Was Charles Darwin a genius? He certainly was extremely bright, but if we are to call him a genius on the basis of coming up with the theory of evolution by natural selection then we must recognize the genius of A.R. Wallace (and perhaps William Wells, Patrick Matthew, and Edward Blyth), as well. Although the idea of natural selection has developed independently several times in the past it was Darwin and Wallace who grasped the power of the theory as a driver for evolution, but even then it is Darwin who is the focal point of so many discussions about “transmutation.” While there are multiple reasons for this (from Darwin’s network of friends in scientific societies, to Wallace’s support of Darwin’s priority, to the romantic narrative of Darwin’s life) it is important to note Darwin’s persistence.
Although we often talk about On the Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, the way minute, gradual changes could cause larger shifts was a uniting theme in the rest of Darwin’s work, from The Variation of Plants and Animals Under Domestication to his hit The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms, With Observations on Their Habits. Darwin did not simply issue a proclamation in On the Origin of Species and leave it to be dissected by squadrons of scientists; he constantly kept at his work and perhaps it would be better to speak of “The Persistence of Darwin” than simply “The Genius of Darwin.” Such quibbles aside, if you have not yet seen it the first episode of a series called The Genius of Darwin is now available for viewing on the web. I’ll probably write something about it once I have the opportunity to see it, but if you have feel free to make use of this thread to discuss it.
Update; I just watched the program, although I will liveblog my second viewing. It was a decent documentary, but it seemed to be more about the relationship between evolution and religion (i.e. Darwin’s theory dispensing with the need for the special and continued Creation of life) than about the science itself. There were a number of historical errors and omissions, too, and while it was visually impressive it seems that Dawkins was chewing on a bit of the ol’ textbook cardboard during this one.