From Pasadena Star-News:
Huntington exhibit spotlights Darwin
Photo Gallery: Darwin exhibit
MARINO – Nearly 150 years after Charles Darwin published his seminal work, “Origin of Species,” evolution is still a “polarizing word” in this country, David Zeidberg, director of the Huntington Library, said Friday.
Darwin may be best known for his study of animal evolution – long the primary source of religious debate. But, Zeidberg said, much of Darwin’s understanding of life on Earth was influenced by his lifelong botanical research into how plants change and adapt.
“Darwin’s Garden: An Evolutionary Adventure,” opening today at the Huntington, focuses on that aspect of his work.
The exhibit originated at the New York Botanical Garden and is making its only West Coast appearance at the Huntington. It illustrates the formation of Darwin’s ideas on evolution through more than 60 items, writings in his own hand, rare books and prints, including some from the Huntington’s own Darwin collection.
Darwin’s theory of evolution was formulated within a framework of religious belief, Zeidberg said, and in his time it wasn’t regarded as an “either/or” choice. Subtler “theories of transmutation” had been around for some time, Zeidberg said, put forward by people with religious upbringings suggesting that plants and animals adapted over time.
Proof of that theory in regard to plants is hard to argue with, Zeidberg said.
“There’s the hybridization of plants for food purposes,” he said. “If they were immutable, you couldn’t get a seedless grape.”
Dan Lewis, senior curator at the Huntington’s soon-to-open Dibner Hall of the History of Science, said he wasn’t surprised that evolution is still being questioned.
“Religious beliefs are resilient,” he said. “They live on in the face of many things people call rational or irrational – that’s what makes it faith.”
Still, if alternate theories such as creationism are taught as science rather than religion, Zeidberg said, they should be put to the same rigorous scientific tests as evolution.
The Darwin exhibit has a strong personal touch, reaching back to his childhood in England. A chalk portrait from 1816, with his sister Catherine, shows the 6-year-old Darwin clutching a potted plant to his chest.
The exhibit’s three parts highlight his early formative years and education; his development of “Origin of Species,” based on his botanical research; and evolutionary botany. It chronicles his voyage aboard HMS Beagle, 1831-36, where he collected plants in the Galapagos Islands.
The exhibit runs through Jan. 5 at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 1151 Oxford Road. For information, visit huntington.org or call (626) 405-2100.