Beliefs and Values in Science Education

By Michael Poole | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 7
'God knows what the public will think'
– the Darwinian controversies

Part 1. Historical background

'I saw two very bad operations but I ran away before they were completed', wrote Charles Darwin about his days as a medical student in Edinburgh. Troubled by having to dissect dead bodies and distressed by seeing operations performed without anaesthetics on people who were gagged to stifle their screams, he left the course.

The personal story of Charles Darwin, told in Part 1, is a deeply poignant one, enacted within a web of political turmoil and the power struggles of a growing scientific professionalism. It is rich in material for teaching how science interacts with spiritual, moral, social and cultural factors – a bonus to its importance in teaching biology. Some associated philosophical issues which may arise in class are discussed in Part 2.


Outcome of a friendship

After leaving Edinburgh, Darwin went to Christ's College Cambridge to study for ministry in the Church of England, though his heart was not really in his studies. He liked collecting living things and became friendly with a proctor, Revd John Henslow, Professor of Botany. As a result, Darwin, aged nearly twenty-three, sailed from Plymouth in 1831, for a five-year voyage round the world.

The voyage of HMS Beagle was to improve Admiralty charts of the South American coast and the fixing of longtitude. Darwin went as gentleman companion to Captain Fitzroy, in command at the exceptionally early age of twenty-three. Everywhere they landed, Darwin collected specimens of rocks, fossils and wildlife, which he sent back to Britain.1 When Darwin returned to England in

Fig. 7.1 levation of HMS Beagle

-115-

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