Darwin The Human Being

Since today is Darwin’s birthday you can expect that the blogosphere will be buzzing with posts about Darwin. Most will be about Darwin’s scientific achievements, some will be eloquent and insightful. Others will focus on the conflict between evolution and religion. Since, however, it is Darwin’s birthday, I would like to focus on the man. Darwin, having been born in the 19th century and having died in the 19th century faced some interesting problems in his daily life. Problems very few of us have to worry about now.

A case in point concerns his well. The well was 325 feet deep and getting water from it was a bit of a chore. Darwin turned to the Gardeners’ Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette for help:

Bucket Ropes for Wells.–I suffer from the serious misfortune of a well 325 feet deep. It is worked by two buckets, and a chain, which, from its great length, is necessarily very heavy. Would a wire rope (galvinised) answer? This, I presume, might be tight and thin; it would have to carry, at each end, a strong and heavy bucket, holding 12 gallons. The rope would have to work over, and, I presume, once quite round, a wheel only 14 inches in diameter. Would any of your correspondents have the charity to give the result of any actual experience of light wire rope; such would be of value, probably to others, as well as to myself. C.R.D.

I’ve seen many adds in my local community paper asking for advice like this. The more things change, eh. A few years later he was back iin the Gardener’s Chronicle with a new problem.
Darwin 1.jpg
Apparently he went with wire and it was working reasonably well. Here is Darwin on his new problem:

The Subject of Deep Wells has been sometimes discussed in your columns. I have a well 325 feet deep, and the 12-gallon bucket actually weighs 40 lbs. For many years I used a chain weighing 232 lbs.; this, with the water, itself 96 lbs., amounts to 481 lbs. I have made an enormous saving of labour by using for the last half year Newall’s patent wire rope. Now, will any one have the charity to say from experience whether there could not be a great saving in the weight of the bucket. Would zinc, or gutta percha, or leather serve? The bucket must be strong enough to withstand being occasionally dashed against the side of the well. Or must I stick to my old substantial oaken friend? C. D.

Unfortunately, there is no indication as to how he solved this new problem. On a other occasions he would use the Gardener’s Chronicle to appeal for help with his experiments. This one is, well, charming:

LIZARD’S EGGS. If any of your readers could obtain for me some eggs of the Lacerta agilis, I should be greatly obliged. Lizards are most widely distributed, and I want to ascertain whether the eggs will float in sea-water, and, if so, whether they will retain their vitality. A reward of a few shillings (which I would gladly repay as well as postage) offered to schoolboys, would perhaps get these eggs in the proper districts collected. Ch. Darwin, Downe, Farnborough, Kent.

Darwin also had causes that he felt strongly about. Steel jaw traps being one of them:

Few men could endure to watch for five minutes, an animal struggling in a trap with a crushed and torn limb; yet on all the well-preserved estates throughout the kingdom, animals thus linger every night; and where game keepers are not humane, or have grown callous to the suffering constantly passing under their eyes, they have been known by an eyewitness to leave the traps unvisited for 24 or even 36 hours. Such neglect as this is no doubt rare; but traps are often forgotten; and there are few game keepers who will leave their beds on a cold winter’s morning, one hour earlier, to put an end to the pain of an animal which is safely in their power. I subjoin the account of the appearance of a rabbit caught in a trap, given by a gentleman, who, last summer witnessed the painful sight many times. “I know of no sight more sorrowful than that of these unoffending animals as they are seen in the torture grip of these traps. They sit drawn up into a little heap, as if collecting all their force of endurance to support the agony; some sit in a half torpid state induced by intense suffering. Most young ones are found dead after some hours of it, but others as you approach, start up, struggle violently to escape, and shriek pitiably, from terror and the pangs occasioned by their struggles.” We naturally feel more compassion for a timid and harmless animal, such as a rabbit, than for vermin, but the actual agony must be the same in all cases. It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the suffering thus endured from fear, from acute pain, maddened by thirst, and by vain attempts to escape. Bull baiting and cock fighting have rightly been put down by law; I hope it may never be said that the members of the British Parliament will not make laws to protect animals if such laws should in any way interfere with their own sports. Some who reflect upon this subject for the first time will wonder how such cruelty can have been permitted to continue in these days of civilisation; and no doubt if men of education saw with their own eyes what takes place under their sanction, the system would have been put an end to long ago.

Tragically these traps are still used in parts of the US. Finally, a university student wrote Darwin concerning evolution and religion. The student received a response from Darwin’s wife Emma but apparently did not like the answer so he wrote Darwin a second time, apparently asking what Darwin thought of the supernatural. This was in June of 1879.This is Darwin’s, rather cranky, response:

Sir,–I am very busy, and am an old man in delicate health, and have not time to answer your, questions fully, even assuming that they are capable of being answered at all. Science and Christ have nothing to do with each other, except in as far as the habit of scientific investigation makes a man cautious about accepting any proofs. As far as I am concerned, I do not believe that any revelation has ever been made. With regard to a future life, every one must draw his own conclusions from vague and contradictory probabilities. Wishing you well, I remain, your obedient servant,

Darwin died in April of 1882 and I can’t help but feel a little bit of sympathy for the, very human, person revealed in that letter. Some might interpret it as a crabby “get off my grass” kind of statement, but I see someone at the end of a long interesting life asking to be left alone during the few remaining years he has left.

18 Responses

  1. WRT Darwin’s comment on evolution and religion, Rev. Stanley Jaki has mentioned this incident. (Unfortunately I don’t have the reference on this machine – if I remember when I get home….)
    This student, according to Jaki, had written Darwin three times, and this was Darwin’s third response. I’d be a tad cranky, too.
    I’m sure you are familiar with Jaki – but for the interested, he is anti-evolution, yet very much anti-Creationism.
    James 2:24

  2. I’ve posted links to the classic BBC biographical miniseries ‘The Voyage of Charles Darwin’ on my blog. If you’ve never seen this wonderful 6 part series, you’re in for a real treat.
    Happy Darwin Day!

  3. Excellent and original post in this fine Darwin day.

  4. Thank you. That post totally made my day. (and here in the UK Darwin Day is only for another 45 minutes so thanks again 😉 )

  5. I appreciate this original approach to the the day. Thanks.

  6. For instance, if Darwin’s theory is correct, our ancestors are monkeys that swing from trees to trees madly. Their favourite fruits and bananas but not meats and vegetable.
    How many human beings like bananas only and not rice, meat, vegetable, cereal, and etc. As nobody likes to have their daily consumption to be merely bananas, how could our ancestors be monkeys since we should have been inherited the only habit to eat bananas.

  7. Let’s compare the skull that is shown here with Charles Darwin. Both of them look alight! No doubt Charles Darwin supports this theory since he used monkey’s head to compare his head. However, I am smart enough to compare my head with polar bear’s head and I come to the conclusion that my ancestor is indeed polar bear and not monkey.

  8. I make contrasts between apes and human beings. The following are the discrepancies:
    1) Apes can swing from trees to tress using their mighty hands. However, human beings seem to fall backward instead of advancing. Human beings could not use merely their hands to swing from trees to trees instead they have to rely on a piece of rope that is hung around the tree.
    2) Apes are full of hair from heads to toes. However, human beings have most of the hair merely on their heads normally.
    3) Apes only like bananas. However, human beings are choosy. They like vegetables, meats, and all kinds of edible food. If human beings rely merely on bananas every day for their daily consumption, they could not survive since they need to consume multi-vitamin (Don’t you feel that human beings fall backward instead of advancing and that contradicts the theory of evolution).
    As there are many discrepancies between apes and human beings, how could human beings’ ancestors be monkeys?

  9. I compare polar bears or other bears with human beings:
    1) Polar bears and other bears could not swing from trees to trees. The same is for human beings. Human beings could use a rope to tighten around the tree then swing (They are actually advancing or improving).
    2) Polar bears and other bears could stand merely with two legs. Human beings rely mostly on standing. (Advancing)
    3) Polar bears and other bears eat meat but rarely vegetable. The same to human beings. However, human beings begin to eat more vegetables as well as meat (advancing).
    $) Polar bears and other bears could take care of their cuds. The same for human beings that could take care of their babies.
    The theory of evolution supports a creature transforms from one to another will have better improvements. Comparisons between Polar bears and other bears with human beings and you would certainly find that is a great advancement to be transformed from Polar bears or bears to human beings.
    Based on the above comparisons, if Darwin’s theory is correct, our ancestors should Polar bears or brown bears.
    No doubt! I like bear, bear. I eat with bear, bear. I sleep with bear, bear. I dream also with bear, bear. If bear, bear give me underwear, I don’t know how to wear. I don’t swear because bear, bear don’t like me to behave as bear, bear.

  10. The bear becomes my friend and I show him the verses from the Bible and it told me how could it be since human beings have all the likeliness of bear and they support the theory of Evolution:
    Genesis 2:7, “Then Yahweh God formed Man, dust drawn from the clay, and breathed into his nostrils a breath of life and Man became alive with breath”.
    Genesis 2:21-22, “Then Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to come over Man and he fell asleep…Yahweh God…formed…a woman and brought here to the man.”
    I insist I am right and close the Bible in order that nobody could read it or mention it any more and am obstinate to support the theory of Evolution regardless God is angry with me.
    I hide in the mountain and forever to live with the bear not to mention any more the Book of Genesis.
    Day by day saying bear, bear, you are my great grand, grand, grand…father and mother.

  11. Actually apes do eat meat and vegetables, the rest of what you say doesn’t make much sense. For example, humans can brachiate like apes. Like humans, apes make and use tools and, again like humans, are the result of millions of years of evolution to their environment. Humans, morphologically, are similar to apes not polar bears…


  13. Yup, all humans are descended via apes from monkeys. What’s your point? Also, Darwin, not bein an artist, did not draw any pictures illustrating human evoluion…

  14. There isn’t any ape in this world today. Certainly, it could be the work of Charles Darwin that discovers the skull looks like that is shown above and found some rock there to use his imagination to link the story of the existence of ape to be transformed from human beings.
    Refer to the Biblical verses that I have quoted above: Genesis 2:21-22 and 2:7. A person that is fear God will fight for the truth of God instead of hiding since that would cause God to annoy those obstinate people that insist they are right instead of giving full support to God.

  15. There isn’t any ape in this world today.

    What are chimps, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons then?

  16. Charles Darwin might be a Catholics since he mentioned about God in his last days. However, he have grieved God long enough since he argued against the book of Genesis, especially Genesis 2:7 and 2:21-22.
    Let’s assume that you are not Catholics. Let’s look into chimps, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons. None of them were so smart that they could use rocks to light up fire. Apes, at the time of his last transformation to man. It stood like a human being. However, all the animals that you mention, could not. How could they be apes? Those monkeys that you mention are not apes since their skulls don’t look like what is shown above. If chimps, gorillas, orangutans, and gibbons are apes, many people would call them apes. However, we acknowledge them as monkeys & not apes.

  17. I am a Catholics and I stand for God. I will argue for God until His victory just as I have done above. I will definitely give way or let others to condemn me if the work, that I do, goes against Bible. I do not like to receive praises from men but rather than from God. I do not know how many Catholics would really stand for God’s truth. That does not matter as long as I do not make God angry.
    If you’ll hear my name in the future else where, flip the Bible you will know I’ll be arguing with those people about God’s truth. If I know what I’ll be arguing with them are wrong, I’ll undoubtedly give way and that is what I usually did in the past.
    If you are Catholics, I’ll forgive you since this is what Jesus taught me in the New Testament to forgive others.
    Never mind! Thanks for the discussion.
    I should not be here all the time since I have many duties that God have granted me to do.

  18. And yet every biologist and primatologist considers them to be apes, perhaps you could actually learn what you are talking about before pontificating on the subject…

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