What Would Darwin Do?

For those who have followed the Annie Farlow saga on this blog (e.g., What Sort of Death for Annie?; Deathmaking by medical neglect; Chromosomal microarray analysis, newgenics, and Annie Farlow; Annie Farlow, Sickkids, and an Ontario Human Rights Commission hearing; Charles Smith, the Toronto Hospital for Sick Kids, and the Coroner’s Office; On Justice for Annie Farlow), it may be perceived that the case comes down to Darwinian rationalism versus religious or secular humanism. It is tempting to view this and similar issues as a conflict between those who would ask “what would Jesus do?” versus those who would ask “what would Darwin do?”

Perhaps if Annie Farlow had been born Annie Darwin, her parents, or at least her father would have been much quicker to recognize that we should not interfere with the survival of the fittest and that natural selection must be allowed to do its work.

There was, however, an Annie Darwin, and although she lived ten years longer than Annie Farlow, she, too, died as a child. The record shows that her father, Charles, who was the father of nine other children as well as the father of the theory of natural selection, did not surrender his beloved Annie easily to death or to the principle natural selection. He fought long and hard to save his daughter’s life and mourned her passing for decades after. Annie, it seems, taught her father a great deal about the essential nature of empathy and attachment in her short lifetime, and he continued to learn from her loss.

Darwin believed that cooperative behavior and the the intense bonds formed by advanced primates and particularly among humans were essential to the species, perhaps as important or even more important than our rational abilities.

Photo of Annie Darwin

Photo of Annie Darwin

He acknowledged that he learned much of this this largely from the short life and death of his second child, Annie Darwin (1841-1851). Perhaps we can learn something more about this today from the short life and death of Annie Farlow.

Much love, much trial; but what an utter desert is life without love.”  -Charles Darwin

For a nice 5-minute audio biography of Annie Darwin and her influence on her famous father, check out this entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

If you prefer a print version, of the Annie Darwin bio, you can click here.


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