Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Celebrate February 12! It's Darwin Day (OK, It's Lincoln Day Too)

For those of you keeping score at home, this is a big birthday week.

Exactly 200 years ago this week, on February 12, 1809, two great men were born: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin. That these two men were born on the same day is a coincidence, of course, but it is an interesting coincidence.

From humble beginnings, Lincoln rose to the presidency and became perhaps the greatest president of them all, successfully leading the war against the Confederacy and saving the Union.

Darwin's circumstances were much more fortunate (his family was well-to-do), but he was no less influential. Indeed, as the New York Times reports today in "Science Times," "Darwin's theory of evolution has become the bedrock of modern biology."

This quote, from writer Nicholas Wade, continues: "It is a testament to Darwin's extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views."

Lest the popular focus fall too heavily on the man himself, another Times piece argues against the cult of Darwinism and in favor of a broader and more powerful understanding of evolution and how this idea came to be.

As Times writer Carl Safina points out, many earlier naturalists and scientists contributed to the development of evolution, including Darwin's own grandfather and the genetic experimenter, Gregor Mendel.

In short, evolution is bigger than Darwin, Safina argues, and a overemphasis on Darwin is far too limiting. Indeed, evolution itself as changed a great deal since Darwin's original thesis, which is why Safina argues that "Darwinism Must Die So That Evolution May Live."

This Thursday, raise a glass to the 2ooth birthday of two great men, President Abraham Lincoln and one of the most brilliant minds in all of scientific history, Charles Darwin.


Tulsan said...

I propose another timely toast. Galileo first turned his telescope to the sky in 1609, 400 years ago, thus launching modern science.

To another giant of the past!

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