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Br. Joaquim Clotet, Rector of PUCRS



Charles Robert Darwin - 200 years

27/01/2009: Brazil

2009 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin, a man admired, studied and still considered a source of controversy by some. The tributes, conferences, publications and exhibits will be numerous. Scientific, philosophical and theological societies, universities and natural history museums have already made plans for a variety events on the life and work of the great man, who was born on February 12, 1809. Cambridge University, for example, has scheduled a “Darwin Festival” for July 2009. It will be a very important cultural as well as scientific event. Also, the Natural History Museum of London has already begun its “Darwin Exhibition”, a fine and well-documented exhibit on the author’s life and work.

It would be helpful to take a look at the academic career of the great naturalist, scientific observer and collector. He began studies in medicine at the University of Edinburgh, following in the footsteps of his physician father. He abandoned that path before having finished the course. He began to study art at Cambridge University. In those years he also became interested in classical languages, philosophy, theology and, surprising as it may seem, physics and mathematics.

Neither the humanities nor the sciences, however, seemed to satisfy Darwin’s intellectual curiosity and his desire to closely observe and analyze the natural world. Two experiences would clearly set him on his future path—a voyage, and his garden.

The voyage he undertook aboard the Beagle lasted five years and gave him the opportunity to observe, write about, sketch and collect animals and plants. Two-thirds of his odyssey was spent on terra firma. From April through June of 1832 he was in Brazil and leased property on Botafogo Bay. On returning to England, he bought a house, Down House, located some 16 miles outside London. The large garden on the grounds became his laboratory. Going over the notes he had taken on the voyage, examining the various species collected and his experiments with orchids, doves, cockroaches and, mimosas, among many other experiments he performed, inspired the formulation of his theory of natural selection and prepared the way for the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

The life and work of Darwin continues even today to be the object of close study, investigation and debate, reaching across a gamut of intellectual disciplines. This recog- nition of the value and significance of his life’s work is in stark contrast with his own modesty; he always insisted that he was not a specialist in any field.

Continuing to this day are the study of and the debate between creationism, the literal Bible story of creation, and evolution, arising from natural selection. Pope Pius XII, in his 1950 encyclical “Humani Generis”, encouraged a deeper understanding of both theories. The Academy of Sciences at the Vatican held a number of special sessions on this theme in November 2008. It affirmed that proofs of evolution do exist. It stressed, though, that the human person—man and woman—did not arise from chaos, but were imagined and loved into existence by the Creator. An international conference on reconciling faith and the theory of evolution has been scheduled by the same academy for March 2009. It is interesting that Darwin also studied theology and was a man who loved dialogue.

Br. Joaquim Clotet, Rector of PUCRS

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