Darwin on how to be a scientist

Great prostrate silicified trunks of trees, embedded in a conglomerate, were extraordinarily numerous. I measured one which was fifteen feet in circumference: how surprising it is that every atom of the woody matter in this great cylinder should have been removed and replaced by silex so perfectly that each vessel and pore is preserved! These trees flourished at about the period of our lower chalk; they all belonged to the fir-tribe. It was amusing to hear the inhabitants discussing the nature of the fossil shells which I collected, almost in the same terms as were used a century ago in Europe,–namely, whether or not they had been thus “born by nature.” My geological examination of the country generally created a good deal of surprise amongst the Chilenos: it was long before they could be convinced that I was not hunting for mines. This was sometimes troublesome: I found the most ready way of explaining my employment was to ask them how it was that they themselves were not curious concerning earthquakes and volcanos?–why some springs were hot and others cold?–why there were mountains in Chile, and not a hill in La Plata? These bare questions at once satisfied and silenced the greater number; some, however (like a few in England who are a century behindhand), thought that all such inquiries were useless and impious; and that it was quite sufficient that God had thus made the mountains.

Voyage of The Beagle, Chapter XVI

One of the remarkable features of this book is Darwin’s relentless commitment to a scientific point of view. He asks questions nobody around him thinks to ask, and he is unsatisfied with answers not based in observable evidence and reasoned thought.

Author: Mike White

Genomes, Books, and Science Fiction

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