Indiana State University Library

Indiana State University Library Blog

February 24: Darwin: Books, Beetles, and Blasphemy [Darwin Day]

Posted by isulib on February 18, 2015

We’ve all heard the phrase: “You are what you eat;” however, biology Professor David Wooten has his own spin: “You are what you read.”

Wooten will share insights from the books that Charles Darwin read, during his lecture, “Darwin: Books, Beetles, and Blasphemy,” as Indiana State University’s Darwin Day Speaker at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 in the events area of Cunningham Memorial Library (cookies at 6:30).

“For me, to truly understand Darwin and his theory, you need to understand the roots of its formation and this led to me to these various books,” said Wooten, a professor of biology at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Mich. “Darwin was not the first person to contemplate a theory of evolution. Individuals from Aristotle to Lamarck postulated on how species can change over time, but Darwin was the one that figured out the mechanism to explain such a process.”

Wooten started collecting antique books — at first, mostly biology tomes with beautiful illustrations — after graduate school. His first love, as expected, was science and Darwin’s contributions.

“Undoubtedly (‘The Origin of Species’) was his major achievement, but far from his only contribution to science. Darwin wrote seminal works on geology, marine biology, zoology, ecology and numerous works in the field of botany,” Wooten said. “If you take away evolution and ‘Origin of Species,’ Charles Darwin is still one of the greatest and most ingenious scientists in history.”

Darwin made these contributions in the face of much personal sacrifice — hence, use of the word “blasphemy” in Wooten’s alliterative lecture title.

“He had witnessed others before him who published works claiming species were mutable and were subsequently, both socially and professionally, ostracized,” Wooten said. “He greatly feared the consequences of his theory for both his family and himself.”

The religious debate continues today in some places. Controversy aside, evolution remains a topic scientists and non-scientists alike are fascinated by more than 150 years later.

“Evolution answers one of the greatest questions of all time: Why is our world so diverse? It addresses who we are and where we come from as humans. These questions strike at the core of how we perceive ourselves and how we fit into the complex dynamic of our planet,” Wooten said.

With advances in genomics and the continued exploration of the mechanisms of gene expression, epigenetics and mutation, science is ever evolving, too.

“In my opinion, it is a fascinating and important time to be a biologist and address these issues,” Wooten said. “Historically, this time period is critical for us and our works/actions will most definitely be critiqued and studied by future generations.”

During his lecture, Wooten says he aims to engage a diverse audience of science-lovers, history-lovers and book-lovers for an inspiring evening.

“I designed this talk to capture the interest of folks interested in evolution, in history and in antique literature. It is not a talk directly about evolution, and it’s not a talk only about Darwin,” Wooten said. “It’s a bibliographic history about the books that inspired an unsuspecting English naturalist to sail the world and come back with an idea that grew into the greatest unifying theory in all of biology. I want attendees to walk away with an appreciation of the journey, the genius, the humility, the tribulation and the ultimate success of Charles Darwin.”

Part of the Darwin Keynote Speaker Series, Darwin Day was founded to celebrate science as an international language, much like music, and is sponsored by Indiana State’s University Honors Program and Center for Community Engagement.

Contact: Rusty Gonser, associate professor of biology and director of The Center for Genomic Advocacy at Indiana State University, 812-237-2395 or Rusty.Gonser@indstate.edu

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or libby.roerig@indstate.edu

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