What Darwin Means To Me

“If I have seen further it is only by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

Isaac Newton

Today is February 12, 2009 and, in case you haven’t noticed, this is Darwin’s 200th birthday. I plan to celebrate by carrying around my stuffed Darwin doll, perhaps going to a lecture, and of course, partaking in the eating of cake.

Before I continue, Cassie (who’s a flaming commie), is making me put this video in my post:

I intend to enjoy my day and have fun, but I think it’s only fair that I spend a moment to reflect on what Darwin means to me, personally.

Darwin’s idea of natural selection has always impressed me by its ability to take some simple ideas, synthesize them, and explain billions of years of prehistoric life history. I appreciate the fact that it ads much weight to the burden of proof needed to be met by certain people who believe in a consciously interfering creator. I am immensely awed that we’re all cousins, not just me and the rest of the human species, but also me and that bright pink colony of bacteria I hold up to the light in my biology class.

I would say that the idea of natural selection has been praised enough without me having to add my voice, but I stop myself because I don’t think you can praise it too much. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we should blindly accept the idea and ignore any evidence to the contrary, or that the theory shouldn’t be modified as we expand our knowledge, but that we should celebrate it given that it doesn’t look like it’ll be going anywhere anytime soon.

But what is there to celebrate about Darwin, the man? Darwin, a man working at home on his own, ignorant of most of modern cellular and molecular biology, researching things as humble as barnacles and earthworms created a theory that could explain something as enigmatic as life on Earth that stands to this day, 150 years after its publication and 200 years after his birth.

You see, the universe and the world is obviously a marvellous place. It’s a marvellous, splendid, elegant, beautiful, and mind-boggingly complex world. That’s simply amazing, I think, but it is made many times more wonderful by the fact that we can understand it all and aren’t left merely to wonder at the thick fog that would surround us had scientists in the past not come along to shed some light on it. It is because of people like Darwin that we can stick our heads outside, blinking in the sunlight, and view the world with clarity.

I don’t know about you, but I’m over-joyed by the fact that this world is not only as amazing as it is but that it’s also fathomable thanks to the work of men like Darwin.

Any man could have had the idea of natural selection, Alfred Russell Wallace might have beaten Darwin to it. As it happens, Darwin is the man who did it first, and he is the one whose intellect we celebrate today.

Just remember, whenever you see another living creature and you realize that you have a small inkling of an idea of how that organism got there you have Darwin to thank for sharing that insight with you and letting you stand on his shoulders to view the vast vista.

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  1. FFFearlesss
    February 12, 2009 at 12:28 pm —

    After reading “The Ancestors Tale” by Dawkins, I’ve come to firmly believe that anyone who claims science is taking all the wonder and beauty out of the universe CLEARLY doesn’t understand the science. Personally I think it makes it MORE amazing and beautiful.

    Consider this analogy. What would you find more amazing. Watching Kobe Bryant sink a shot from half-court. Or watching some kid up in the rafters chuck the ball backwards over his head, have the thing ricohcet off the struts, scoreboard, seats and Kobe’s head before bouncing into the rim, circling around a few times and dropping through. Which story would you be raving about to your friends… the story about the amazing baskeball player who meant to make a shot, or the story of the bazillion to one shot made by accident?

  2. DataJack
    February 12, 2009 at 11:26 pm —

    Elles, that really was splendid! It was fresh, succinct, and perfect for the day. I really enjoy your writing.

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