Thursday, February 12, 2009

Two Hundred Years since Charles Darwin's Birth.

Today is Charles Darwin's Birthday. He is considered the most influential biological scientist and had the greatest influence on how we see ourselves in this world. He wasn't the first to talk about evolution but it was his theory that was so important. Later this year it will be the 150th anniversary of publishing his book The Origin the full title is 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.’

When Darwin arrived the Scientific world had been placed on a sound foundation through the efforts of men like Galileo. Observation, measurement, and publication of findings for peer review. No sitting in an armchair just pondering. But as before, the work was to discover God's handiwork and his creation.

So we therefore have to move forward and bypass all the philosophers and thinkers that followed Galileo; Descartes, Kant Hume, Hegel, etc to Darwin. It was into the new freedom that he was born. It has been said, "with Luther the monolithic medieval Christian world had cracked. With Copernicus the medieval Christian cosmology had cracked but with Darwin the Christian world view showed signs of collapsing altogether. As the earth had been removed from its position at the centre of creation by Copernicus so now was man removed from the centre of creation by Darwin to become just another animal".

In the first few years of the nineteenth century there was already a movement towards the idea of the evolution of life. Men like Erasmus Darwin and Lemarke had supported the idea but there was no acceptable understanding of the way it could work., though Lemarke proposed the inheritance of aquired features. Virtually all naturalists considered it their place to examine and study God's handiwork and to think of any other point of view was very unpopular.

After an abortive time spent studying medicine and with Darwin's fathers blessing he started studies in Theology with the intention of becoming a priest. This entailed studying God's nature and this is where he excelled and was in his element. Studying all of God's Creation. His studies were very extensive and considering it was at the beginning of the 1800's, his studies included chemistry and geology and was tutored and taken under the wings by outstanding men in their fields. These included Sedgwick for Geology and Henslow for Biology. He did have a good education even if much was self taught. He and his brother Erasmus had their own little laboratory in a garden shed in the garden of 'The Mount' in Shrewsbury where they analyzed for minerals in rocks. They made extensive collections of beetles. Darwin even paid others to collect for him.

After he finished his studies he was invited to join Captain Fitz Roy on the Beagle as companion and Naturalist for a circumnavigation of the earth charting various parts. The voyage took five years and included South America, The Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Australia, Mauritius,,Capetown, St Helena, and Ascension Island. He sent specimens back to England and made copious notes.A number of years after returning, he came up with the idea that Natural Selection was the cause of the great diversity in animal and plant life and that all life had descended from a few or just one. What made Darwin different from all the previous scientists and naturalists was that this theory no longer needed the hand of God, but brought in the element of chance with natural selection the architect.

Darwin's theory of the origin of species is simple and elegant. Thomas Huxley said "it is so simple,why didn't I think of it myself?" The essential aspects of this theory may be more apparent when divided two interrelated parts
1] Most species have numerous off spring, more than enough to maintain the population of the species,and they cannot all survive.
2] There is variation between the individuals of the species, those with favourable traits that are able to reproduce and survive will be successful and those that do no will die out. Later the term coined by Spencer 'Survival of the fittest' was reluctantly adopted by Darwin.
The non acceptance of Evolution by natural selection is the Church's Second denial and they argue that it is "just a theory" Some Theory.The first denial being that the earth was the centre of the Universe.

Darwin's book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was about 500 pages long and in much of it he seemed to be trying to destroy his theory.
It was the basic picture which I call 'Darwin's Jigsaw Picture' with many parts still missing and a puzzle to him. Many of these missing parts have since been filled in.

This is a excerpt fromThe Church's Three Denials'

View Down House where Darwin wrote The Origin


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