Happy Darwin Day

A photo portrait of Charles Darwin, overlaid with a party hat, bubble pipe and party balloons

Image Credit: an e-card image at http://www.darwinday.org

Charles Darwin was born 202 years ago today, and the International Darwin Day Foundation uses February 12th each year to celebrate Darwin, Science and Humanity. It’s 152 years since the publication of his paradigm-shattering work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

Wikipedia gives a summary of the book’s changing influence over the decades:

The book was written for non-specialist readers and attracted widespread interest upon its publication. As Darwin was an eminent scientist, his findings were taken seriously and the evidence he presented generated scientific, philosophical, and religious discussion. The debate over the book contributed to the campaign by T.H. Huxley and his fellow members of the X Club to secularise science by promoting scientific naturalism. Within two decades there was widespread scientific agreement that evolution, with a branching pattern of common descent, had occurred, but scientists were slow to give natural selection the significance that Darwin thought appropriate. During the “eclipse of Darwinism” from the 1880s to the 1930s, various other mechanisms of evolution were given more credit. With the development of the modern evolutionary synthesis in the 1930s and 1940s, Darwin’s concept of evolutionary adaptation through natural selection became central to modern evolutionary theory, now the unifying concept of the life sciences.

A theory which many had thought was overblown and outdated 100 years ago came to receive a proper appreciation of its relevance and accuracy when new discoveries in genetics supported it, and kept on providing more and more supporting data by showing how natural selection actually worked.

Congratulations, Charles Darwin, on your diligent observation, open-minded analysis and perspicacious insight. It’s not only scientists who can learn something from your example.

Categories: education, history, Science

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4 replies

  1. A great science radio show I’ve recently discovered is Radiolab from USA public radio station WNYC, where presenters Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich take a concept and examine it from as many different scientific, philosophical and cultural perspectives as they can.
    RN’s The Science Show broadcast their episode on “Falling” on Saturday, and it made for fascinating listening.

    There are so many ways to fall—in love, asleep, even flat on your face. This hour, Radiolab dives into stories of great falls.
    We jump into a black hole, take a trip over Niagara Falls, upend some myths about falling cats, and plunge into our favorite songs about falling.

    The full hour’s program podcast is available at the ABC Radio National website (transcript expected by Monday). Radiolab’s own website has podcasts of various chunks of the episode rather than the whole thing (no transcripts that I could see).

  2. P.S. RadioLab has a perfect Darwin-themed episode, too – “The Good Show”:

    In this episode, a question that haunted Charles Darwin: if natural selection boils down to survival of the fittest, how do you explain why one creature might stick its neck out for another?
    The standard view of evolution is that living things are shaped by cold-hearted competition. And there is no doubt that today’s plants and animals carry the genetic legacy of ancestors who fought fiercely to survive and reproduce. But in this hour, we wonder whether there might also be a logic behind sharing, niceness, kindness … or even, self-sacrifice. Is altruism an aberration, or just an elaborate guise for sneaky self-interest? Do we really live in a selfish, dog-eat-dog world? Or has evolution carved out a hidden code that rewards genuine cooperation?

  3. a belated happy Darwin day Tigtog and all.

  4. I first learnt about Darwin when I was a wee one at five. Mum had a book by Time Life called “Evolution”. I scoured that book from front to back, asking my Mum to explain the bits I couldn’t read. The idea of evolution was so fascinating to me, and remains so to this day. I was so excited about what I read, I wanted to be a scientist. Unfortunately my little self didn’t know about the maths component, which would be my undoing in the end. :-P Oh well, I’m happy as an artist and musician!
    Darwin, Happy Birthday, you awesome dude!


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