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NLM and NIH Office of History Present Darwin Symposium

Commemorates 150th Anniversary of Publication of On the Origin of Species (1859)

Location: Lister Hill Auditorium, National Library of Medicine (NIH)
8600 Rockville Pike, Bldg. 38A
Bethesda, MD

Date: Thursday, October 1, 2009

Time: 9:00 AM - 6:15 PM

Agenda appears below

Program is free and open to the public. All are welcome.

On October 1, 1859, Charles Darwin wrote in his diary, "finished proofs." The proofs he referred to were those of On the Origin of Species, a landmark in the history of science. It appeared in print the following month.

Darwin may have finished the page proofs, but the process of persuading scientists and the public about evolution had just begun. Darwin pieced together evidence for his theory of natural selection from many sources, including studies of domestic breeding, anatomical similarities among species ("homology"), embryology, the sequential order of fossils, and the presence of vestigial organs. Bur whether this evidence ever constituted "proof" of evolution was questioned at the time and remains unsettled today, in part because of broader cultural and religious concerns about evolution. The "proofs" were far from finished in 1859.

This symposium brings together a line-up of internationally-renowned scholars, representing a cross section of disciplines, who will discuss historical, philosophical and scientific perspectives on Darwin and evolution. It has two general aims. First, it seeks to trace the different ways in which evolution has been understood in this period, and how these ways of understanding related to the changing basis of scientific evidence on evolution. Second, it seeks to explain why scientific "proofs" of Darwinian evolution have been unpersuasive to many individuals, including those who promote creationism and intelligent design. The speakers' perspectives on evolution have raised important questions about the nature of the evidence in favor of evolution, and the relationship between proof and belief. Put another way, a focus on Darwin's critics and supporters can illuminate the many ways in which "proof" has been understood in the last 150 years.


Welcoming remarks by NLM Director Donald A.B. Lindberg, NLM History of Medicine Division Chief Elizabeth Fee, and NIH Office of History Director Robert Martensen

  • Janet Browne, Harvard University
  • Eric Green, National Human Genome Research Institute
  • Michael Ruse, Florida State University
  • Barry Werth, Independent Author


  • Nathaniel Comfort, Johns Hopkins University
  • Alan E. Guttmacher, National Human Genome Research Institute
  • Joe Palca, National Public Radio
  • Maxine Singer, Carnegie Institution for Science

Sign Language Interpreters will be provided. Individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation to participate in this symposium should contact Ba Ba Chang, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine, 301.496.5405, and/or the Federal Relay (1.800.877.8339).


Finished Proofs?
A symposium to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication
of On the Origin of Species (1859)



9:00am -9:15am


Donald A.B. Lindberg, Director, National Library of Medicine
Elizabeth Fee, Chief, History of Medicine Division, National Library of Medicine
Robert Martensen, Director, Office of History, National Institutes of Health


Celebrating Darwin in 2009
Janet Browne, Aramont Professor of the History of Science, Harvard University

Is Darwinism Past Its 'Sell-by' Date?
Michael Ruse, Lucyle T. Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy, Florida State University


Evolution in America: A Short History of the First 150 Years
Barry Werth, Author of Banquet at Delmonico's: Great Minds, the Gilded Age, and the Triumph of Evolution in America


Comparative Genome Sequencing: Using Evolution to Decode the Human Genome
Eric Green, Scientific Director, National Human Genome Research Institute





Maxine Singer, Carnegie Institution for Science
Joe Palca, Science Correspondent, National Public Radio
Nathaniel Comfort, Associate Professor, Department of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University Alan E. Guttmacher, Acting Director, National Human Genome Research Institute