For many famous historical figures, a distinction often needs to be made between the man and the myth that surrounds him. This is no less true for Charles Darwin. While the mythical features of a man are often later creations by others, in the case of Darwin, he created some of his own myths through his autobiography. In his book The Darwin Myth: The Life and Lies of Charles Darwin, Benjamin Wiker takes a critical look at the historical Darwin: the man, the myth, and his contribution to evolutionary theory.
Wiker documents several myths have arisen regarding Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution:
- That Darwin thought up the theory of evolution. The notion that animals in the present evolved from earlier forms was not a novel idea. The idea can be traced back to the ancient Greek philosopher Lucretius in the 1st century BC, and it was particularly in vogue among the intelligentsia in Darwin’s day. In fact, his very famous grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, wrote a widely acclaimed book titled Zoonomia (1794) in which he laid out his own theory of evolution more than 60 years before Charles wrote On the Origin of Species. In medical school, Darwin studied under a radical evolutionist by the name of Robert Grant. He also read the works of other evolutionists. Darwin did not come up with evolution. He merely popularized the theory by providing a plausible, naturalistic mechanism by which it might work, backed up by some empirical observations.