Thursday, February 12, 2009
Happy Darwin Day
I'll have to admit, Science and Religion do have something in common. People who devote themselves to these human activities willingly spend their days in desolate places, trying to to make sense of the world. Both activities certainly stimulate a certain part of our brains, so that these devoted people overcome their natural tendencies to socialize. Since I think that the scientific method of obtaining the truths of the universe is superior to the religious method -if there is one at all-, I am very much touched by some scientists devotion to their research.
Take Peter and Rosemary Grant. They have been spending 6 months of their year in a lonely rocky island in the Galapagos Archipelago, meticulously measuring, tagging, identifying Galapagos Finches since 1973. They were able to demonstrate that they are evolving their beak sizes over the years, matching the changes in weather, insect types, and sizes:
It was the same devotion to trying to understand the world through evidence, that defined Charles Darwin's life during and after his journey on Beagle. He came up with what can be considered as one of the most monumental works of human intellect "The Origin of Species" after 5 years of painstaking cataloging of fossils and specimens, yet more intensive categorizing after the journey, intensive observation of artificial selection by animal breeders. Thanks to this work, modern Biology was born, and we enjoy the practical benefits of his framework through modern medicine, improved agricultural seeds. We can hope that we will come up with treatments for cruel diseases and conditions, and if we are clever and cautious enough we may answer the problem of feeding the growing population of the world. Putting the practical benefits to side, we finally have an answer to the question "from where did this multitude of life on earth come?"
This great thinker was born 200 years ago. It is also 150th anniversary of his masterpiece. This year will definitely be a Darwin year. I really think we should celebrate this man's intellect, who came up with an hypothesis that has stood the rigorous scientific tests and criticism it faced 150 years, without the basic knowledge on hereditary properties, or DNA. The evolutionary biology is so much more advanced than what Darwin proposed 150 years ago. We are sequencing DNA's, we are comparing them across species, we have mathematical proofs of evolution, we have extensive fossil records, we have a basic understanding of developmental biology, but everything is still Darwinian, just as our physics is -for sub-light speeds- Newtonian. And this is not because it is forbidden to criticize it, to doubt it, but because people criticized it, and doubted it, and asked questions. You may not be convinced by the -immense- amount of evidence for evolution, that is very well. Question it, more you learn about it, more you'll understand and appreciate it. After all, this is the spirit of the Darwin Day. Happy Darwin Day!
Here are some interesting links you may wanna read:
A Guardian editorial on the public understanding of Darwin's ideas 130 years ago:
A NYT editorial critisizing the "fetish" status of Darwin:
A New Scientist file on 24 misconceptions about Evolution.
A refutation of a chain mail from Creationists:
A great summary of "The Origin":
An excerpt from David Attenboroughs new documentary, Tree of Life:
Let me finish it of with a song about the topic by my favorite female vocal: