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Stone Cold Chuck Darwin

When the Secret Life crew asked Rachel Collins, microbiologist and professional wrestler, what scientist she thought would’ve made a good wrestler, she said “Darwin.” Great answer! Her reason? Because he had a lot of people wanting to wrestle him over his theories. Still true!

We have a lot of evidence that Charles Darwin was a sensitive, kindly, thoughtful, morally upright man. Not that such attributes would prohibit anyone from becoming a wrestler, but when I tried to picture Charles Darwin, even in a parallel universe, as a Chuck Awesome or Charley Steamboat, I failed. That left me wondering about Darwin’s looks and demeanor. We know he was big on brains. Was he big on brawn?

Well, as a child, Charley, as he was called then, was no wimpy lie-abed. He liked to run and throw rocks. As a young man he hiked the rugged countryside of northern Wales to collect specimens. As an adult knocking around the house, Darwin was heavy on his feet, prone to beat the floor with his cane as he walked. He guffawed and slapped his thighs when his kids said something to crack him up. He walked Polly every day, no matter the weather! (Polly was his little white terrier.) But he sat at his desk and wrote letters a lot. He liked to sit on the sofa and let his wife read to him.

The evolution will not be televised!

And he at least he looked big on brawn! We know what he looked like from the pictures we see. No silky newt-face was Darwin, not with those ferocious sideburns, that jutting-out forehead, and those wild, woolly eyebrows! Beneath the bushy overhang stared out blue-gray eyes which at times mirrored the stormy seas that rocked the Beagle as it sailed toward the Galapagos.

When he returned from that landmark voyage, by the way, he was just shy of six feet and a mere 148 pounds, though from the pictures we can tell he beefed up a bit in later years. By 1868 he had grown a long patriarchal beard. He had ruddy skin. He had deep horizontal wrinkles in his prominent forehead. No wonder: His dangerous idea had rocked the boat at home and had caused sacred pillars of civilization to crumble, and Darwin was sensitive to how his new discoveries would upset and divide people. He had cause to worry. Good thing he had Thomas Henry Huxley, aka “Darwin’s Bulldog,” to tackle and pin his opponents to the floor!

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Sherry Austin

    Sherry Austin was nine years old when she admitted, during a class discussion, that evolution was possible. After school a bunch of bullies arrived on bikes at her house to beat her up if she didn’t recant. She didn’t. Forty years later, she had published three books of fiction and was traveling regionally giving a talk for the North Carolina Humanities Council on literary nonfiction about science when a neurodegenerative illness put a stop to that. These days, along with (and sometimes in spite of!) her comic alter-ego Trixie Goforth, she works what’s left of her brain to share her wonder about the natural world revealed to us by science. She values the work of scientists more than she can say. And you can find out more about Sherry at her website.