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Webinar: Classifying Nature after Linnaeus: Charles Darwin’s Insight Changes the Conversation

March 2, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm


Presented by: Rob Paratley, University of Kentucky

A famous 20th Century evolutionary biologist said, “Nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution.”   In this webinar with Rob Paratley, we will see just how true this sweeping statement is, as we explore one of Charles Darwin’s great insights in his groundbreaking Origin of Species, the book that introduced the world to biological evolution.  Among Darwin’s many original ideas is one often overlooked- his direct connection between the reality that species change over time and the pattern of diversity we see in Nature.

“Classifications are not passive ordering devices in a world objectively divided into obvious categories,” the evolutionary biologist Stephan J. Gould once said,  “Objective Nature does exist, but we can converse with her only through the structure of our taxonomic systems.”

That conversation has been going on as long as there have been humans, and there are as many such conversations with Nature as there are groups of people.  Rob’s presentation begins in 18th Century Sweden with botanist Carl Linnaeus, the so-called “Father of Taxonomy” (the science of classifying Nature).  Linnaeus’ conversation with Nature, the How and What of Nature’s diversity, are with us yet today, but he and those that followed left unanswered the questions of Why.  Why is Nature patterned the way that Linnaeus first saw?  What causes natural groups?  What does natural affinity actually mean?  Religious men and creationists, the best they could do was to invoke the plan of the Deity.

This changed forever with Darwin’s Great Taxonomic Insight.  Rob will discuss how Darwin’s evolutionary thinking changed forever the way we converse with Nature.  We will look how Darwin reasoned his way to connecting the patterns that taxonomy reveals, that Linnaeus had spelled out, with the process of species changing across time.   Natural affinity, Darwin realized, is the result of common descent.

We will then explore how the field of classification, the modern conversations with Nature, were  shaped by evolution.  At first broad and somewhat haltingly, evolutionary thinking in classification science (now called Systematics) developed by the late 20th Century into a powerful tool for discovering and understanding natural relationships.

A link to the webinar will be emailed to all registered participants on the day before the event for early registrants and 2 hours before the event for those that register on the same day.

Refund Policy: Refunds are permitted for cancellations made at least two weeks in advance of the event. No refunds or transfers of fees will occur if the request is made less than two weeks prior to the event. To request a refund, email


March 2, 2021
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm
Event Category:
Floracliff Nature Sanctuary • P.O. Box 21723 • Lexington, KY 40522 • (859) 296-0986 • • copyright © 2024 •