Darwin never had a formal education in biology.
I. No formal courses in biology in Darwin's time.
The assertion is true, but irrelevant in more than one way. In the first place, it hardly can count as a criticism of Darwin, since in his time "science as a school subject simply did not exist" (Howe 1999:32). However, when Darwin went to the University of Cambridge, he received the best informal science education available to anyone at the time:
Although there were no formal courses in the sciences—Darwin did not get a science degree at Cambridge because there were none—this was just the time when a group of men was starting to take a serious interest in the natural sciences (including geology and biology). Anyone with a like concern, including an untutored undergraduate, was welcome to join in. For three years, Darwin did formal courses — Latin, Greek, mathematics—and informal courses covering many aspects of the contemporary sciences. (Ruse 2000:32-33)
To consider Darwin an amateur because of his lack of a formal science education is about as misplaced as complaining that Jesus was never ordained by the Roman Catholic Church.
II. Darwin's actual accomplishment speaks for itself
Even if Darwin had been an amateur, this would not take away from his importance: Darwin would simply have been one of the most brilliant and important amateurs in the history of science. In fact, in light of his impact upon the scientific world, his being an amateur would have meant he was a genius, so this creationist assertion is mystifying—it seems to be one of those instances in which blind rage compels creationists try to sling mud at Darwin the person without thinking it through.
III. The one serious defect in Darwin's science education
With all of this said, one must admit to one very serious defect in Darwin's informal science education: the unfortunate vagaries of spacetime and personal identity conspired to deny poor young Darwin the opportunity ever to learn about evolution from Darwin's On the Origin of Species. We may rejoice that today's students are more fortunate.
Howe MJA. 1999. Genius Explained. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Ruse M. 2000. The Evolution Wars: A Guide to the Debates. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Last updated: 10 Feb 2016
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