Tag: Janet Browne

Charles Darwin and Origin of Species

Janet Browne, from Harvard University, came to Colby this week to talk about Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species. Janet Browne in class discussed how her work is involved in studying about Darwin’s work especially about his works on different species. Her book “Origin of Species,” informed me, in depth, about Darwin’s early childhood, early works, and how his early works have been the root for all his later studies done about his thesis.

A fascinating fact I learned about Darwin was that he had a very religious background. I thought Darwin would be a scientist who would have questioned the widely accepted religious idea that God created Earth and all living things. In the book, “Origins of Species” it mainly focuses on Victorian science, which has a strong relationship with religion and science which had a strong influence on Darwin’s career.

According to Janet Browne, Darwin merged theology and natural science. One of the most significant decision by Darwin for his career and his life was going on the Beagle Voyage. Darwin could not have achieved any of his life’s work if he had not boarded on the Beagle Voyage. From Browne, it sounded as if Darwin was too comfortable with his surroundings at the time and he couldn’t explore the anything outside his realm is he did not leave England. Darwin was also not fond of using humans in his experiment. He decided to look more into the geology. He looked at volcanoes erupting, earthquakes, and shapes of coral reefs which were instrumental in confirming his later studies. He took all these notes about his observations of different animals, plant, and geology. Darwin also encountered Fuegians in his voyage. The captain of the voyage, as well as Darwin himself, thought the Fuegians were savages and thought Christianity was a way to civilize them. Darwin noticed that the indigenous Fuegians and the Europeanized Fuegians were vastly different. Darwin in cases of this could be seen as a racist by many. Darwin later went to the Galapagos and noticed different organisms looked so similar to each other. Darwin categorized these animals as different varieties, however, he later realized that the reason why the animals were different was that of adaptation evolution these animals went through. After coming back from Britain, Darwin thought hard about his research he linked geology and biology. He also attempted to visualize the evolutionary change.

I believe that following your passion and having a wide perspective on any matter is extremely important. Darwin was very enclosed to his specific community in England; he couldn’t have done his research on evolution if he didn’t travel to other parts of the world and observed all the different geological and animal subjects. If Darwin did stay in England, he might have been a priest which his parents wanted him to be. Without Darwin’s work, most people today will not know that natural selection was what made evolution possible and still believe that God created new species. It is indisputable that Darwin eliminated god from science which made it possible for scientific explanations for all natural phenomena and created an intellectual and religious revolution.

Inner-disciplinary Darwin

I rarely critique lecturers in this post. In fact, I never have. Yet, something about this past lecture rubbed me the wrong way. Please, don’t mistake this note to be a criticism on Janet Browne herself. She is clearly the authority on Darwin and his corpus of books, essays, and letters. That being said, I didn’t feel as though the lecture truly fit the ethos of ‘Science-Technology-Society’. That is to say, I didn’t feel as though this lecture entertained the interdisciplinary nature of the STS department. This post, likewise, is a response to the material on hand — not framed in an interdisciplinary context.


After reading the vast majority of Janet Browne’s Darwin’s Origin of Species: A Biography, I was truly impressed with her breadth of included information. As a student in American schools studying biology, I learned about Darwin’s overarching studies and his underlying impact in biology. I had not, however, learned of his upbringing, studies, and marital life; both of which I feel greatly impact his research. More specifically, I feel that his inner battles with religion, coming from a religious family, may have impeded his self-awareness as an evolutionist. That being said, his brief stint in medical school brought his closer to science and biology. All in all, Browne’s approach to big history is refreshing and quite eye-opening.


As for Darwin himself: I do also find a great amount of interest in the causational relationship Darwin had on the eugenics movement. Specifically, I am intrigued by the nature of the purely observational science conducted at this time. Findings were simply observations grounded in truth, and so ‘genetics’ at that time was more a game of probability than biology. Therefore, it’s understandable that a great many individuals believe that the government could filter out genetic traits via selective breeding. Of course, this form of observational science has a great many number of faults, and it wasn’t for another one hundred years until scientists could fully discern behavioral qualities from genetic qualities — nature vs. nurture. Whether it be racism or simply ignorant, innocent aspirations, eugenics can be traced back to Darwin and his rooftop pigeon experiments.


I truly wish we could have further discussed the relationship between Charles Darwin and the ‘Origins’ lecture series theme: ‘order and chaos’. I believe that such an influential individual has left such an astounding impact on society, and it’s a shame we missed the opportunity to discuss this in great detail. If you’re looking for a great conclusion in this post, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one. That being said, I find it quite interesting that he reappears again in the Chris Gavaler lecture on the ‘Origins of Superheroes’ in the context of eugenics. Perhaps that’s something to note, but I think we can say without a shadow of a doubt that Darwin’s influence reached across more disciplines than he is given credit for.