November 24 is a phenomenal day in history. It was on that date, in 1859, when the first edition of Charles Darwin’s THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, was first published. This in itself would not be the subject of Religious Skepticism Examiner column except for the fact that so many Christians – mostly fundamentalists – deny the truth of evolution. And that is sad. Darwin’s work ends up being a conflict between the religionist fables and scientific truth.
Darwin’s work, acknowledged, respected and revered in the annals of biological science throughout the world, set the stage for our current understanding of biology today. It replaced the 50-year earlier Lamarckian concept of evolution which stated that animals and plants change as they live and those changes and predispositions are passed on to the next generation.
Darwin’s theory was that those who for whatever reason best survive to produce the next survivable generation pass on to their offspring very slight modifications that aid survival in a specific environment and under specific conditions.
While others such as Alfred Wallace were finding similar conclusions and trundling along behind Darwin, Darwin’s 502-page work was phenomenal, complete, and first. Recently, the 1953 discovery of DNA by James Watson and Francis Crick seconds and echoes the then-100 year earlier work of Darwin.
While these studies and the subsequent book would have been remarkable at any age by any scientist, you have to have even greater admiration for the time in which this occurred and the person who wrote the book.
Charles Darwin was scheduled to go into the clergy when at 22 years old when was given the opportunity to be the naturalist on a five-year-long voyage around South America. The Beagle was a 90-foot long surveying ship captained by Robert FitzRoy. Darwin had been an amateur naturalist and collector and was well liked by FitzRoy.
As a result, Darwin had the opportunity to explore and collect samples from both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of South America including his celebrated five week visit to the Galapagos, a collection of islands separated from and offshore of Ecuador.
Many of his collections of mammal, reptile, bird, insect, plant, and rock examples were sent back to England, shipped from any port he reached. Once home, he had a voluminous assortment of natural history samples with which to work.
Many writings about Darwin indicate that he formulated his thoughts on evolution and survival of the fittest from his time on the Galapagos. In actuality, he began to form his thoughts long before this, although the time in the Galapagos gave him a giant boost forward.
The purpose of Captain FitzRoy in taking Darwin, and in part Darwin’s interest, was to prove that the earth would upon examination prove the Bible, particularly Genesis with the story of creation and the Biblical flood of Noah. That did not work out so well.
From the time that he got home in 1836 and with the evidence at hand, he worked on his theories and only published his magnificent book THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES in 1859, some 23 years after the end of his voyage.
That someone so young in a time when the Bible was considered to be infallibly correct and without error could come up with and codify the whole plan of life, survival and evolution was then and remains today remarkable.
Tens of thousands of biologists, paleontologists, anthropologists, archeologists, experts on everything from fossils to taxonomy to DNA to the star dust of which we are made continue to reinforce the basics of Darwin’s theory which today would be better called a provable theorem.
Sadly, with their investment of time in religion and the cognitive dissonance that allows Christians to believe the impossible, religion often seems to trump science despite the continued facts, evidence and truth of science and the fairy tales of religions.
Despite the denials of the religionists, Charles Darwin’s work THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES remains a seminal event in the history of science.