bat skeleton

The evolution of species by natural selection has always been a controversial yet fascinating topic of discussion.

At the newest exhibit, “Darwin: How One Man’s Theory Turned the World on Its Head,” at the Witte Museum, visitors can see many collected specimens and journals of Charles Darwin on display.

The internationally acclaimed exhibit is sponsored by The American Museum of Natural History, located in New York.

Beetles, large and small, skeletonized fossil remains of primates and a bat remain frozen in time as they are exhibited behind glass. A snake with every bone intact seems to move continuously in its display. All the ancient fossils on display are excellent learning tools, to better understand the influence of animals and plants on his theory. Displayed throughout are large replicas of giant turtles and birds discovered in the Galápagos Islands when aboard the Beagle.

In Darwin’s exhibit, spectators see the process of evolution displayed. The specimens are encased in glass and organized from smallest to largest to pin point where “transmutation”—or evolution— occurred.

The Witte Museum showcases this magnificent exhibit beautifully using recorded audio about Darwin’s life in the background as viewers tour the encompassed area. The space set aside for this exhibit is isolated and visitors feel as if they’ve entered another world.

Once through the tinted double doors, visitors disappears into Darwin’s world. His insights on evolution, geology, his own peculiarities, his hobbies and, most importantly, his contributions to science are all on display. Whether or not one is religious, an appreciation for natural selection takes precedence.

Darwin’s studies can be appreciated thanks to his ability to constantly question the environment around him. This opened the doors to the discovery of genetics and hereditary traits. Darwin wondered how it was possible to inherit genes from family members and proposed a weak theory to explain the phenomena. It wasn’t until the 1900s that scientists understood how genetic traits were passed from generation to generation, the same questions that left Darwin puzzled.

Darwin’s revolutionary views pertaining to “survival of the fittest” became more important to him after he read Malthus’ ideas about “natural selection.”

This theory can be put to the test within the exhibit as children are invited into an interactive experiment. Kids can create their own environment on computers and watch as animated species adapt to survive.

Darwin also believed that man descended from monkey— his most radical view— and explains how he came to this conclusion in his book. Included in the exhibit are Darwin’s publications, “Origin of Species” and “Descent of Man.”

After discovering another man had come out with similar ideas about natural selection, Darwin locked himself away to write these accounts and vigorously worked to finish. Darwin’s other unpublished works can be seen while touring the exhibit and many surprising facts, such as Darwin’s feelings concerning letting the public know about his theories, are brought to light. To him, it was “like confessing a murder,” as it is inscribed on an informational panel at the exhibit site.

The exhibit will run until Sept. 3, and the charge to view is $13, including museum admission; however, the Witte is free on Tuesdays, making the exhibit $5. While the museum usually closes no later than 5 p.m. daily, it remains open on Tuesdays until 8 p.m.

For more information, call the Witte Museum at (210) 357-1900 or visit the website at http://www.wittemuseum.org/index.php/component/content/article/9-geninfo/195-darwin/ for further details.

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