Happy Darwin Day!
Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. February 12th is Darwin Day, an international celebration of science and the life and contributions of the man born in 1908. Darwin first described biological evolution via natural selection with scientific rigor. There are events being held at Carleton University all this week.
Today is a day to reflect on the benefits of scientific knowledge and human curiosity and ingenuity, and how Darwin has contributed to the advancement of humanity. His landmark book, “The Origin of Species” is available free online. It is also available for free as an audiobook.
Why is it that we here at Ottawa Skeptics care so much about Darwin, and his theory? It is not only because it is such a beautiful and powerful theory, but because it is controversial. We like to tackle controversial scientific issues and promote the side that the evidence supports. In the 150 years since the publication of Origin of Species (also on February 12), mountains of confirming evidence has piled up in support. On top of that pile, is a conspicuous absence of disconfirming evidence. If Darwin’s theory were wrong, it could have been disproven (or falsified) many times in the past century and a half. Researchers could have found rabbits in the cretaceous period (or rather that strata of rock). It could have been disproven by the understanding of genetics and inheritance, which was a mystery at the time Origin was written. If it turned out there was no mechanism for mutation in the passing on of traits, natural selection would have been tossed. The list of confirming evidence is endless. Everytime evolution has been tested, it has passed with flying colours.
Despite the fact that evolutionary theory is as well established as atomic theory or gravitational theory, many Canadians still don’t believe it exists. According to an Angus Reid poll conducted in 2007, 41% of Canadians still do not believe in evolution. In fact, 22% of those polled believe species were created in their current form less than 10, 000 years ago. Happily though, 59% of Canadians do accept the theory.
There’s still some work to do by supporters of good science. There exists in Alberta an evolution denial (aka creationism) museum. In Ontario schools, evolution is not taught to students until grade 12 biology, which is not a mandatory course. Evolutionary theory is the foundation of all of modern biology. Theodosius Dobzhansky said “Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of evolution.” We must strive to make evolutionary theory as accepted in our schools, and our culture, as every other foundational scientific theory.
For more about evolution, check out classic books written by authors other than Darwin. These newer books take into account the mounds of research done in the past 150 years, and are written in a more modern English. They also don’t spend an entire chapter on pigeon fancying. Unfortunately, they are not free.
- Evolution: Triumph of an Idea – Carl Zimmer
- Why Darwin Matters – Michael Shermer
- The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
- Climbing Mount Improbable – Richard Dawkins
To recommend other great evolution books, join the discussion in the forum, linked to below.
Update: Turns out the New York Times published a fantastic Op-Ed piece in honour of Charles Darwin’s birthday. Take a look!