“Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.”
- Charles Darwin
Today marks the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, published on this day in 1859 (and this year is the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth). Intensely aware of its implications, Darwin prefaced his book with two quotations which suggested that God was part of, and friendly towards, good science. One quotation was by William Whewell, a noted contemporary scientist, and the other was by Sir Francis Bacon:
To conclude, therefore, let no man out of a weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both. (The Advancement of Learning, 1605)
After studying, somewhat erratically, to be a medical doctor Darwin had settled on a career in religion and received a degree from Cambridge University. This played a role in getting Darwin on the Beagle in the first place. Faced with his father’s reluctance to let him go, Darwin appealed to his Uncle Josiah Wedgewood (of the china company) for support. Prominent on Wedgewood’s list of persuasions was his belief that “the pursuit of Natural History...is very suitable to a clergyman” — the career which Darwin, before going, envisioned for himself.