Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Westminster Abbey: Darwin vs Newton

Charles Darwin died on April 19, 1882. His friends arranged for him to be buried in Westminster Abbey, an honor befitting the greatest scientist who ever lived.

Here's a excerpt from the Westminster Abbey website [Charles Darwin].
The Dean of Westminster, George Granville Bradley, was away in France when he received a telegram forwarded from the President of the Royal Society in London saying “…it would be acceptable to a very large number of our fellow-countrymen of all classes and opinions that our illustrious countryman, Mr Darwin, should be buried in Westminster Abbey”. The Dean recalled “ I did not hesitate as to my answer and telegraphed direct…that my assent would be cheerfully given”. The body lay overnight in the Abbey, in the small chapel of St Faith, and on the morning of 26 April the coffin was escorted by the family and eminent mourners into the Abbey. The pall-bearers included Sir Joseph Hooker, Alfred Russel Wallace, James Russell Lowell (U.S. Ambassador), and William Spottiswoode (President of the Royal Society).

The burial service was held in the Lantern, conducted by Canon Prothero, with anthems sung by the choir. The chief mourners then followed the coffin into the north aisle of the Nave where Darwin was buried next to the eminent scientist Sir John Herschel, and a few feet away from Sir Isaac Newton. The simple inscription on his grave reads “CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN BORN 12 FEBRUARY 1809. DIED 19 APRIL 1882”. Although an agnostic, Darwin was greatly respected by his contemporaries and the Bishop of Carlisle, Harvey Goodwin, in a memorial sermon preached in the Abbey on the Sunday following the funeral, said “I think that the interment of the remains of Mr Darwin in Westminster Abbey is in accordance with the judgment of the wisest of his countrymen…It would have been unfortunate if anything had occurred to give weight and currency to the foolish notion which some have diligently propagated, but for which Mr Darwin was not responsible, that there is a necessary conflict between a knowledge of Nature and a belief in God…”.
Darwin's grave is simple and very much in keeping with typical British understatement. Everyone knows who Charles Darwin is. It occupies a prime location near many other scientists. Unfortunately, it is not as close to the grave of Charles Lyell as Emma Darwin would have liked.

Isaac Newton is buried nearby. His tomb is a little more gaudy and glittery than Darwin's as if his supporters needed to prove something that wasn't obvious.

Here's another image of Newton's tomb. You can't image anyone writing a book about how Charles Darwin was part of a conspiracy to protect the descendants of Jesus, can you? Somehow this seems perfectly believable for Newton.


  1. The most important scientist who ever lived, at least in the common era, was Issac Newton. Neil Tyson says so and he's bigger then Larry Moran.

  2. I am sorry Larry, but I must say Newton is bigger than Darwin. Both are brilliant though.

  3. Newton had some nice wigs, but they lack the dedication of Darwin's beard. I think that settles it.

  4. I agree with you about it being perfectly believable that Newton would be involved in a conspiracy to protect the descendants of Jesus. He wrote a number of literal interpretations of the Bible and had a nasty case of mercury poisoning.... The former makes him a little bit weird, and the latter would have made him straight up crazy.... Both of these traits are common with people who get typically get involved in loony conspiracies....

  5. He is not known as Sir Charles Darwin or Lord Darwin.

  6. "If I were to give a prize for
    the single best idea anyone
    ever had, I would give it to
    Charles Darwin."
    – Daniel Dennett, Philosopher

    And I agree

  7. They are both ingeneous scientists, but they were credited with inventing things that were unrelated to each other. Newton had more discoveries, but that doesn't make him better.

  8. Newton had more discoveries?

    Darwin discovered and demonstrated the scientific method, and established the value of peer review.

    Darwin explained the formation of coral atolls.

    Darwin observed and explained the function and importance of earthworms, advancing agriculture dramatically.

    Darwin observed and explained how and why vines twine (nullifying the old hymn, I suppose, but not what he was about).

    Darwin discovered the origins of fancy pigeons, and integrated that knowledge into a coherent framework of animal husbandry pointing past history and future directions for animal breeding still in effect.

    Darwin explained how unusual features -- long tongues on giant moths as yet undiscovered, and long throats on unusual, exotic orchids, for example -- come into existence, and how their existence can be used to predict future discoveries.

    Darwin described and lampooned denialism, especially with regard to anthropology. He described and decried genocide 80 years before the rest of the world caught up. He explained the natural reasons genocide is a stupid idea.

    Darwin first described and provided evolutionary explanations for insectivorous plants.

    Darwin explained the lowly barnacle, contributing to their control on ship bottoms.

    Darwin's collections of biota were, and remain, the greatest collection by a single person in the history of the British Museum. Darwin was a great explorer, a stupendous contributor to world trade.

    Darwin put his money to work to end slavery and fight racialism in Britain.

    Besides describing gravity and inventing that cookie, what were Newton's accomplishments?

  9. I am sorry Larry, but I must say Newton is bigger than Darwin. Both are brilliant though.

    I've met Larry, and I suspect he is bigger than either Newton or Darwin.