Darwin Day 2018: “How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children”

February 12th is International Darwin Day.

Whether you are a parent, a teacher, or in some other capacity given responsibility over the education or raising of children, there is a lesson to be learned from the naturalist Charles Darwin (February 12, 1809 – April 19, 1882).


From a 2009 issue of Natural History

Darwin was a devoted father, and in certain ways his attachment to his children was uncharacteristic for the Victorian period. Darwin and Emma married in 1842 and had ten children, seven of whom survived into adulthood. His own poor health meant that he did most of his scientific work from his home Down House: reading, observing, experimenting, corresponding, and writing. Thus, his family life and his scientific work intertwined throughout each day, and when his children were sick – which was quite often – his work would be delayed. But he also sought his children’s help, whether physically in experiments or for tossing thoughts back and forth. He included his children in the development of his ideas, and even thought of his children as scientific subjects themselves.

Darwin film Creation (CD with kids)

In the woods with Darwin (Paul Bettany) and some of his children, in a scene from the 2009 film Creation

The lack of original posts on this blog over the last couple of years is due to my raising my own children. As a parent, I appreciate the Darwin that allowed his children to pursue their interests, that introduced his children to nature and scientific subjects, and that sought to understand his own children biologically.


My son as Charles Darwin in 2017. Photo: Sammy Prugsamatz

Darwin biographer and historian James Moore referred to Down House, its grounds, and the “menagerie” of animals there as “a childhood paradise – an adventure playground, summer camp, and petting farm all rolled into one.” Darwin surely saw the value in exposing his children to nature at home and at places nearby, especially Orchis Bank (now “Downe Bank”), the patch of land that inspired the words about “an entangled bank” in his conclusion to On the Origin of Species (1859).


My children exploring at a local natural area in Portland, OR, here looking minuscule among the trees

I strive to both teach my children about evolution and to ensure their childhoods are full of plenty of time in nature. With constant challenges to evolution education in public schools and the always present yet increasing threats to the environment, there is no more important time than now to instill in our children a love for science and reason, and an appreciation for the natural world we depend on as a species. For us, and every living thing we share this planet with. Charles Darwin cared for his own family while learning about and sharing with the rest of the world about his larger family – the tree of life. We should allow our children to climb the tree of life, both metaphorically in learning about evolution and biodiversity, and in the real world through nature play.


My daughter climbing a tree in Portland, OR

In an 1852 letter to his cousin William Darwin Fox, Darwin wrote, reflecting on his duties as a father regarding their educations and whether or not they were to inherit his health problems, “How paramount the future is to the present, when one is surrounded by children.” Our future depends on having citizens that are well-informed in science and that have reasons to vote in favor of the environment. So, let us celebrate Darwin Day – and every day – by taking our kids outside and teaching them about evolution.


On a note card my mother sent me a few years ago


Darwin Correspondence Project: Darwin and Fatherhood

Darwin Correspondence Project: Darwin’s observations on his children

Jim Endersby: “Sympathetic science: Charles Darwin, Joseph Hooker, and the passions of Victorian naturalists,” in the journal Victorian Studies. Endersby discusses Darwin’s role as a father in relation to his botanical work.

Tim Berra: Darwin and His Children: His Other Legacy, from Oxford University Press (Amazon); “Ten facts about Charles Darwin’s ten children.”

James T. Costa: Darwin’s Backyard: How Small Experiments Led to a Big Theory, from W.W. Norton (Amazon). This book recounts Darwin’s many experiments and shows how involved his children were; also, each chapter includes activity instructions for educators.

Carolyn J. Boulter, Michael J. Reiss, and Dawn L. Sanders (eds.): Darwin-Inspired Learning, from Sense Publishers (Amazon). For educators. Particularly the seventh chapter by James Moore, “Getting the Kids Involved – Darwin’s Paternal Example.”

The Bug Chicks blog: a guest post I wrote a few years back about Darwin, nature education, and parenting.

Jonathan Tweet: Grandmother Fish (Amazon). Fantastic book introducing preschool-aged kids to evolution

Kristan Lawson: Darwin and Evolution for Kids: His Life and Ideas with 21 Activities, from Chicago Review Press (Amazon)

Deborah Hopkinson: The Humbleebee Hunter: Inspired by the Life and Experiments of Charles Darwin and His Children, from Hyperion (Amazon). One of my personal favorite books about Darwin, or in this case, his children. My post about this book from 2012 is here.


Art by Jen Corace from Deborah Hopkinson’s The Humblebee Hunter




Children at Nature Play – my t-shirt fundraising campaign

Some of you may know that I also blog at Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. I get my two kids outside and exploring in nature as much as possible, and love to share information for other parents, mentors, and educators.

Right now I have a Teespring t-shirt fundraising campaign to raise funds to order and then sell signs with my Children at Nature Play design (David Orr was my graphic designer). The t-shirts for sale have the same design!

sign and shirt

To learn more about this project of mine, check out this blog post.

To order a t-shirt (or more!), click here.

Even better, share the Teespring link with anyone you think might be interested.

Thank you!

Welcome, baby Afton!

On Wednesday, August 15, 2012, at 12:21pm, Catherine, Patrick, and I welcomed Afton Lee to this world. She was 7 lbs. 15 oz. and measured 20.5 inches. A friend commented on my Facebook page, “Glad to know there will be one more Nature Kid in the world!” Indeed. Oh, and she had one vaccine shot so far, and many more to go!

Patrick has been nothing but an attentive and sweet older brother. Isn’t she darling?

Busy busy busy

Apologies for the scarcity of posts recently. Between work, being a dad, and a forthcoming daughter (due date is August 11th), I haven’t posted much. Here’s Catherine and her bump watering in our garden:

Less than a month away

I’ve also been focusing more of my energy into my Portland nature blog, and so been neglected this here blog. I continue to share Darwin and evolution related content through my Twitter and Facebook pages (see the handy new social media logos on the right). A few things to share:

The Darwin Online project has revamped their website!

There is much that is new with Alfred Russel Wallace. The correspondence project for his letters continues to work away at transcribing (I’ve done a few myself), a campaign is set up for the 100th anniversary of his death in 1913, there is a fund to contribute to if you’re willing for a Wallace statue, and a new blog to check out.

And check out the archives list in the sidebar here to get your fix for recent history of science blogging.

Big news

Seeing that I have announced this on my Facebook and Twitter pages, I guess I should so so here, too. By next fall, Catherine and I will have another young child to introduce to science and nature. Come August, Patrick will be a big brother, and I know -I know – that he will help instill a love of nature and curiosity into his or her little mind.

Following a doctor’s appointment this morning while Patrick was at school, we told him the news this evening. I think he was happy:

Just the three of us


Today marks my wife and I’s sixth anniversary (and seven years together). But as any parent knows, it’s not just us anymore. How the two of us came together to make such a delightful and beautiful little human being, I’ll never know.

Happy Anniversary, Catherine! And thank you for Patrick!

The photo is from a free session we won through Red Tricycle, with Grace Espiritu Photography. The shoot was done at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in Vancouver, WA, just across the Columbia River from Portland. You can see some more shots at Grace’s blog and her Facebook page.

Goodbye, Space Shuttle

Space Shuttle Atlantis' (STS-135) final launch, July 8, 2011 (AP Photo)

I took Patrick to OMSI today to watch the final launch on the planetarium screen. I’m glad I did.

Last Space Shuttle launch at OMSI

Last Space Shuttle launch at OMSI

Several Portland news stations were there to film it, and one station (KATU) filmed people in the crowd, including Patrick. I saw the story on their live streaming a little while ago, and there’s two quick shots of Patrick, one of him flying his little shuttle toy in the air. If they post the video to their website, I’ll be sure to post it here!

I was not a NASA-crazed child, but I grew up with the Space Shuttle. I can recall the day when I found out, at age 7, that Challenger had exploded and its crew perished. It’s an important part of our history, not just as Americans, but as humans, to share in these awesome achievements of science and human ingenuity. I hope Patrick remembers this moment.

Hello there!

Sorry blogging has been so light as of late. Just a few things:

My wife started a new job a month ago, as a librarian in the city of Canby about 25 minutes south of Portland. So I am daddy during the week and have some part-time work on the weekends.

Excited for the OMSI Science Pub at the Bagdad Theater tonight. It’s with Rebecca Skloot and she’ll be discussing her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Hopefully Patrick behaves…

Speaking of my son, he turned 5 on March 27th. He’s getting big! We had a fabulous nature-themed party for him at Tryon Creek State Park:

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

He’ll be starting kindergarten in the fall. The proud parents:

Patrick's 5th Birthday & Party

The freethought conference (pictures) here in Portland at the end of March was great, and it was nice to meet PZ Myers:

2011 Northwest Freethought Conference, Portland State University

I seem to be blogging more at my other blog, Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas, and Patrick and I spent spring break week outside every day

Molalla River State Park, Canby, OR

Next month I will be giving a talk about Darwin and creationist quote-mining for the Secular Humanists of East Portland/CFI (an extended version of what I did for Science Online 2011).

And there are not too may days until the next installment of the history of science blog carnival, The Giant’s Shoulders.

Follow me on Twitter (@darwinsbulldog) and Facebook for constant linkage of Darwin items of interest…

New Blog: Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas

I just realized that I should inform my readers of a new blog I started a few days ago: Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas. I will use this blog to post about Patrick and my explorations of places in and around Portland, and to share information regarding nature, science education, and getting kids outside!

A few of the posts so far:

Introductory post for Exploring Portland’s Natural Areas
Oaks Bottom Wildlife Refuge
A thought

Cannon Beach, coastal Oregon

Last Saturday we headed out to Cannon Beach on the Oregon coast to go to a library booksale to obtain product for that which keeps us alive, and afterwards we played around on the beach and around Haystack Rock and its tide pools. One thing I miss about California is how close to the ocean I was; Cannon Beach was no more than an hour and a half from Portland!

Here are some photos which nicely capture the wonderful afternoon (set on Flickr):

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon

Tomorrow we are off…

Truck is packed. Rental house is clean. Tonight we are in a hotel. Patrick goes to school tomorrow while carpets gets cleaned and we do the checkout. After that, we are off to Portland, spending the night in Spokane.

Patrick seems to be doing fine with things. He talks about missing his friends, but he doesn’t appear upset – yet!

Patrick, Clark Park, Butte, MT

Patrick, Clark Park, Butte, MT

A Perfect Farewell

As you probably know, right now I live in Butte, one hour west of Bozeman, where Montana State University is. Yesterday was my last time on campus.

Montana State University

Montana State University

Six and a half years I spent in Bozeman, my first real move away from home (Temecula, CA). It is in Bozeman that I got my bachelors degree and now masters, met my wife (here), and welcomed a little human being into this world, my son Patrick. So, for me, it was a little sad to get on Highway 90 and head back to Butte from Bozeman yesterday afternoon.

That drive takes you through another city, Belgrade, and right as you pass the exit, there’s a church next to the offramp and they have a sign visible to drivers that always displays some catchy phrase, quote, proverb, what have you. As I was approaching Belgrade, I thought to myself, ya know, in six years, for all the times I’ve driven by here, that sign has never had anything to say about evolution or science. This time, when the sign came into view, I couldn’t believe it (no pun intended):

Church sign in Belgrade, MT

Church sign in Belgrade, MT

I couldn’t ask for a more entertaining way to say goodbye to Bozeman.

To do list

1. Complete final draft of professional paper (not a thesis, but a shorter paper intended for publication). Turning in on Friday! See picture below:


2. Complete shorter paper for philosophy of science course – hopefully tonight; if not, tomorrow.

3. Complete set of Tyndall letters & additions to project wiki – by Saturday night.

4. Give new address to university for diploma to be mailed to me.

5. Pack remaining crap in house – Saturday & Sunday.

6. Load U-Haul – Monday & Tuesday.

7. Check out of rental house & get carpets cleaned – Tuesday.

8. Hit the road for Portland – Tuesday afternoon.

9. Arrive in Portland, start new adventure – Wednesday night.

10. Realize I am no longer a student – now! What am I going to do?!?!?

Vote for Me!

But it has nothing to do with Darwin….

Vote for my resusable shopping bag design for an opportunity to win a $1000 gift card to Fred Meyer and my design to be used. Here’s what to do:

1. Go here.

2. Click on “Search Bag Designs” on the right side of the page.

3. Search bag #42943 & vote for it!

Here’s my design:

I have 9 votes at this moment, the leader has over 11,000. Bring me to the top!