Field of Science

Why I will not read Darwin

The NCSE emailed its supporters with a reminder that Darwin Day 2010 is just two weeks away.
Are you recovered from 2009's celebrations of the bicentennial of Darwin's birth and the sesquicentennial of the publication of On the Origin of Species? Good, because less than a month remains before Darwin Day 2010!

(...) on or around February 12, in honor of the life and work of Charles Darwin. These events provide a marvelous opportunity not only to celebrate Darwin's birthday but also to engage in public outreach about science, evolution, and the importance of evolution education.
I think it's great to celebrate Darwin. Let's.

I don't know what's happening in my area around February 12th, but on the 7th I'm going to this:
Eric Scott, Curator of Paleontology at the San Bernardino County Museum, will be speaking on "Darwin and Design" at 2:00 p.m. on February 7 at the San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands.
It does feel funny, though, to get all hyped up about Darwin again, with the big celebration of his 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of The Origin just over.

I am an evolutionary biologist (or trying to be), and yet I have never read Darwin. And I don't particularly plan to, either. I firmly suspect a large fraction of evolutionary biologists would reprimand me for saying so. After all, he really was the prime initiator of evolutionary biology as we accept it today.

So I have a question: Can you be a successful evolutionary biologist without ever having read Darwin?

Why not?

I have an M.S. in physics, and yet I have never read Newton. Or Kelvin. Or Maxwell. Or Einstein. Actually, I may have read his 1905 paper on special relativity, but the point is that physics have come a long way since those guys. That's not to say that they are of no relevance, just that the core of their work has been written a thousand times over in books, and these are the ones that are read in university. No sane professor of physics would argue that you must read Principia to understand classical mechanics.

So I haven't read Darwin, and yet I think I understand natural selection and common descent just fine. What i specifically plan to avoid is becoming one of those distinguished evolutionary biologists who give talks and interviews explaining how it is important to read Darwin, because already back then he touched upon many salient features of evolution.

Evolutionary biology is moving forward at speeds faster than ever before. The integration of many areas of biology into evolution (developmental bio, ecology, molecular bio, genetics, paleontology, taxonomy, biogeography, conservation, computational bio, systems bio) is the cause of this success. Frankly, there are too many other books and papers that must be read to keep up. I don't have time for Darwin.

So shoot me.


  1. I haven't read him either... and I don't feel bad about it. And I can tell you more about evolution that most people who read him.
    Don't worry, you should rather read in the bible, for the sake of your soul ;) that at least is supposed to have an effect just by itself

    Cheers Arend

  2. Would be interesting to see data on the percentage of evo-biologists by age who have read Darwin.


Markup Key:
- <b>bold</b> = bold
- <i>italic</i> = italic
- <a href="">FoS</a> = FoS