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Columbia celebrates Darwin's birthday

Ellis Library's exhibit features rare books and collections about evolution.

Philosophy professor Andre Ariew reads from a text by Charles Lyell during his 'Darwinism Old and New' presentation Thursday in Ellis Library. Ariew used works and research from Charles Darwin's influences and contemporaries to offer insight into how Darwin developed his theory of evolution.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer

Graduate student Ashley Nelson inspects a first edition of Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species at the exhibit '150 Years of the Origin of Species: The Historical Journey from Specimens to Species to Genes.' Located in Ellis Library's colonnade and open through March 31, the exhibit uses books and illustrations to present a historical survey of concepts related to evolutionary theory.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer

'Genome,' a bronze sculpture by Columbia resident Larry Young, is displayed next to Christy Cook's photograph 'Stoic Majesty' in the Perlow-Stevens Gallery downtown. The works are part of an exhibit featuring local artists that celebrates the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the development of his theory of evolution.

Erik Haugsby/Senior Staff Photographer
Megan Stroup/Graphic Designer

March 5, 2009

It's never too late to wish Charles Darwin a belated birthday.

The fifth annual MU Life Sciences and Society Symposium is celebrating Charles Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of his famous book, "The Origin of Species."

Darwin, born Feb. 12, 1809, is well known for his 57-month voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle and his visit to the Galapagos Islands. While visiting the islands, Darwin accumulated research to support his theory of evolution and natural selection, which led to the publication of his book in 1859.

Not only would science shake on its foundation, but also a wide range of fields would be affected by his theory.

Darwin's theories are not restricted to the realm of biologists. One of the symposium's goals in educating the public is to emphasize the interdisciplinary involvement with Darwin's work.

Professor and symposium committee chairwoman Stefani Engelstein said evolution is important in many different areas of academia.

"Darwin had had an incredible impact on biology," Engelstein said. "His theory has influenced all different aspects of human experience. There's an increasing range of disciplines that are moving in new directions because of the way evolution is thought of."

Throughout the month, Ellis Library is featuring an exhibition on rare books and collections acquired for display in the main colonnade. The exhibit traces the history of evolutionary thought and philosophy from ancient to modern times. Works by Darwin, along with other influential scientists and philosophers including John Herschel and Charles Lyell are on display.

Ellis Library's rare books collection, along with other libraries, museums and archives, collaborated to make the exhibit possible. Ellis Library has one of the original editions of Origin of Species.

Thursday, science professor André Ariew presented a lecture for the celebration at Ellis Library's colonnade, directly in front of the book exhibition.

Ariew's presentation, "Darwinism: Old and New," is based on his current work which examines the differences between Darwin's theory of natural selection and modern versions of that theory.

Speaking on Darwin's influence, Ariew said Darwin's presence is in all fields of study.

"Not only has he influenced biology and the questions of evolution, but he has also influenced economics, he's influenced psychology, he's influenced history and he's influenced all these different realms," Ariew said. "That's what each speaker you're going to see during the symposium is going to pay homage to. We're going to celebrate the fact that this theory and his views have now been part of all the fabric of academia."

At the end of the lecture, Jack Schultz, director of the Bond Life Sciences Center, stressed the importance of collaboration in every field.

"One lesson is how important collaboration and the merger of different minds are in a process like the one that Darwin participated in," Schultz said. "I really like that collaborative thinking."

Along with the weekend symposium, various venues around campus and in Columbia are participating in the Darwin celebration.

The Perlow-Stevens Gallery in downtown Columbia is featuring an ongoing exhibit on art influenced by Darwin's works on evolution. Gallery assistant Sarah Welch-Tayler said she could not speak on behalf of the artists, but she said it is important to have a Darwin-themed exhibit in Columbia.

"Having different themed exhibitions are just ways of bringing people in and exposing them to things that they wouldn't normally be exposed to," she said.

The gallery features an array of artistic interpretations correlating with ideas of nature, Darwinism and evolution. Certain works in the gallery incorporate monkeys, Galapagos creatures and other easily definable allusions to Darwin's influence. Other works mix abstract features with Darwinian ideas.

One piece, "Steal Life," is an oil on canvas painting depicting a monkey painting a scene of nature occurring in the background.

"Evolution may propel humans forward," the description of the painting by artist Jesse Medina states, "but it may also cause people to lose touch with their natural instincts."

Another painting by Steve Wilson describes evolution unlike the interpretations of any biologists or historians.

"From one person to another, the human evolves in life, for the self, by the self," the painting's description states.

Ragtag Cinema will be showing "Flock of Dodos: the Evolution-Intelligent Design Circus" next Wednesday. Randy Olson, marine biologist and director of the film, will be present at the showing and there will be a discussion following the screening.

The symposium runs March 13-15, and a series of guest speakers will participate in lectures and discussions on Darwin's impact.

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