Evolution

Charles Darwins Theory of Evolution and its Legacy



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You hear the debate often, Creationism versus Evolution. Evolution is just a theory. What is evolution and who is Charles Darwin? What inspires people to put the fish with legs emblems on their cars?

The theory of evolution was formalized by Charles Darwin, however, it is as much a theory as is the theory of gravity, or the theory of relativity. Evolution evokes many arguments in social and political areas. Many schools, today, do not teach the theory of evolution.

It is important to understand that the current questions about how life evolves in no way imply any disagreement over the fact of evolution." - Neil A. Campbell
The argument that evolution is "just a theory" and, as a theory, scientists cannot even agree if it occurs.

This argument is for those with little understanding of what evolution actually is. Evolution occurs. It is observable not only in the geologic record, but also in the world around us. Evolution means change, and populations of organisms certainly change over time.

Evolution is the binding force of all biological research. It is the unifying theme. In paleontology, evolution gives workers a powerful way to organize the remains of past life and better understand the history of life. Science draws heavily from its history.

Charles Darwin wrote:
"THE AFFINITIES of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during each former year may represent the long succession of extinct species . . . The limbs divided into great branches, and these into lesser and lesser branches, were themselves once, when the tree was small, budding twigs; and this connexion of the former and present buds by ramifying branches may well represent the classification of all extinct and living species in groups subordinate to groups . . . From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off, and these lost branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only from having been found in a fossil state . . . As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications" (Darwin, 1859).

While Darwin's Theory of Evolution is a relatively young, the evolutionary worldview itself is as old as antiquity. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Anaximander proposed the development of life from non-life and the evolutionary descent of man from animal. Charles Darwin brought something new to the old philosophy - a plausible explanation called "natural selection." Natural selection acts to preserve and accumulate small genetic mutations. If a member of a species developed a functional advantage (it grew wings and learned to fly), then it's offspring would inherit that advantage and pass it on to their offspring. The inferior members of the same species would gradually die out. Thus only the superior members of the species would remain. Natural selection is the advantage that enables a species to compete better in the wild. Natural selection is the equivalent to domestic breeding. Over the centuries, human breeders have produced dramatic changes in domestic animals by selectively breeding. Breeders eliminate undesirable traits gradually over time. Similarly, natural selection eliminates inferior species gradually over time.



Who was Charles Darwin? Charles Darwin was a British scientist who transformed the way we think about the natural world.

Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, Shropshire into a wealthy and well-connected family. His maternal grandfather was china manufacturer Josiah Wedgwood, while his paternal grandfather was Erasmus Darwin, one of the leading intellectuals of 18th century England.

Darwin planned to follow a medical career, and studied at Edinburgh University but later switched to divinity at Cambridge. In 1831, he joined a five year scientific expedition on the survey ship HMS Beagle.

At this time, most Europeans believed that the world was created by God in seven days as described in the bible (creationism). On the voyage, Darwin read Lyell's 'Principles of Geology' which suggested that the fossils found in rocks were actually evidence of animals that had lived many thousands or millions of years ago. Darwin's observations on this trip reinforced the ideas in Lyell's book. His breakthrough came in the Galapagos Islands. Darwin noticed that each island supported its own form of finch which were closely related but differed in important ways.

On his return to England in 1836, Darwin tried to solve the puzzles of these observations and the puzzle of how species evolve. Influenced by the ideas of Malthus, he proposed a theory of evolution occurring by the process of natural selection.

Darwin worked on his theory for 20 years. After learning that another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had developed similar ideas, the two made a joint announcement of their discovery in 1858. In 1859 Darwin published 'On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection'. The book was extremely controversial, because of the idea that man was simply another form of animal. It then seemed possible that people could have evolved from apes.

Darwin was vehemently attacked, particularly by the Church. However, his ideas soon gained notice and have become the accepted theory of evolution.

Darwin died on 19 April 1882 and was buried in Westminster Abbey.

On his theory Darwin confessed, "To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree."

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