John van Wyhe

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John van Wyhe (born 1971) is a historian of science, with a focus on Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, at the National University of Singapore. He holds some academic and research positions, ranging from founder and director of The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online, Scientific Associate, The Natural History Museum (London), a Fellow of the Linnean Society and a Member of the British Society for the History of Science.[1] He has given more than 50 public lectures on Darwin in more than a dozen countries. He lectures and broadcasts on Darwin, evolution, science and religion and the history of science around world. He also wrote The Darwin Experience, a biographical book about Charles Darwin.

Van Wyhe has an M.A. from University College London and a Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge. He accepted a Senior Research Fellowship at the National University of Singapore in 2002 where he both founded the Darwin Online project and edited the Science section of the Victorian Web.[2]


For the Darwin bicentenary year of 2009 van Wyhe published four books on Darwin: Darwin's shorter publications, Darwin's notebooks from the voyage of the Beagle, Darwin in Cambridge and an accessible biography: Darwin.

Recent projects include challenging the assumed view that Darwin held back or kept his theory secret for twenty years and restoring Darwin's student rooms at Christ's College, Cambridge.

In addition to maintaining Darwin Online, van Wyhe had an interest in the history of phrenology and has given talks on this in Britain, France, and Germany.[2]

Darwin and religion[edit]

One of van Wyhe's areas of research covers the reception of evolutionary ideas, and in an article titled "Darwin vs God?" he put forward the case that Darwin was neither an atheist nor was there a significant uproar of science and religion when The Origin of Species was published, though heterogeneity of opinion existed.[3]

We often hear that when the Origin of Species was published there was a great outcry and an historic clash of science and religion. This is probably more fantasy than fact... The Victorian public that first read or read about the Origin of Species were, for the most part, not biblical literalists. For decades the most enlightened writers in the fields of science and religion had accepted that much of the Old Testament, and Genesis in particular, had to be read in a metaphorical sense... Darwin's theories inspired the whole gamut of reactions. Among the scientific community they ranged from contemptuous rejection to enthusiastic support... Other writers felt that Darwin's views were an attack on the role of a Creator in nature... Others, like the Reverend Charles Kingsley, felt differently. He wrote enthusiastically to Darwin about his theory... to religious thinkers of Kingsley's ilk, Darwin had uncovered a new law by which God governed the natural world. For such thinkers it was quite reasonable to reconcile Darwin's views with their religion... As the years passed and reviews and counter-reviews appeared, the fact of Darwinian evolution, the common descent of species became increasingly accepted... Yet... the other key Darwinian idea, natural selection, was much less welcome. As scientific, and non-scientific readers came increasingly to accept the Darwinian concept of common ancestry for species, the view that natural selection was the primary mechanism was often sidelined or rejected. Huxley welcomed the big picture of the evolution of life with open arms. yet natural selection - that aspect of the theory that made divine intervention unnecessary - he could not accept. Many suggested instead that the variations that natural selection picked out were themselves divinely guided or caused. The bottom line seemed to be - was there a meaning or intention behind how life changed?'

— 'Darwin vs God?', BBC History Magazine, volume 10, No 1, January 2009, p. 27-31.

Selected publications[edit]


  • Darwin. (Andre Deutsch: UK 2008, National Geographic: USA, 2009). [Translated into French and Spanish]
  • Charles Darwin's shorter publications 1829-1883. [Foreword by Janet Browne and Jim Secord] (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • Charles Darwin's notebooks from the voyage of the Beagle. [Foreword by Richard Darwin Keynes] (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming July 2009, with Gordon Chancellor and Kees Rookmaaker).
  • Darwin in Cambridge (Cambridge: Christ's College: 2009). Darwin by John van Wyhe
  • Phrenology and the origins of Victorian scientific naturalism. Ashgate, 2004.
  • Combe's Constitution of Man, and Nineteenth-Century Responses. 3 vols., Thoemmes Press, 2004.

Shorter publications[edit]

  • Darwin vs God. BBC History Magazine 10, no. 1 (2009, 01): 26-31.
  • A reception study in the making? The unprecedented reception of Darwin's private papers online. Viewpoint: Newsletter of the British Society for the History of Science (June) No. 86 (2008): 5.
  • 'Misconceptions' [Common myths about Darwin]. 2008, 02.09 The Guardian.
  • 'Dinner with Darwin' New Humanist Magazine 2008.01, 123, No. 1, pp. 15–17.
  • 'The diffusion of phrenology through public lecturing' in A. Fyfe and B. Lightman eds., Science in the marketplace: nineteenth-century sites and experiences. Chicago: University Press, 2007, pp. 60–96.
  • 'Mind the gap: Did Darwin avoid publishing his theory for many years?' Notes and Records of the Royal Society 61 (2007): 177-205.
  • 'Charles Darwin 1809 - 2009' The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology.
  • 'The launch and reception of Darwin Online' Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 61: 2007, 63-5. (With Antranig Basman)
  • 'A new life online' Endeavour, Vol. 30 no. 2 p. 119.
  • 'The history of science is dead. Long live the history of science!', Viewpoint: Newsletter of the British Society for the History of Science, No. 80, June 2006.
  • 'The descent of words: Evolutionary thinking 1780-1880', Endeavour, 29, 2005, pp. 94–100.
  • 'Was phrenology a reform science? Towards a new generalization for phrenology', History of Science, xlii, 2004, pp. 313–331.
  • 'The authority of human nature: the Schädellehre of Franz Joseph Gall', British Journal for the History of Science, March, 2002, pp. 17–42.

Professional activities[edit]

2011- Fellow, Tembusu College, National University of Singapore

2010- Scientific Associate, The Natural History Museum (London). Joint Appointment to the University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore.

2009- Senior Lecturer in the Departments of Biological Sciences and History, National University of Singapore Fellow of the Linnean Society of London Editorial board of The evolutionary review. Associate of the Science, Technology & Society (STS) Cluster, FASS, National University of Singapore. Associate of the Asia Research Institute (ARI), National University of Singapore.


Editorial Board of Centaurus. Life member of the Biological Society, University of Cambridge. Bye-Fellow, Christ's College, Cambridge. Member of Regents House, University of Cambridge. 2005-8

Director of the Wheeler Library of the British Society for the History of Science. Editor of the British Society for the History of Science Monograph series. Member of Council and Trustee of the British Society for the History of Science. 2005 Visiting Associate Professor, History of Ideas Department, University of Aarhus, Denmark.


Research Fellow, Correspondence of Alfred Russel Wallace Project, Open University.


Founder and Director of The Complete Work of Charles Darwin online (formerly The writings of Charles Darwin on the web)



Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore. Editor of the Science section of the Victorian Web. Affiliated Research Scholar, Department of History & Philosophy of Science Cambridge.


Member of The Cambridge Historical Society.


Organizer of the Pan-historical Methods seminar, Cambridge University. (An interdisciplinary seminar for the presentation of specific historical research to a general historian audience.)


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  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ Darwin vs God?', BBC History Magazine, volume 10, No 1, January 2009, p. 27-31.