There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
The above is my favorite quote from Charles Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection, published on this date in 1859.
It seems almost silly to celebrate the publication of a book.
Then, on the other hand, it’s beyond silly that more than 40% of the U.S. population deny the basic ideas that were put forth in that book. For 150 years since it was first published, scores of scientists have tried, and failed, to disprove the basic premise of the theory presented in Origin.
Sure, his theory wasn’t 100% correct. Neither was Newton’s Law of Gravity – some guy named Einstein fixed that. But that’s the beauty of science, when done properly it is self correcting.
Darwin knew nothing of DNA and genes, nor how genetic mutations brought about change in the life forms that he observed. Yet the more we learn about biology, the more advanced our methods of investigation become, the more we know that Darwin was on the right track.
For example, it is now widely accepted that cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) and hippos share a common ancestor: blood proteins, DNA studies, and the fossil record confirm this. Outside of a few fossils, these other methods of investigation simply were not available to him. Still, he was able to establish the basic concepts of biological evolution, basic concepts that have withstood 150 years of scientists trying without success to disprove them.
And it is this same science that shows, without doubt, we humans share a common ancestor with other primates (“Common ancestor” being an important pair of words that are so badly twisted and/or misunderstood. No, humans didn’t evolve from monkeys or chimpanzees, we share a “common ancestor,” just as whales and hippos do. I honestly don’t know why this concept is so hard for some people to understand . . . ).
Since Darwin’s time we know, with surprising accuracy, the age of this planet we call Earth.
Since Darwin’s time we know, with surprising accuracy, that the age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years.
The evidence really is overwhelming. Personally, I am fortunate enough to live in a place where a large piece of Earth history – spanning more than 260 million years – is laid out before me in exquisite detail. I have obtained fossils from the Tropic Shale, a sedimentary layer deposited more than 90 million years ago in an ancient sea, I’ve seen fossilized footprints of dinosaurs from both the Early and Middle Jurassic and I’ve walked among dinosaur fossils and petrified trees that date from the Late Cretaceous, ~75 million years ago. And I am supposed to look at myself in the mirror every day and say that all this evidence is a test of faith? A preposterous notion, indeed.
There is so much information available in books, television programs, websites, and other media, all presented in a way that it should be easy for the layperson to understand. If you’re one of the “40 Percenters”, please do me a favor and take a hard look at some (or all) of the links below:
- The Greatest Show on Earth – Richard Dawkins (book)
- Why Evolution is True – Jerry Coyne (book & blog)
- Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters – Donald A. Prothero (book)
- PBS Evolution (tv program & website)
- TalkOrigins Archive (website)