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    Saturday, February 11, 2006

    Happy Birthday Darwin! - Why his theory still matters

    Charles Darwin
    (12 Feb 1809 - 19 Apr 1882)

    Charles Darwin was the most influential naturalist of the 19th century. Following his graduation from divinity school Darwin secured a position as ship's naturalist aboard the H.M.S. Beagle. During a five-year (1831-1836) voyage around the world, Darwin noticed how species changed along the coast of South America, and especially on the Galapagos islands. Reflecting on his observations, Darwin developed a theory of evolution.

    Though aspects of his theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection continue to be debated in the scientific community, Darwin's principal thesis remains central to modern scientific thought. It transformed our understanding of the living world, much as the ideas of Galileo, Newton and Einstein revolutionized our understanding of the physical universe. Darwin stated this theory in his book The Origin of Species (1859). In another book called The Descent of Man (1871) he specifically addressed the evolution of the human species. Both books sparked worldwide controversy.

    Why his theory still matters: According to the United States National Academy of Sciences, biological evolution is "the most important concept in modern biology - a concept essential to understanding key aspects of living things." It provides a framework for organizing and interpreting observations and for making predictions. Yet despite its significance in the life sciences and because of its perceived threat to traditional social values Darwin's theory has come under increasing attack in our school systems. It has resulted in a society in which many cannot distinguish the difference between evolution as a fact (that all species have descended with modification over time from common ancestors - a claim supported by such overwhelming evidence that it is accepted a true) and the process held to explain this fact (evolution by means of natural selection).

    We do our children a disservice when we bow to political pressure and agree to "teach the controversy" in science classes. The scientific principles behind evolution can be confusing enough, but it is even more so when intelligent design and creationist proponents falsely imply Darwin's theory is inconsistent with a belief in God. Darwin's theory has real practical applications. It helps us decipher our genes, fight viruses and understand the Earth's fossil record. By marginalizing it in our schools we threaten future scientific contributions.

    Shared by Silke @ 3:21 PM

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