Darwin Day Lecture: Charles Darwin – Rationality and Religion in a Victorian Context
On February 13th, for our first in-person Darwin Day Lecture since the pandemic, we held a talk by Professor Janet Browne of Harvard University, a renowned expert on Charles Darwin. She is the author of a two-volume biography of Darwin that integrated his science with his life and times.
Darwin Day is an annual event celebrating Darwin’s birthday; this year, on 12 February, he turned 214. In his book On The Origin of Species (1859), he described his theory of evolutionary biology based on natural selection. Humanist associations all over the world celebrate Darwin for making the values of science more widely known.
The lecture took place at Trinity College Dublin and opened with an introduction by Professor David McConnell, honorary president of the HAI. He talked about how Darwin changed the world of science and addressed the big questions: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? “He created a place for people to think about themselves as human beings, without any crutches, without any need for the supernatural, without any need for approval, without any thought of retribution,” he said.
Professor Browne described Darwin as one of the leading figures in the controversies between science and religion. “On the Origin of Species was one of the major stimuli in revolutionizing our views, and after Darwin it was much harder to believe in Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.” she said. But while Darwin was cautious about talking about the existence of a creator publically, his private views revealed a decline in his religious beliefs into a form of agnosticism.
Following the lecture, there were lively questions from the audience, including: “What would Darwin think of us today?”