Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Other Darwin

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One of the coolest untold stories in science is that Darwin was one of the first people to seriously consider the idea of evolution.

No, not Charles Darwin. I'm talking about his grandfather, Erasmus (the studly guy pictured above).

Erasmus Darwin was a natural philosopher in eighteenth century England, and was also a physician, inventor, and a famous poet. And amazingly, he was one of the first contemporary thinkers to really support the idea that species change over time.

Erasmus was kind of like the mad scientists you see in movies. He'd set up laboratories in his home and have late night meetings with other great thinkers *cough*nerds*cough* in his basement during full moons. They called these meetings the Lunar Society, and all the attendees "lunaticks". And before you get caught up in the image of a bunch of old guys hanging out in a basement, keep in mind that it was at these meetings that the seeds of modern evolutionary science were planted.

Erasmus even wrote poems about it, the most notable being The Temple of Nature (first called The Origin of Society. Hmm, sounds familiar...) And the footnote of his poem The Loves of the Plants reads:

"Perhaps all the productions of nature are in their progress to greater perfection?"

Okay, so Erasmus didn't figure out everything on his own. But his writings anticipated virtually all evolutionary thought, which is pretty damn cool.

I guess genius does run in the family.

- Brit Trogen

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