This Wednesday (February 12th) is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. Darwin, of course, was the first person to work out the basic principles of natural selection. Contrary to what many people believe, Charles Darwin was not, in fact, the first person to propose the idea of the evolution of species – the idea had been considered in scientific and philosophical circles for some time, in no small part due to the frequent discovery of fossils – but he was the first person to work out the basic mechanism for evolution, and in so doing was able to link the field observations together into a coherent explanation of life on Earth.
Also contrary to what many believe, the theory of evolution* was not cooked up by “godless scientists” or agreed upon rapidly by those who wanted to remove miracles from the world, or any of the other variations I have heard on that theme. Darwin didn’t publish his work at all until he met someone else who had reached the same conclusions and was about to publish them, and even then he felt as if he had done something wrong in publishing them. They were not adopted immediately, but were subject to hard scrutiny and harsh criticism – but they stood up to both, and, more importantly, provided testable predictions that consistently proved correct.
In the end, Darwin’s work proved a great boon not only to our understanding of how we, and every other species, came to be here, but also to all fields that rely on biology – for example, it’s Darwin’s work that provides us with the models we need to understand the development of viruses and bacteria in order to fight them with new medicines (which is why I am always amused when creationists use vaccines and antibiotics – if their view is correct, these things shouldn’t work).
So, take a chance to ponder how well the breakthroughs of this particular 19th century scientist have improved our lives and views of the world. Oh, and if you have some time, look up the works of Charles Darwin online.
*I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, theory is one of the most mis-used words in the English language. Contrary to what many a middle school teacher tells their students, theories are not simply hypotheses that have not been tested enough to be considered laws. A theory is something completely different – it is the body of observations and linking arguments, and can be highly hypothetical, but can also be considered a “fact” – gravity, electricity, the notion that diseases are caused by viruses and bacteria, these are all theories, but nonetheless are absolutely real.
So, really, when someone says that they don’t believe something because it’s “only a theory” they are saying a sentence that A) makes no sense at all, and B) shows their complete and utter ignorance of the subject that they have chosen to talk about.