Last week, Prof. Janet Browne from the Harvard University came to Colby to attend the seminar and give a lecture on the origins of Darwin’s origins of the species theory. While her talk mainly provided a bibliographical introduction of Darwin and his findings, I found the seminar discussion very inspiring for me to think about the word “origins” from different perspectives.
Prof. Browne opened up our panel discussion by asking how this topic could fit in the whole series of origins talk. While previous lectures covered the origins story of many aspects, I think her book was particularly interesting because instead of introducing the origins of species itself, Prof. Browne focused on the ways to study the origins. As an environmental studies major, Darwin and his natural selection theory occurred over and over again in my high school biology class, my college environmental science class, and ecology class etc. While commonly introduced as a crucial figure in the evolution theory in science, Prof. Browne provided a new perspective to study Darwin as a historical figure. By looking at how Darwin approached his studies on species, we learned how a historian traced back to the history of the object of interest and proposed and verified the new theories of origins. It is also important to distinguish between the origins and originale. We must understand that history is never a single path, but a complex one. In her book, Prof. Browne described how Christian religious influenced Darwin and his career. Although we often considered science and religion are contrary objects in academia, Darwin personally didn’t want to challenge the actual conflict that much. Prof. Browne stated that people could have multiple beliefs in their body. Similarly, often times there exists various dimensions leading to the same destinations, which perfectly reflects the complexity of history and the connections between history and other disciplines.
In our seminar, students from different cultural backgrounds around the world with different high school experiences shared how Darwin was taught in their schools. While some textbooks depicted Darwin’s evolution theory as the keystone basis of genetics studies, other ones provided many different options in addition to the natural selection theory. In recent decades, more and more debates on the accuracy and correctness of Darwin’s studies also occurred. I like Prof. Browne’s comment that science was always sectional and that dynamics existed when putting fragments together. A good idea doesn’t worth anything unless being recirculated over generations. With different ways distributing such ideas, different understandings evolved and different challenges were exposed. On the one hand, such process, in fact, brings up a new origin of the idea and further the development of science over time. On the other hand, many interpretations can shift the ideas away and diverge the initial messages embedded. Therefore, it is important to be both cautious and open-minded in the communication and transmission of science, with Darwin’s origins of the species as a great example.