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Darwin’s 200th Birthday Celebrations Span the Globe

People worldwide celebrated Charles Darwin, the "father of evolution's" 200th birthday this week, honoring his extraordinary impact on science and history. Analysts discuss the man, his legacy and the ongoing debates raging over his core theories.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Next, the legacy of Charles Darwin. People around the world have been celebrating the 200th anniversary of his birth this week. Jeffrey Brown has our Science Unit look at his influence all these years later.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    In 1831, a young naturalist named Charles Darwin embarked on a five-year journey to South America and the Galapagos Islands. What Darwin found in the specimens he collected there would make him the most celebrated scientist of his time and fundamentally change our understanding of how life on Earth develops.

    Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was published 150 years ago, and the world is now marking the 200th birthday of the man himself.

    We talk about Darwin and his legacy now with David Quammen, a science writer and author of the biography "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin," and Ken Miller, a professor of biology at Brown University and one of the NewsHour's science advisers.

    David Quammen, start with Darwin the man. One thing that came through to me in doing a story on him a few years ago is that this man who changed the world in many ways was himself quite a cautious fellow. What stands out for you?

    DAVID QUAMMEN, Author, "The Reluctant Mr. Darwin": He was exactly that, Jeff. He was a — he was a man who generated great controversy, but personally he hated controversy. He was a very shy man. He was reclusive. He was a semi-invalid. He was a gentle man, a mild man.

    So it was difficult for him, this role that he found himself in. I think of it as the situation of a fundamentally conservative man who found himself burdened with a deeply radical idea.

  • JEFFREY BROWN:

    And, Ken Miller, so where did that scientific approach, that rationality, gathering of evidence, where did all that come from?

  • KEN MILLER, Brown University:

    Well, I think it came from his upbringing. He lived a rural life. He lived the life of a country gentleman, landed gentry. He had acquaintance with animal breeding and plant breeding. And he had intense curiosity.

    He and one of his brothers played endlessly and had experiments — basically, had the ancient equivalent of a chemistry set. And Darwin's curiosity was something he took with him when he stepped on that boat, the Beagle, for the voyage that you spoke of in the introduction.

    And by applying that curiosity, Darwin pondered intensely questions that most people and most of us would have glossed over. Why do different continents have different species? Why do they look as though they descended from a common ancestor? What's the relationship of fossils to organisms living today?

    And it was basically by pondering the answers to all of those questions that Darwin drove himself forward into a most radical set of conclusions, radical for his day, and, for many people today, radical still.

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