Thursday, February 12, 2009
Happy Birthday, Darwin!
Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the writer of On the Origin of Species and the "Father of Evolutionary Theory". Very few scientists of modern day have changed the face of science like Darwin did. Although a reading of On the Origin of Species is quite dry, it lays the foundation for entire regions of modern day science practiced today. Darwin, in hismost famous voyage, travelled upon the ship the Beagle to such places as the Galapagos Islands, where he came up with ideas as to how species form and how particular traits can be selected for (called natural selection). For example, finches live on many of the Galapagos Islands, and some have thick beaks and some have thinner beaks. Where the thick beaked birds live, there are only nuts and hard shelled seeds to eat. Where the thin beaked birds live, the food is more diverse, with bugs and flowers serving as a source of food. One can imagine that as birds settled these islands, those with thicker beaks did fine on the islands with only nuts to eat, while the thinner beaked ones died off, as they were unable to eat the nuts (and thus, unable to survive and reproduce). These types of things happen daily, as certain areas see more or less precipitation, as invading species eat particular foods, as humans encroach more and more on habitat. Species adapt to their environments, a central idea in Darwin's theory (and one of very many). As you can probably tell, I am fervent defender of science education and I truly believe our education system needs to be improved in a multitude of ways. One of the most important battles we as scientist (and logical thinkers) have been fighting of late is the ridiculous idea of "Intelligent Design" - a thinly veiled attempt at teaching Creationism (and thus, religion) in our public schools. Don't get me wrong, I value religion and I find it definitely has it's place in society. I also value the study of religion and feel that children should be allowed to study different types of religions and their dogmas in school. I do not, however, condone the teaching of a fake idea like Intelligent Design alongside tried and tested scientific theories like Evolution. And, so, on this anniversary of Darwin's birth (apparently now referred to as "Darwin Day"), I would just like to remind you that we are fighting on in this battle that's been going on for 150 years now. We are fighting for the integrity of science, for the separation of church and state (as afforded in our Constitution), and for the intelligence of our children and our future. It's a battle that's been going on for centuries. And we're not about to quit now.