Canada exhibit celebrates Darwin's legacy

TORONTO (Reuters Life!) - British naturalist Charles Darwin waited almost 20 years to publish his groundbreaking book on the theory of evolution partly because he was afraid of upsetting his devoutly Christian wife.

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Although he first used the term “natural selection” in a paper in 1842, it wasn’t until 1859 that he published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.”

An exhibition at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), which opens on March 8 and runs until August, examines aspects of Darwin’s personal life. It also shows how his discovery that all living beings share a common ancestry remains vital to modern biology almost 150 years after publication.

The exhibit, “Darwin: The Evolution Revolution,” which will travel to London, also examines the debates that still swirl around his discovery, despite its universal acceptance among scientists.

Chris Darling, a senior curator of natural history at the museum, said Darwin’s ideas also led to controversy at home with his wife Emma who was deeply religious.

“This is one of the things Darwin didn’t like to talk too much about. He knew she wasn’t happy with this -- she figured he was going to go to hell,” Darling explained in an interview.

Darwin’s skepticism about religion grew stronger as he aged.

Before his groundbreaking work the world was generally thought to have remained more or less the same since its creation. This belief, based on Biblical interpretations, was contested through fossil studies showing that species change over time.

The exhibit includes significant documents and memorabilia that belonged to Darwin. It focuses on challenges Darwin faced as a naturalist, scientist and family man.

Darwin, who was born in 1809, married his cousin Emma Wedgwood in 1839. Three years later he moved to Down House in Kent, England, where he lived and worked until his death in 1882. His mother, Susannah Wedgwood was the daughter of Josiah Wedgwood founder of the Wedgwood pottery that carries his surname. His father, Robert Waring Darwin, was a physician.

He and Emma had 10 children, seven of whom lived to adulthood.

The Darwin exhibit traces aspects of Darwin’s legendary round-the-world 1831-1836 voyage aboard the HMS Beagle. The trip generated his most significant observations and discoveries, inspiring his work.

The show also delves into arguments made by critics of Darwin’s theories and those who say it is possible to embrace both evolution and a belief in God.

The exhibition is a collaboration with the ROM, the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Museum of Science in Boston, the Field Museum in Chicago and the Natural History Museum in London.

The windup of its international tour in London will be in time for the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth -- not far from where Darwin wrote the ideas that spread the debate on religion and evolution far beyond the walls of his own home.

Reporting by Julie Mollins; Editing by Patricia Reaney