Paul Revere by Cyrus Dallin, North End, Boston



Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN, Born February 12, 1809

“I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection.”--Charles Darwin
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”--C. D.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed”--C. D.
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."--C.D.

On February 12, the world will celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (it is also the 200th anniversary of the birth of Abraham Lincoln--but that's for tomorrow).

Like the great geniuses before and since Darwin, his contributions to our understanding of evolution and how it works are immeasurable--and we're learning more every year.

Evolution is a fact. There is no controversy.

Those who contest this are like people who would contest the theory of gravity ("Evolution is just a theory."--Ronald Reagan famously said this.) Well yes, and so is gravity, and relativity--special and general, and a scientific theory does not mean "just a guess." I suggest anyone who wishes to educate him or herself on this to look up the meaning of scientific theory.

I try to ignore those who deny that evolution brought us to where we are today, and blame our educational system for so poorly serving those people who stubbornly cling to foolish denial. (Side note: The Taliban do not allow the teaching of evolution in their schools. Heh.)

Here are some highlights about one of the greatest men in human history:

On Thursday, February 12, 2009, there will be a worldwide celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Robert Darwin. His insight that all biological species have evolved from common ancestors through natural selection, first discussed in his monumental book, "On the Origin of Species" published in 1859, & then expanded upon 12 years later in "The Descent of Man," has become the cornerstone of modern biology. The diversity of species and the continuing mutations that are observable today, especially on the scale of microscopic organisms, find a clear, simple and powerful unified explanation. Simply put, modern biology would be totally incomprehensible without Darwin's enormous contribution. The concept of progress was very much in the air at the close of the 19th century, which paved the way for ready acceptance of theories of evolution by biologists. However, in contrast to his peers, one striking characteristic of Darwin's view of evolution is that evolution is not purposeful or that it is not directed towards any particular end. This clash with the dominant prejudices of a Judeo-Christian tradition hindered full acceptance of the Darwin theory of evolution for many years—his main ideas only began to dominate biology in the 1930s. Celebrations of Darwin birthday and discoveries will take place all through the Bay Area. At Revolution Books a discussion of The Science of Evolution will be held on Tuesday. The Essig Museum of Entomology at UC Berkeley will open its doors to public for tours on February 12. Lectures at UC Davis on Feb 23 will discuss The Evolution-Intelligent Design controversy. In Fresno, A Faculty panel will invite questions from the audience regarding Darwin’s ideas and the societal impact of evolutionary biology.

February 11, 2009
Darwin and the RightBy Alvaro Vargas Llosa

WASHINGTON -- Polls, particularly in the United States, tell us that many conservatives still distrust Charles Darwin's theory of evolution. The bicentennial of his birth should be a fitting occasion for the right to take another look at a man who contributed immensely to some ideas that it holds dear.

Darwin was not an atheist but a Victorian believer. He was not a proto-Marxist but a liberal, which in 19th-century Britain meant someone who favored individual liberty over big government. Darwin was an admirer of John Locke and Adam Smith, two of the greatest thinkers of freedom. And although he was influenced by Malthus, whose writings on overpopulation were later used by critics of capitalism to justify collectivism, Darwin used that political economist's ideas in biology, not political economy.


Darwin's teachings have been caricatured and grossly distorted. Social Darwinism, which turned his biological theory into a sociopolitical one to justify eugenics, harmed his reputation. But Darwin was an early opponent of slavery and, precisely because he identified a common origin in nature, he did more than anybody to debunk the notion that different races belong to different species.

Herein should lie Darwin's appeal to the right: The English naturalist gave scientific validity to the revolutionary idea that order can be spontaneous, neither designed by nor beholden to an all-powerful authority. The struggle for existence that drives natural selection according to Darwin has nothing predetermined about it. In fact, he maintained that the presence of certain habits, values and institutions, including religion -- themselves part of man's adaptation to the environment -- can impact evolution. The instinct of sympathy, for instance, drives some stronger members of the human species to help weaker ones, thereby mitigating the struggle for existence.

It is fascinating that conservatives who advocate for a spontaneous order -- the free market -- in political economy and decry social engineering as a threat to progress and civilization should resent Darwin's overwhelming case for the idea that order can design itself. In an essay in the British publication The Spectator, the conservative science writer Matt Ridley reflects on the paradox that the left has claimed Darwin even though leftist political ideas contradict his basic teaching: "In the average European biology laboratory you will find fervent believers in the individualist, emergent, decentralized properties of genomes who prefer dirigiste determinism to bring order to the economy."

The bicentennial of Darwin's birth is a good opportunity for those on the right who trash him as an icon of the left to give the author of "The Origin of Species" another chance.


In a Scientific American, published in the summer of 2007, physicist Lawrence Krauss and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins -- both prominent defenders of evolution, but with very different styles -- discuss their tactics for debating evolution with people of religious faith. The contrast is quite entertaining:

Dawkins: I like your clarification of what you mean by reaching out. But let me warn you of how easy it is to be misunderstood. I once wrote in a New York Times book review, “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” That sentence has been quoted again and again in support of the view that I am a bigoted, intolerant, closed-minded, intemperate ranter. But just look at my sentence. It may not be crafted to seduce, but you, Lawrence, know in your heart that it is a simple and sober statement of fact. [...] To call somebody ignorant is no insult. All of us are ignorant of most of what there is to know. I am completely ignorant of baseball, and I dare say that you are as completely ignorant of cricket. If I tell somebody who believes the world is 6,000 years old that he is ignorant, I am paying him the compliment of assuming that he is not stupid, insane or wicked. [...]

Krauss: ... I was recently asked to speak at a Catholic college at a symposium on science and religion. I guess I was viewed as someone interested in reconciling the two. After agreeing to lecture, I discovered that I had been assigned the title Science Enriching Faith. In spite of my initial qualms, the more I thought about the title, the more rationale I could see for it. The need to believe in a divine intelligence without direct evidence is, for better or worse, a fundamental component of many people’s psyches. I do not think we will rid humanity of religious faith any more than we will rid humanity of romantic love or many of the irrational but fundamental aspects of human cognition. While orthogonal from the scientific rational components, they are no less real and perhaps no less worthy of some celebration when we consider our humanity.



Arthurstone said...

I for one am not convinced that evolution of our species has occurred.

Perhaps I should stop visiting 'Conservative Convictions', 'Flopping Aces', & 'Mike's America'.

dmarks said...


Shaw Kenawe said...



The Griper said...

theories, by definition, are meant to be believed.

facts, by definition, are meant to be known.

the difference between a religious belief and a scientific theory is that one is an inspired truth while the other is an observed truth.

The Griper said...

theories, by definition, are meant to be believed.

facts, by definition, are meant to be known.

the difference between a religious belief and a scientific theory is that one is an inspired truth while the other is an observed truth.