Looking for Darwin is now Out!

The final words have been written, the last edits completed, the cover design and printing done: this journey has come to an end.

Was it worth it? Well, it was for me – and I hope you find it worthwhile too.

This will, therefore, be the last posting on this Looking for Darwin blog, while the
Looking for Darwin website takes over as the source of information: www.LookingforDarwin.com

Happy reading and all the best, Lloyd Spencer Davis.

Smithsonian Q&A Penguins out

I took time out during the writing of Looking for Darwin to write a book for the Smithsonian called: Smithsonian Q&A Penguins. They bill it as the “ultimate question and answer book” and, while I would tend to be more modest, I’d like to think that it at least does its job pretty well.

The good news is that it has just been published and is now available in the USA and Canada.

Delay to Darwin Launch

The launch of Looking for Darwin has been delayed by a week, pushing it back to Sunday 7 October. This is to allow for delays in the shipment of the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibition on Darwin from Brazil to Auckland. The book launch is to coincide with the opening of the exhibition.

The manuscript has been copy-edited and page proofs are due very soon.


To Blog or Not To Blog? – That is the Question

As Looking for Darwin nears its publication date, the focus of this site is going to need to change. It started out life as a sort of journey, going hand-in-hand with my thought processes as I wrote the book. But having completed my journey – at least, having found what I was looking for – it seems best to turn this site into a repository of things Darwin; a sort of conscience for evolution; a destination for people who are questioning what life is all about.

Launch Date Set

Looking for Darwin will be launched on Sunday 30 September at the Auckland Museum in association with the exhibition on Darwin that is opening at the museum. This exhibition is the same one I wrote about arwin at the American Museum of Natural History">earlier on this blog and it is coming to New Zealand from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Read More...

WildSouth 2007 and the face of Nature


I have just returned from the WildSouth International Film Festival in Wanaka – a festival that I had a hand in organizing. But that is not the point of this: what got me excited was not just the quality of individual films like the wonderful Mississippi: tales of a river rat but the unavoidable awe one experienced at seeing the different faces of Nature apparent in the films. From the opening of the festival, with its montage of superlative images of wildlife set to the haunting music of Trevor Coleman (in Equator: circle of life), to the many insects that dot the South American landscape in Buggin’ with Ruud, to the sequences of sharks, hunting dogs and elephants in the BBC’s Pole to Pole – you could not help but marvel at how varied Nature is, at how clever Natural Selection has been.


Looking for Darwin on Track

Looking for Darwin has been at the publishers now for nearly two months and is on track for a scheduled launch in early September this year.

At the moment it is undergoing editing. Initial reaction has been favourable, I am pleased to report. I will provide further details about the launch, which is to take place in Auckland, in due course.

Intelligent Design falters in Kansas

In 1999 the Kansas Board of Education voted to downplay the importance of evolution in the science curriculum. This culminated in a set of science “standards” prescribed by the board in 2005 that, “challenged the validity of evolution and called it incompatible with religious doctrine.”

After a voter backlash, however, that saw more moderate members elected to the board, the board has just voted by a 6-4 majority to throw out those science standards, which they deemed to be hostile to evolution. Read More...

HMS Beagle: Lost and Found?

Dr Prescott with anchor that may have been used on the Beagle in its later life.

I was interested to read a three-year-old news item that suggested that the remains of Darwin’s ship, HMS Beagle, had been found: “A team led by Dr Robert Prescott of the University of St Andrews has located what they believe are the remains of HMS Beagle beneath an Essex marsh. Read More...

Augustus Earle and Darwin

Painting by Augustus Earle of Kororareka from his time spent in New Zealand

 A little while ago I gave a talk at a conference in Auckland in which I mentioned
Looking for Darwin. I was approached afterwards by Guy Hamling, who kindly drew my attention to a passage written in Earle’s Narrative of his time in New Zealand. Read More...

The God Delusion

Richard Dawkins may or may not give Christmas gifts, but I received him as a gift. Well, to be more exact, I received a copy of his book, “The God Delusion.”

I’ve started reading it and it looks interesting: well written and to say that it pulls punches would be like saying Mike Tyson intended to kiss Evander Holyfield’s ear. There is more than just a little of the pugilistic in the language, more than just a little of the boxer in his stance.

Merry Christmas

There is a certain irony in celebrating Christmas if one is an unabashed Darwinist. I wonder if Richard Dawkins gives Christmas gifts? Or receives them, even?

Charles Darwin acknowledged Christmas. While in New Zealand he attended a church service on Christmas Day 1835 in Pahia, where the service, somewhat ahead of its time, was in both English and Maori.

The Beagle Project


The Beagle Project is is an ambitious undertaking to mark the 2009 bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth by building a replica of HMS Beagle and sailing it around the world stopping at the same locations as Darwin. Aboard will be an international complement of young scientists. They will compare their observations with those made by Darwin from 1831 to 1836.


Wikipedia and the Tragedy of the Commons

The entry on Charles Darwin in the online community encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, has been locked to prevent “vandalism”.

Wikipedia, like democracy, is a great idea in principal. The concept works something like this: anyone can contribute and anyone can update or improve the information. In theory, it is a self-correcting set-up that should lead ultimately to articles of authority that have been literally checked thousands of times. The problem is that it is open to abuse from “cheaters”.

Tonga: Christianity trumps Darwin

About the time that Charles Darwin was cruising the world on the Beagle, discovering things that conflicted with the notion of a Creator, Christian missionaries were plying their way around Cape Horn too, spreading the word of God to the uninitiated in the Pacific isles. Among those was Jean Baptiste François Pompallier, a French-born Catholic just a bit over six years older than Darwin. In 1835, at the same time Darwin was making his way across the Pacific, Pope Gregory XVI created the Vicariates of Eastern and Western Oceania. Pompallier was appointed Vicar Apostolic of Western Oceania and Bishop of Maronea and, on 24 December 1836, less than three months after Darwin’s arrival back in England, he sailed from Le Havre aboard the Delphine for Western Oceania and New Zealand. Read More...

The Two Lloyds

There is an axiom that one should never perform with children or animals because they are bound to upstage you – well, I am going to add another: intelligent articulate 88 year-old gentlemen!

It was a pleasure to spend a little time in the spotlight with well-known theological deep thinker Lloyd Geering at the Otago Festival of the Arts as part of the Readers and Writers programme. If anyone thought that it was going to be a showdown between Darwin and Religion, they would have been bitterly disappointed. To the contrary, however, the sell-out audience seemed to really enjoy it. In fact, it was more than a sell-out: against all the fire regulations, they moved an extra 60 seats in to help cope with the demand. Read More...

Milton versus Darwin

I have just recently listened to the 2006 Rutherford Memorial Lecture delivered by cell biologist and Nobel Laureate Sir Paul Nurse. In it he compared and contrasted two world views: that of John Milton in “Paradise Lost” (which really represents the Genesis story as told in the Bible) and Charles Darwin’s as outlined in “On the Origin of Species“. Read More...

Medium or Media BS?

I have a pact with my daughter: each morning when I drive her to school, whoever turns the radio on in the car first gets to choose the station. Unfortunately, I don’t move as fast as my daughter and, as a consequence, most mornings I have to listen to an endless supply of drivel that only a 15 year-old could love.

The radio station she likes is called The Edge and I can just about put up with the verbal diarrhoea that passes for repartee between the three – count ‘em – three announcers. However, once per week they have a so-called Medium on (The Ghost Whisperer), who can, they all claim, communicate with the dead. Read More...

The Book Show

Looking for Darwin featured on The Book Show, a New Zealand television programme screened on TV One on Saturday 9 September. It was described as a “documentary feature” under the weekly Finlay’s Casebook section of the show. In reality, it was an extended interview of ten minutes or so, where Finlay Macdonald interviewed me about Darwin and my aspirations as a writer. Read More...

The Man of God and the Son of Darwin

As part of the Writers and Readers programme in the Otago Festival of the Arts, I am to pair up with well-known theologian, Lloyd Geering, to examine “God and Darwin“. It is to be a critical and, I hope, insightful look at evolution and intelligent design. Read More...

Time Out

The Smithsonian in Washington, DC

Charles Darwin has gone into a state somewhere between suspended animation and a coma. While I am continuing to work on the nearly completed manuscript of Looking for Darwin, I have fallen victim to my inherent inability to say “no.” That characteristic, as imbedded in me as my fingerprints, has gotten me into more trouble in my life than I care to mention. My publisher considers it a weakness. At times, as I have waited for a hangover to pass or someone to leave, I’ve considered it a failing. Read More...

Quantum Queries

Two seemingly unconnected events: (i) I am writing about Emperor Penguins, and (ii) I am listening to an interview on the radio about applying quantum mechanics to evolutionary biology. Read More...

Coming to a Bookshop near You in 2007

Looking for Darwin is nearing completion. Publication will occur in 2007.

The Mara and the Hare

Mara are large rodents found in Argentina. Their scientific name is Dolichotis patagonum. Darwin doesn’t mention coming across Mara per se in The Voyage of the Beagle; instead he talks about encountering agoutis on the plains of Patagonia. However, there seems little doubt that what he was referring to was Mara. Read More...

Survival of the Fittest Blog

Charles Darwin was a prodigious journal keeper. Had he been around now, it is almost certain that he would have posted a weblog of his travels on the Beagle and, perhaps, a blog about his developing ideas on evolution by natural selection. There the likes of “BisWilberforce” and “TomHux” could have left their opposing comments and traded insults about whether it was better to have an ape as an ancestor than a bishop or whatever. Read More...

Life after Death at University College London

When Charles Darwin married Emma in January 1839, they moved into a small cottage he had just rented in London. They christened the place Macaw Cottage on account of its gaudy colour scheme, reminiscent of the birds Darwin had encountered on his voyage.

The cottage no longer exists, but how ironic, how appropriate, that the site should now be occupied by the Department of Biology of the University College London. The bland gray monster of a building that now claims 12 Upper Gower Street as its own is called – you guessed it – the Darwin Building. There is a small plaque that announces that to anyone with enough curiosity to go in its doors, but otherwise the connection with Darwin is not just downplayed, it’s decidedly absent. Read More...

Survival of the Fittest?

Lucky Lincoln Hall

At the very moment that I was writing the previous entry on Mark Inglis’s climb of Mount Everest and the abandonment of English climber David Sharp, another climber – Australian Lincoln Hall – was also left for dead near the top of the world’s highest peak. He had collapsed after reaching the summit. Sherpas did try to rescue Hall, but abandoned the attempt, declaring him dead. He spent the night out alone and untreated at 8700 metres. The next day, another climber found Hall, detected signs of life, and, in contrast to the fate that had befallen David Sharp, another rescue operation was launched. Lincoln Hall is now down from the mountain and although somewhat frostbitten, showing every indication of recovery. Read More...

The Ethics of Climbing Everest and the Selfish Gene

Recently a New Zealander, Mark Inglis, who has had more than a few mountains to climb – real and personal – managed the almost unbelievable feat of climbing Mount Everest even though he is a double amputee. Inglis lost his legs just below the knees after a prolonged period of frostbite 24 years ago, when he got caught out in a snow cave for 14 days while trying to climb Mt Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak.

Darwin and the Royal Academy of Arts

The great thing about London is the history: it’s not something to read about in books, it’s there in every building and down every famous by-way. Walk Pall Mall, Regent Street or any one of the Monopoly board names and you will find history alive, breathing.

The Royal Academy of Arts is one such place. A short stroll from Piccadilly Circus, it is somewhat hidden behind an arched entranceway that straddles the opposing doors of the Geological and Linnaean Societies.

Unnatural Selection

My dog died while I was overseas. If ever there was a reminder that selection is sometimes random, that the fittest do not always survive, then this was it. I am biased admittedly, but Mocha was as fine a specimen of doghood as ever bounded across the planet on four legs.

My house seems empty now. Every room has great holes that Mocha didn’t just occupy, she filled with light.

Down House: well worth the visit

Down House, Charles Darwin’s home in Kent where he wrote The Origin of Species, is now administered by English Heritage and they have made great improvements to it since my last visit nearly twenty years ago Read More...

Down House Visit

I’m going to be leaving in a few days to go to the UK. One of the reasons for my trip is to visit Charles Darwin’s residence, Down House, in Kent. I’ve been there before but wish to return as part of my research for Looking for Darwin: I want my impressions to be fresh ones. Read More...

Darwin and the General

 In August 1833, when Charles Darwin was on an overland journey in Argentina from El Carmen on the Rio Negro to Bahia Blanca, he came to the encampment of General Juan Manuel de Rosas. Rosas was the wealthy leader of an army of thousands of men sent to the pampas to fight the Indians, who had reacted to the influx of foreigners by slaughtering them. Rosas dressed liked a gaucho, rode like a gaucho but was said to be much more ruthless – especially when he laughed. Read More...

Darwin and Slavery

It is interesting to learn of Darwin’s attitude to slavery. In many ways his grandparents on both the Wedgwood and Darwin sides were instrumental in bringing about its abolition in Britain and the dominions. Slavery was only banned in Britain about the time Charles was born and it took until about the time he left on the Beagle to get full emancipation of slaves in the colonies. Read More...

Antarctic Adventure

 I’ve just arrived back from the Antarctic. A magnificent place of contradictions. While the perception is of a white continent, it is the subtle variations of light and colour that contribute so much to it’s beauty; covered in frozen water it is one of the driest places on Earth; and then, there are the animals. Read More...

Darwin’s Dalliance?

It’s the beginning of 2006 and there is light at the end of the tunnel as far as completing the writing for Looking for Darwin. Anyone who embarks on a serious piece of writing knows how hard it can be to complete. The concept is typically easier to achieve than getting the words on paper, or the computer screen as it might be. I have finished the parts of the book devoted to Darwin’s voyage in the Beagle and I am now covering that reflective period afterwards when he really honed his ideas of Natural Selection. Read More...

Intelligent Design vs Darwinism

The ruling by U.S. District Judge John E. Jones that the the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania cannot teach Intelligent Design as part of the Science curriculum strikes a blow for logic. That’s not to say that Darwinism and Creationism (or any other religious view) should not go head to head (as they are in Looking for Darwin): but there is a time and a place and the science curriculum is not one of them. The judge got it right when he concluded that so-called Intelligent Design is nothing more than religion dressed up as science. Read More...

Darwin at the American Museum of Natural History

A new and extensive exhibition on Darwin has opened at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. It runs until 29 May 2006 and even features live Galapagos Tortoises. Read More...

Stephen J. Gould

I’ve recently been taking a break from writing Looking for Darwin to write a series of articles for New Zealand’s major national newspaper, the Sunday Star-Times. The series is called Back to Nature and it is my very personal look at the people who have been among the greatest advocates for Nature. You can read my account of Stephen J. Gould here: a man I admired for his views on Nature but detested when his own nature was on view.

White Alpine Flowers and Butterflies

Darwin came to New Zealand – the far north – but he didn’t stay long and he didn’t like it. I’m trying to imagine what he may have experienced had he wandered to the South Island and the rugged mountains of the Southern Alps. Unlike the Andes in South America, he would have observed that these were very young mountains, perhaps 5 to 7 million years old. But I think what he would have noticed most – at least it was what I noticed most when I tried to put myself in his shoes – would have been the preponderance of white flowers and butterflies. Read More...

Breast Cancer: evolutionary implications

I’ve not long finished researching and writing an article on Rachel Carson for the national Sunday newspaper in New Zealand. The article, naturally enough, was about pesticides, but it roamed into the area of breast cancer inasmuch as there is a suggested link between pesticides and breast cancer and, as fate would have it, Carson died of breast cancer. While I did not include this in the article, it seems apparent that our changing lifestyles are having a big impact on the dramatic increase in the rate of breast cancer over the last 100 years. Read More...

Darwin and the Galapagos Islands

I’ve just finished writing about Darwin’s experiences in the Galapagos Islands and, surprizingly, it took less time and less space than I had originally anticipated. On reflection I can see that this should not have been a surprize because Charles Darwin spent a relatively trifling amount of time in the Galapagos considering the duration of his journey on the Beagle and, when there, it certainly did not strike him as the key to evolution as it has often been portrayed. Read More...

Darwin’s Dog

It was my dog’s birthday yesterday. Mocha, a chocolate lab, is a marvel of evolution that surely would have made Charles Darwin proud. That she could cause literally thousands of dollars worth of damage and still live to experience her second birthday tells me that she knows more about survival of the fittest than I can ever hope to discover during the process of writing this book. Of course, I love her: but I love her in spite of her naughtiness, not because of it. Read More...

Monasterio de San Francisco, Lima

Darwin’s final staging post before pushing off the South American continent for the Galapagos Islands was Peru. Recently I have been researching and writing about that part of the Voyage of the Beagle. But I have also been using it as an opportunity to digress and explore the relationship between religion and the indigenous South Americans, from rampant Catholicism to the beliefs that preceded the Spanish invasion. Read More...

Darwin’s Day Celebrations

 2009 will be the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species. A website has been formed by a group in the United States with the aim of co-ordinating celebrations to acknowledge Darwin’s contribution to our lives. Read More...

Shrewsbury initiates Darwin Masterplan

When I visited Shrewsbury, Charles Darwin’s birthplace, I was appalled at how little effort the city made to acknowledge the greatness that it had spawned. Here is the place where Darwin spent his formative years and yet you’d need the eyes of an eagle to spot any celebration of that fact. His home is, bizarrely, home to the Shrewsbury Valuation Office; his old school (now the library) has a statue but nothing else; and where, oh where, are the signs at the entrance to the city that should proclaim to the visitor that they are about to enter biology’s hallowed turf? Read More...

To Publish or to Perish?

A publisher has urged me, in no uncertain terms, to take down the extracts from Looking for Darwin that I had posted. I admit that it is a difficult issue. Obviously by posting contents that I intend to publish in printed form later, it could be construed that I have “devalued” them somewhat by putting them on the internet beforehand for all the world to see. Also, the publisher worried that others might steal my words. And while that may well be the sincerest form of flattery, in my view someone would have to be pretty desperate to do that. Read More...

Novel about Darwin makes Booker Prize Longlist

This Thing of Darkness, a novel by Harry Thompson about FitzRoy and Darwin’s voyage on the Beagle, has made the longlist for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2005. The book has only just been released and I have not been able to get my hands on a copy in New Zealand yet; but by all accounts it is a ripping yarn that focuses on the conflicting views and, eventually, lives, of FitzRoy and Darwin. Read More...

Darwin’s Birthplace: The Mount, Shrewsbury

Darwin’s bedroom: the room in which he was born, The Mount

Darwin was brought up in Shrewsbury in a house called The Mount. I went to Shrewsbury and The Mount to check out where it all began and to see if I could not fathom something in the life of a young boy growing up there that may have contributed to his later outlook on the world. Read More...

Time: Evolution Wars

The cover story in the current issue of Time Magazine is headlined “Evolution Wars”. It reports on the growing push within the United States to have “Intelligent Design” taught alongside evolution in schools as an alternative theory. Perhaps the most telling line in the whole article is the one that quotes the results of a Harris poll of 1,000 American adults: “54% did not believe humans had developed from an earlier species”. Read More...

The Touring Club: the hotel Darwin missed

The Touring Club, Trelew: more Jurassic Park than Waldorf-Astoria

I have recently completed writing about Darwin’s travels in Argentina. In doing the research for it, I travelled twice to the Patagonian city of Trelew. I say city, but in every way other than the number of people that live there, it is really just a town. And a town without much to recommend it, save for being the gateway to the animal-encrusted Peninsula Valdés and the home of the Museo Paleontológico Egidio Feruglio. Read More...

Darwin’s Grandfather, Erasmus Darwin

Bust of Erasmus Darwin on garden wall of Darwin House, Lichfield.

To understand the developmental influences that contributed to Charles Darwin’s arrival at a place that sat outside the Church and resulted in his theory of evolution by natural selection, one needs to go back to his family. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, in particular was no ordinary grandparent.

The Burgess Shale

My daughter pointing to a fossil she has found in the Burgess Shale.

I have just returned to New Zealand from a research trip for Looking for Darwin. One of the highlights was a hike to the Burgess Shale in Yoho National Park, Canada – the site made famous by the fossilized bodies of weird creatures found at no other place on Earth. Read More...

Hello world!

The above topic title was the one automatically assigned to this first post by WordPress – the engine that is powering this blog – and I have retained it because it seems especially appropriate. Firstly, greetings to the world – I hope this reaches a wide audience and that we can enjoy this journey together! Secondly, this site is devoted to developing an understanding of the world: it is based upon my experiences associated with writing a book called Looking for Darwin where I am attempting to unravel what this life and this world are all about. How did we get here? Read More...
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