M a t t . T r e d e r

Happy Birthday, Chuck

In Science on February 21, 2009 at 12:04 am

On the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, Derek K. Miller writes at penmachine.com:

Long before he wrote the Origin, he understood the implications of his discovery, especially to Biblical interpretations of creation—he had trained for the ministry in his youth, and his wife Emma was very religious—so he knew that he would have to assemble all the overwhelming evidence he had, and argue it well, to make his case. That’s one reason he waited 20 years.

Despite knowing nothing of genetics, plate tectonics, or modern developmental biology, and having few transitional fossil finds to refer to, Darwin and Wallace were fundamentally correct in their discovery:

  1. Individual animals, plants, fungi, and unicellular organisms produce more offspring than can survive and successfully reproduce themselves.
  2. Those offspring vary in numerous characteristics, some of which offer survival and reproductive advantages in their current environment.
  3. Offspring with variations that offer advantages produce more offspring than their siblings with variations that don’t.
  4. Over time, those individuals with the advantageous variations come to dominate populations.
  5. Different populations of a single species exist in different environments, and environments also change, so the variations that work best will probably differ between populations and over time. Eventually, those variations compound, and the populations may diverge or evolve into new species.

So while many people assume that On the Origin of Species addresses how life originated on earth to start with, it doesn’t—that remains a mystery biologists are still trying to solve 150 years later.

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