Was Darwin Really a Genius?

You could never touch Mozart’s musical genius, even if you stuck with your piano lessons for ten thousand years. Michelangelo’s artistic talent would be eternally beyond your grasp. It is an impossibility that you could ever have written anything like Newton’s Principia. OK – so even if you put all your life into it, you could not come close to Mozart, Michelangelo, or Newton’s achievements. But what about Darwin?

Did Darwin really have any extraordinary and rare talents that are definitively beyond the limits of your own potential? Is it within the realm of the possible, with your innate intelligence and abilities, that if you had Darwin’s experiences, interests, and background that you might have come up with and provided evidence for evolution and natural selection?

In order to get some further insight into the question, at least on the surface, I recently took a trip to South America’s Galapagos Islands, Amazon rainforest, Ecuadorian cloud forests, and Andes Mountains. I went about, as sincerely as I could, to try to retrace the logic of Darwin’s observations and thinking process in South America during his Beagle journey between 1831 and 1836, while trying all the while to pretend I did not know anything about evolution.

Of course, hundreds of cultural and historical contingencies made my attempt problematic. I travelled for 2 1/2 weeks, not 5 years. I had a beautiful and exciting woman as my primary travel companion, whereas Darwin had to look at the temperamental and austere religious fundamentalist Vice Admiral Robert FitzRoy.

One very crucial observation to the development of Darwin’s ideas was noticing that the plants and animals of Galapagos were similar to species on the mainland of South America. In contrast the plants and animals of the Cape Verde Islands resembled those of its neighboring continent, Africa. He —> Read More