration of taxidermy by James Audubon. Shortly after, I made the acquaintance of a former slave, John Edmonstone, who was skilled in taxidermy and greatly impressed me with his intelligence and exploration stories through South America. We became great friends and he taught me much about nature. I learned taxidermy skills, but even of more importance, I learned that the claims of so called inferior races of man was pure fiction. His mind was keen and his intellect great. His exploration stories were quite amazing and I hoped to explore the world as did he sometime in my future.
Medical studies turned my stomach. I literally became sick watching the pure agony of patients while they were secured by force and cut open. Most died of infection and were minimally helped…. Yes, I failed again in my studies. I was too sensitive to spend my life inflicting pain upon fellow humans.
In desperation, due to my failure at Medical School, my father finally hired a tutor to prepare me for admission to Christ’s College at Cambridge University in hope that I might become a country parson. I was greatly lacking in qualifications to enter such a prestigious school, but finally I did qualify for Cambridge, and resigned myself to becoming… a country parson.
3) – Dr. Darwin, Is it true you spent much of your time at Cambridge playing cards with rowdy students and getting drunk? Is it true that you skipped many of your classes?
Darwin – “During the three years which I spent at Cambridge my time was wasted as far as the academic studies were concerned, as completely as at Edinburgh… and boarding school.” I graduated at age 22 with minimal grades.
2) – Dr. Darwin, please tell us about your momentous voyage on the HMS Beagle. How were you chosen to go? What qualifications did you have?
Darwin – I received a surprise letter from a botanist friend, a Professor Henslow. He had recommended me for a two-year voyage on the HMS Beagle, as the ship’s assistant naturalist. It was a life-changing opportunity. Imagine, I was invited to ship out for a two year voyage around the world, with a Captain Fitz Roy who was ordered by the British Navy to explore and chart the coast of South America. As you know, the voyage on HMS Beagle stretched out into a five year adventure. Unfortunately, my father refused to fund the voyage. He thought it was a complete waste of time and unbecoming for a future parson.
In my depression I sought solace with friends and an attractive young lady neighbor. It was her father, my father-in-law to be, Josiah Wedgewood who came to my aid and attempted to convince my father to reconsider. Josiah accompanied me to meet with my father, his cousin and good friend. He strongly spoke in my behalf. Father finally relented and agreed to finance my adventure It was truly an unexpected stroke of good fortune.
1) – What was your route? Where did you visit?
Darwin – We had numerous ports. We set sail from Portsmouth harbor southward along the East coast of South America, surveying as we went. Captain FitzRoy spent time mapping to the southern tip of the continent and then sailed northward up the west coast of South America. Then on to the Galapagos islands, the Polynesian Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand, Tasmania, Australia, across the Indian Ocean around the tip of Africa back to the west coast of South America, and finally on to England. Our journey, scheduled to last two years actually lasted five years.
1) – What impressed you most about South America? You must have been amazed at the variety of plants, animals, so different from England. What did you think of the tropical environment?
Darwin – “In my journal I wrote that whilst standing in the midst of the grandeur of a Brazilian forest, it is not possible to give an adequate idea of the higher feelings of wonder, admiration, and devotion which fill and elevate the mind. I well remember my conviction that there is more in man than the mere breath of his body…I understand these words of mine have been widely quoted and used by some to argue that I was of the Christian faith. But now, the grandest scenes would not cause any such feeling and convictions to rise in my mind. …this sense…can hardly be advanced as an argument for the existence of God, any more than the powerful though vague and similar feelings excited by… music.”
3) – So, you admit you felt a higher presence in the grandeur of nature and then rejected it. Why could you not see that the Creation Story in Genesis is all you needed to understand the natural world? The Old Testament was the only book you needed. It had all the answers.
Darwin – ” I had gradually come to see that the literal belief in the Old Testament, its manifestly false history of the world…from its attributing to God the feelings of a vengeful tyrant, was no more to be trusted than the sacred books of other religions, or the beliefs of any barbarian. By further reflecting, … the clearest evidence would be requisite to make any sane man believe in the miracles by which Christianity is supported… Thus disbelief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete.)
2) – Dr. Darwin, you suggest that your conversion from orthodoxy was gradual. Please tell us more about it. Was it distressful to you to give up your childhood beliefs.
Darwin – The rate of my conversion was so slow that I felt no distress, and have never since doubted even for a single second that my conclusion was correct. – The more we know about the fixed laws of nature, the more incredible do miracles become. – The men at the time the scriptures were written, were ignorant and credulous to a degree almost incomprehensible to us.
2) – I take it that you do not believe in Divine revelation.
Darwin – I gradually came to disbelieve Christianity as a divine revelation. – I can indeed, hardly see why anyone ought to wish that Christianity to be true; for the plain language of the scriptures seems to show that those who do not believe, and this would include my father, brother and most all of my friends, will be everlastingly punished… This is a Damnable doctrine!”
3) – Dr. Darwin, In your youth you have stated that you were impressed with the Argument from Design as advanced by the great Theologian Robert Paley. Did you not, at one time, accept Paley’s proof of God concerning the intricate design of a watch and the vastly more intricate design of creatures in nature?
Darwin – “Ahhh, The old argument of design, as given by Paley, which formally seemed to me so conclusive, fails now that the law of natural selection has been discovered. We can no longer argue, for example, that the beautiful hinge of a bivalve must be made by an intelligent being, like the hinge of a door. There seems to be no more purposeful design in the variability of organic beings and in the action of natural selection, than in the course that the wind blows. Everything in nature is the result of fixed laws.”
3) – So now, what are your beliefs about God? How can you deny hat He is omnipotent and omnicient when we can see the wonders of nature all around us every day? Can’t you feel His presence deep inside your soul?
Darwin – I can easily see that to the human finite mind, a being so powerful and so full of knowledge, who could create the universe, would seem omnipotent and omniscient… But, it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of the millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time? … The presence of so much suffering agrees well with the view that all organic beings have been developed through variation and natural selection.”
As to your other question, I cannot see that such inner convictions and feelings of faith are of any weight as evidence of what really exists.”
2) – Dr. Darwin, you didn’t have a camera, so how did your record and amass all the information you brought back? What kind of specimens did you collect? The Beagle was so small, where did you store all the specimens you collected?
Darwin – That was a major problem because I had little storage space. I packed and shipped crates back to England at every port we visited, and hoped they would arrive safely. Fortunately, most did.
There was an official artist on board, Augustus Earle who documented the topography and people at every port of call. He was of great help in illustrating the strange and wondrous animal and plant life we encountered, and of course the geology.
2) – Did you keep in touch with family and friends while traveling the world?
Darwin – Yes, at every opportunity. In fact I wrote in detail about the things I saw to my friend Henslow who published them without my knowledge, misspellings and all. It was embarrassing but I was pleased they were so well accepted.
1) – I understand that you witnessed some spectacular natural events along the West coast of South America that helped explain how the earth and life has changed. What were they?
Darwin – I explored Chile and high passes in the Andes I experienced earthquakes that raised the shoreline several feet. It explained how fossilized seashells and coral are to be found 12,000 ft. above sea level. It convinced me of the old age of the earth, and I could no longer believed the earth was little more than 6,000 years old as I was taught at Cambridge. I came across a standing forest of petrified trees and discovered hundreds of fossil animals that had, no doubt, existed for millions of years.
3) – I understand that you visited the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Chili. What could you possibly have seen of interest on those God-forsaken islands? How could a few birds and turtles be worth all the time you spent there and lead you to your theory of evolution?
Darwin – Although I did not fully realize it at the time, the Galapagos Islands and their wildlife confirmed once and for all that the transmutation of species through natural selection was true. It would validate all my research. The Galapagos Islands was a workshop of evolution. Only the most narrow of minds could reject the evidence that the Islands’ wildlife was a strong demonstration of evolution in action.
1) – Your next stop was the Polynesian Islands and Hawaii? What did you learn there?
Darwin –Although I was by then, weary from our voyage, I found them fascinating. The coral atolls and islands appeared to be sinking into the sea around them. As the sea floor sank, coral animals proliferated near the surface causing the islands to grow upward. The concept amazed me and convinced me that the sea floor was continually moving and changing, and that was strong evidence of the antiquity of the earth.
2) – Your next stop was New Zealand and Australia. What impressed you the most about them?
Darwin – I was more impressed with the marsupial animals than I was with the European inhabitants themselves. Unfortunately, the so-called civilized immigrants were slaughtering the helpless aboriginal people without mercy, and were in process of devastating the natural environment.
1) – What did you think of the strange marsupial animals? Did you wonder about how they came to be?
Darwin – The marsupials filled the same niches in nature as did non-marsupial animals elsewhere. They were strong evidence of the transmutation of species by isolation. Everything I witnessed supported evolution. At the time, however, the full understanding of what I saw was a mere flickering in my mind. It took many years for the concept of evolution to come into full focus.
3) – Your return to England was eminent. Were you worried that your father would be angry with you for giving up a chance to become a country pastor? How could you turn your back on the very Church that nourished you in your youth?
Darwin – Actually, father was rather proud of me. The crates of specimens and fossils, and my accounts of the voyage seem to have established my reputation and relieved his concerns about my future. He never again asked me to consider the Church as a career… thankfully.
3) – Is it true that you plagiarized the work of Alfred Russel Wallace? Didn’t Russel publish his work prior to yours?
Darwin – Concerning my good friend Alfred Russel Wallace: I treated him with respect and published several papers with him. He was an admirable man with keen observation and a creative mind. He arrived at a similar theory to mine at least twenty years after I formulated my theory of transmutation through natural selection. His letter to me concerning his ideas prompted us to publish three scientific papers together. Most importantly, his letter prompted me to publish over twenty years of my research. Prior to that time I had refrained from publishing because I worried that my work would not be well received. I also worried that it would distress my dear wife Emma, who was a faithful Christian and Creationist. She was of great help in preparing my first manuscript, in fact, I could not have completed it so rapidly without her able assistance. None of my work would have been possible without her loving and devoted care of an invalid husband.
1) – So, what did you do when you got home? Your father and sisters must have been overjoyed to see you.
Darwin – There is far too much to tell in the time we have remaining, but I will share the somewhat humorous story of my return home. The Beagle docked in the southern port of Falmouth, October 2, 1836, after four years, nine months, and five days at sea. I was overjoyed at being home at last, and vowed never again to step foot on a ship. It took me three days to travel home by carriage. When I arrived late at night, I retired to my bedroom without waking the family. As a joke, the next morning, I strolled into breakfast as if I had never been away, and surprised my father, sisters, and servants. Truthfully, I have never been so giddy with joy and confusion as at the ensuing celebration.
1) – How long did it take for you settle down and get married? Please tell us about your family life and children.
Darwin – My post-voyage life was full excitement and readjustment. For a while I lived with my brother Erasmus in London, and returned home often to visit my family and dear sisters. I also spent much time at the Wedgewood’s and could not help but noticed dear Emma. She was of most attractive personality and favorable to the eye. We spent much time together as she was fascinated to hear my stories of the voyage. Our relationship grew and I soon asked Uncle Josiah for her hand in marriage. We married two years after my teturn, and set up our household in London.
3) – Dr. Darwin, It seems to me that somewhere I read that you still could not support yourself and your family. Your brother lived off the family fortune and never became a country parson. Just how did you earn a living?
Darwin – There is some truth to your inquiry. Gentlemen of that time were not expected to work for a living. In fact, it was considered demeaning to have a trade. Brother Erasmus lived comfortable in London well supported by our father. Although my new reputation and writing situated me well in the scientific and social London environment, I was still dependant upon my father. City life was not for me as London was crowded and filthy. I longed for the peace and quiet of the country and nature, where I could continue my research and dwell on the vast information gathered during my voyage. With a loan from my father, I purchased a sprawling country home in Kent and raised my family there. Emma bore ten children…but alas, three did not survive. In spite of this tragic loss and my poor health, life there was fulfilling and happy.
Jim – I’m sorry to interrupt, but I’m afraid our time has run out. Thank you Dr. Darwin, in behalf of the panel and the attendees. We would be delighted if you could return in the future and continue your fascinating story.
Darwin – Thank you Professor Lemons for your invitation…I will certainly consider it, if health permits. I thank all of you in attendance here today for your very kind reception and attention. It has been true pleasure.
Additional questions if time permits.
Q – Do you think that evolution is still occurring? Can you give us examples of evolution we can see?
Q – What about Lamark? Didn’t you favor his ideas at first? Please tell us a little about your Grandfather Erasmus. Is it true that he also had a theory about evolution?
Q – Do you deny that you claimed humans come from monkeys? Survival of the fittest is a cruel philosophy. How could preach that the powerful have the right to subdue the weak? Don’t you agree, Social Darwinism is a crime against humanity?
Q – What role did Thomas Malthus play? What role did Thomas Huxley play? What other scientists influenced you? Darwin quotes Sir Isaac Newton “ The only reason we can see further into the future is that we are standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Q – You were healthy and robust in your youth but an invalid the rest of your life. Please tell us about your health problems and how you dealt with them.
Q – If evolution is true why don’t more people believe in it? Of course, humans breed dogs and cats and horses, but, that’s microevolution, not real evolution! Real evolution is changing an animal from one species to another one. Mr. Darwin, have you ever seen that happen? Can a person believe in evolution and still be a good Christian, Jew, or Moslem? Doesn’t Intelligent Design make good sense? Evolution is still just a theory isn’t it?