Dinner with Darwin

Darwindinner New Humanist asks Jerry Coyne, Steve Jones, James Randerson, and John von Wyhe (reprinted in eurozine):

The historian
NH: What would you tell him?

John van Wyhe: Although he would have thought little about it, and perhaps cared even less, as an historian I would have to tell him about the way the story of his life has evolved over the years. Initially he was the great scientific saint who banished religion from the realms of science, then he was a Freudian puppet reacting to his supposedly tyrannical father (thus “killing God” with his theory of evolution was like patricide), then he was said to have discovered evolution on the Galapagos in a eureka moment when he observed the beaks of the finches, then he was said to have held back his theory for 20 years because he was terrified of the consequences of publishing. At every anniversary a new myth like this appears, none of which has any grounding in the evidence. So what new myth(s) will be invented about Darwin in 2009, the bicentenary of his birth?…

The biologist
NH: What would you tell him?

Jerry Coyne: So much to tell, and so little time! I'd tell him about all the amazing fossils that have been discovered since the Origin was published: transitional forms that link major groups such as reptiles with mammals, land animals with whales, fish with amphibians. These fossils constitute even more support for evolution – evidence that Darwin never had, although he predicted that transitional fossils would exist. He'd probably be most interested in the group of hominid fossils found in Africa dating back as far as six million years ago. These clearly show our ancestry from apes and completely confirm Darwin's guarded prediction, made in 1871, that “it is somewhat more probable that our early progenitors lived on the African continent”.