Welcome To The Year of Darwin

February 12, 2009 will be the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin; scientists and educators have been pushing for this day to be known as “Darwin Day”. So why all fuss? Quantum Theory, General Relativity, Germ Theory of Disease, etc. … have both revolutionised our understanding of the universe, and overturned old dogma. But none have received quite as much abuse as Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. This idea, the most fundamental concept of biology, has been the target of a well organised and unscientific attack, since its inception 150 years ago.

Darwin expected criticism, and did his best, with the knowledge available at the time, to address every conceivable objection, in his remarkable abstract “On the Origins of Species”.  Much of the so called weakness of Darwin’s theory, as proposed by creationists, evolution’s most persistent nemesis, are those very same objections Darwin demolished in his abstract. Darwin did invite the reader to review the evidence for his or herself, and the scientific community did exactly that, and they, eventually, agreed that Darwin’s theory had met the burden of proof. It explained the diversity of life better than other competing hypothesis, and more important made solid predictions that could be tested. However the attacks continued, not the reasoned criticism backed by evidence, rather misinformed, deceptive attacks. Now Darwin’s theory stands at the heart the battle between reason and superstition.

Understanding evolution and its critics is to learn the difference between good science and pseudo-science, evidence and conjecture, reason and bias. It was my introduction into the world of scepticism. To celebrate Darwin Day is to acknowledge the man who though years of painstaking observations managed to solve nature’s most notorious puzzle; the origins of new species. 

Raise your glass on February 12th to Charles Darwin surely the greatest student of nature that ever lived.

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