World celebrates Darwin's 200th anniversary

Thu Feb 12, 2009 2:08pm EST
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By Peter Griffiths and Paul Casciato

CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - His beetle cabinet is back in his old college rooms, his home is a national treasure and the islands that led Charles Darwin to evolutionary theory are under threat from tourism two centuries after his birth.

Celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the birth of the man whose book "On The Origin of Species" transformed how we see the natural world have captivated fellow scientists, royalty, religious leaders, historians, presidents, conservationists and tourist officials around the world.

David Attenborough, whose television programs on the natural world have been watched by millions around the planet, provided a simple explanation for the draw of the bicentenary.

"Without Darwin, very little in the natural world makes sense," Attenborough told Reuters. "Darwin turned natural history into a science."

The 19th century naturalist's influence was feted at his old university in Cambridge, at his home in Kent -- now preserved for the nation -- and in the Pacific islands off Ecuador where his theory began to take shape.

Several recent books include one that proposes Darwin's hatred of slavery drove him to the theory of evolution, and two due this year come from Darwin expert John van Wyhe, who is in charge of Cambridge University's Darwin Online project and the restoration of Darwin's student rooms at Christ's College.

Thousands of people have flocked to the biggest exhibition of his work at London's Natural History where the star attractions are two unremarkable stuffed birds lying on a purple velvet cushion in a glass case at the entrance to the show.

The mockingbirds from the Galapagos Islands gave Darwin the first clues to his famous evolutionary theory. He noted that the birds varied slightly from island to island, suggesting that species with a common ancestry evolve over time.   Continued...

<p>A detail of British artist John Collier's 1883 painting of Charles Darwin is displayed as part of an exhibition in Darwin's former home, Down House, in Kent, southern England February 12, 2009. REUTERS/Tal Cohen</p>