Really Sciency

Visit my other blog 'Really Sciency' looking at Climate Science and its portrayal, misrepresentation and denial in the media.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Happy Darwin Day!

This Feb. 12 is the anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth, the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection. It is not Darwin's birth but his big idea that is worth celebrating. His birthday is just a convenient date to choose for that.

It is a wonder how there is such a richness of species but Charles had the answer- and a very elegant answer it was. Darwin's big idea of idea of evolution by natural selection is arguably the most powerful idea ever. Like all the best ideas it is very simple. He recognised variation and what happens when variation continues over thousands and millions of years. Darwin delayed publication for several years because he realised how explosive the theory was to religious belief and was concerned about how it would be accepted.

The Theory of Natural Selection, gave biology its guiding principle, a governing law that helps the rest make sense. Moreover natural selection is not just about life on this planet as it could explain life on any planet. If life exists elsewhere in the universe some version of evolution by natural selection will almost certainly turn out to underlie its existence. How powerful a tool is that! Anyone interested in understanding the living world and how they fit into it should understand it. This is worth marking regardless of whatever Darwin's beliefs were.

Evolution is easy to disprove in so many ways, with DNA research for example. The discovery and importance of DNA would prove once and for all if different species were related. Fortunately it proved it beyond any serious doubt and is now used to determine how long ago species diverged from each other.

The British Research Councils spend millions on research inspired by Darwin each year, have a website to debate the importance of Darwin's legacy with the British public.

Interestingly few evolutionary biologists have read Darwin’s Origin of Species, simply because it is so old and out of date. There was so much he didn’t know then and he wasn’t entirely right on some points. A good substitute book on evolution and to see what science now knows is Almost Like A Whale: The Origin Of Species Updated by Steve Jones. It takes the Origin’s layout chapter by chapter and in most cases also contains Darwin’s original conclusions at the end of each but rewrites it for the modern reader and with one hundred and fifty years of hindsight that Darwin could have only dreamed about.

Another good read is Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5 Billion-Year History of the Human Body' by Neil Shubin.

I cant have a post celebrating the Theory of Natural Selection without mentioning the great alternative – Intelligent design. When people say there is no evidence for evolution or the fossil record shows no gradual process between species. They are wrong on both accounts.
ID is dependent on a supernatural force altering the laws of biology and physics – this is magic! 
Evolution is life changing - no ID required!

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