Darwin and Asa Gray on Stage

darwinFrom Salman Hameed of Irtiqa:

I think the correspondence between Darwin and Asa Gray should get more attention. It is an excellent example of a civilized intellectual discourse over the implications of evolution for religion. From Science, here’s a review of Craig Baxter’s Re: Design, a play based on correspondence between the two men. It starts with this fantastic quote from Darwin:

I am conscious that I am in an utterly hopeless muddle. I cannot think that the world, as we see it, is the result of chance; & yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of Design. —Charles Darwin to Asa Gray, 26 Nov. 1860

The American botanist Asa Gray was one of the first people in whom Darwin confided his theory on the origin of species; Darwin even discussed his doubts with Gray. Now, archived letters between the two have been brought back to life in Craig Baxter’s play Re:Design, which tracks the intersection of their lives and their science. The playwright constructed most of the piece with quotes taken verbatim from the prolific correspondence between the two scientists. He has stitched them into a compelling story that traces the growth of Darwin’s theories and his friendship with Gray. Baxter notes that “[Gray] made Darwin’s ideas acceptable to the religious side in the States. He was very significant in the spread of [evolutionary] ideas to that continent.”

The play was written in 2007 as part of the Darwin Correspondence Project. This gotta be a big project. When I visited the Down House, there was a mention at the exhibit that Darwin wrote over 14,000 letters during his lifetime. And trust me, those letters were not similar to two-line emails (or tweets, for the hip blog readers). Rather, he took time to write those letters and his correspondence with Asa Gray is a fantastic example:

The friendship and obvious warmth between the protagonists is the play’s most touching aspect. Despite their differences, Darwin and Gray always manage to find common ground. Baxter found their relationship inspirational, because they did not come to loggerheads over evolution versus religion—an all-too-often polarizing topic. He hopes that their example can teach us much about “how intellectual debate can be.”

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