Although he never met Charles Darwin in person, when Richard Milner is dressed in a long coat, rounded top hat and white beard, he might be mistaken for the father of natural selection.
Feb. 12, 2009, marked what would have been Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origins Of Species.
Darwin is most noted for his impact on science with his evolutionary theory of natural selection.
However, Debra Lieberman, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Miami, said Darwin’s principles have affected areas of human behavior that extend from psychology to economics to political science.
Milner’s highly-acclaimed one man musical show, Charles Darwin: Live and in Concert, will be performed today at 6 p.m. at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) in honor of Darwin Day.
Milner, a physical and cultural anthropologist, created a show in which he will not only be acting as Darwin the scientist, but also as Darwin the singing comedian.
At 12-years-old, Milner and his longtime friend, Stephen Jay Gould, loved animals and often went to the Bronx Zoo and to the American Museum of Natural History.
Milner stated that Darwin was always Gould’s and his biggest hero.
“If you like animals, soon you wonder where they came from and how we are related to them and you wind up at Darwin’s doorstep,” Milner said.
As he grew older, Milner’s childhood interest in Darwin never seemed to dissipate.
Now, as a renowned historian, Milner performs at colleges, museums and conferences around the world as Darwin; Thomas Henry Huxley, who is Darwin’s bulldog; Alfred Russel Wallace, known for independently proposing natural selection; and Gould, now a famous author and paleontologist.
Milner explains Darwin’s scientific impact on the world through singing songs about Darwin’s history.
“I love science and I love musical theater and I wanted to combine them. That’s my heart,” Milner said.
One of Milner’s songs, “Let Him Be First,” adds humor to the long-standing debate over who discovered natural selection first: Wallace or Darwin?
Milner said the humor he finds in Darwin does not come from his scientific books such as On the Origins of Species, but from his private and personal letters.
“It’s a real adventure to read through them. Thousands of them are already online,” he said.
Robert Ginsburg, a professor of marine geology at RSMAS and the main man in getting Milner to come to UM for Darwin Day, said Milner is extremely talented in finding a humorous side to Darwin.
“He is perceptive and clever,” Ginsburg said.
Milner added that seeing the show is a fun way to learn science and history, especially when the subject can be a bit boring.
“After all, you don’t go away humming a textbook,” he said.
Ginsburg agrees. He said the show will educationally benefit the students.
“I hope it will leave a memorable souvenir of Darwin and his associates,” he said.