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Happy Birthday Darwin

13 February 2009 One Comment
Happy Birthday Darwin

Yesterday was Darwin’s birthday. Born 12 February 1809 in Shrewsbury he would’ve been 200 years old! Coincidentally Lincoln was born 200 years ago also!!! Feb. 12, 1809, in Hardin County, Kentucky, what are the chances?

Both men had fairly interesting lives but I think the overall achievement award has to go to Darwin. Arguably the single most important scientific contribution in the history of the planet: “The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”.

To truly appreciate this man’s work you have to imagine what things were like back in 1859. Back then the Catholic and Protestant church had pretty much killed the idea of evolution. Folks believed in Genesis, that God was micro managing things and carefully designing each and every living thing. Darwin’s wife was very religious and out of concern for her he held off for about 20 years on publishing this work.

Note: Darwin was not the first to have the idea that species evolved over time, rather he was the first to publicize it and document it in a scientific manner.

Many of the ideas put forth in “Origin” came from Darwin’s observations whilst a passenger on the Beagle”. How cool is it that 200 years ago folks were sailing around to places like the Galapagos islands, discovering animals and plants that had evolved in complete isolation. Amazing stuff.

It’s incredible to me in the 21st century that we still have folks walking around who think Evolution is a Theory. Yes it’s a theory, but so is everything in science. That’s how science works. There are no absolutes, only theories and evidence. When new evidence is discovered or observed, the theory is either validated or invalidated. We have the theory of Gravity, the theory of thermodynamics, the theory of Relativity and the theory of Evolution and on and on.

A couple of common misconceptions:

– Evolution does not maintain that we are descended from apes. Rather that apes and humans share a common ancestor.

– Evolution is not random. There is a random element to it but the driving force is Natural Selection.

– Evolution is sometimes elegant and efficient (e.g. great white shark) and sometime not (moray eel evolved a 2nd set of jaws as the first didn’t give enough suction due to how the body type evolved).

In 150 years of scrutiny the “theory” of evolution has held up. In many cases evolution has predicted the existence of species EVEN BEFORE THEY WERE DISCOVERED! Scientists have dug up fossils and found that “yeah, this fits as a transitional species between X and Y”.

Funnily enough I often hear folks refer to it as “The Origin of The Species”. As if there were only one.

So spare a thought for a brave genius; Darwin.

One Comment »

  • David Merrigan said:

    Hiya Francis,

    Another interesting article and one close to my heart.
    I did read a few years ago how a french Botanist discovered an orchid in madigascar called the angraecum(sp) something or other!! It was later nicknamed darwins Orchid.
    It was a very unusual shape and the depht was close to one foot.
    Darwin came to the theory that there had to be a moth out there with a proboscis long enough to pollenate the flower.
    His theory went unproven until 20 or 30 years after his death.
    Unbelievable mind.

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