Science

Darwin Day 2011: Happy Birthday, Charles Darwin

| by Jerome McCollom

This February 12th, is Darwin Day. Charles Darwin was born on February 12th, 1809. Also, he was born on the exact same day as Abraham Lincoln. Arguably the two greatest figures of the 19th century, quite an amazing coincidence.

Charles Darwin explained natural selection (also sexual selection) as a mechanism for evolutionary change. Natural selection is rather simple, actually. A faster antelope, or cheetah, is more likely to survive because of their greater speed, versus slower ones. A turtle with a harder shell is more likely to survive a predator than one with a softer shell. 

Before the time of Darwin, even most educated men and women believed species were created in their present form. Today, evolution is not doubted, except by a few who want to turn America and science back to the era before the Enlightenment.

Darwin Day isn't just about the great scientist, Charles Darwin. It is also about other great biologists who came before him. Scientists such as Alfred Wallace and indeed, Darwin's own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin. The elder Darwin speculated that all life came from a common ancestor, and his grandson almost a century later confirmed that with the great text, On the Origin of Species

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Charles Darwin was one of those great thinkers, who changed the landscape of the world we live in, just as Albert Einstein did a half century later. When we honor Charles Darwin we are not only honoring the man and his contributions to science, but the scientific method and human reason itself.

We honor man the being, the thinker, the knower. We honor human beings arising out of their primitive beginnings and shrugging off their superstitions. So, happy birthday Mr. Darwin and may your birthday one day be as celebrated by all science loving people who savor and enjoy reason and freethought.