Blog for Darwin

This post forms part of the ‘Blog for Darwin’ blog carnival.

I wasn’t going to write this post. I am very much of the opinion that holding up one man as a figurehead for an entire science is a mistake, and sets up too many straw-man arguments for detractors to propound (of the nature of: x was mistaken, so his theory y must also be wrong). Darwin lived in the 19th century, limited by the 19th century’s knowledge of science. A period where ‘Biology’ as a science didn’t really exist. Of course he was wrong about some stuff, and by equating Evolution with Darwinism, we give the denialists a stick with which to beat us (and this also leads to misleading and pernicious headlines like that in the New Scientist a couple of weeks ago). I ‘believe’ in the theory of gravity (as supported by the weight (ho ho) of evidence), that doesn’t make me a Newtonist.

There is no doubting that evolution is more than just Darwin, and that the Darwinian view of evolution probably doesn’t totally hold water any more, but that is hardly a surprise. It is 150 years old (in its published form). So, much as I admire his achievements, I wasn’t totally behind the idea of ‘Darwin Day’. Grist to the mill of creationists who see Darwin as the sole pedestal for the Theory of Evolution.

But then you see the amount of pseudoscience that persists in the mainstream media, and results of surveys like this one, which suggests that around 10% of Britons believe the earth was created by a supernatural being sometime in the last 10,000 years, and you think: ‘Why should I be churlish about something which is basically pro-science, and is getting a shed-load of high quality, high profile coverage?’. So, yes, if I can increase the positive noise surrounding February 12th 2009, I will. I will shout about Darwin from the rooftops if it gets something close to actual science in the news pages for a change.

For the rest of this year, this is where the battle will be fought. The hearts and minds of the anti-science luddites must be won over by the elegance and wonder of a beautiful theory, arrived at by a brilliant man who spent many years of his life in painstaking examination of the many glorious wonders of the natural world, and slowly formulating a way in which they were all connected. He truly changed our understanding of the world. Let us celebrate that fact.

Just don’t call me a Darwinist.

4 comments

  1. Darwin himself said,” If a complicated organism did exist, then my theory would completely break down.” This was quoted from his book,” The Origins of the Species.” It is not complicated to understand that a complicated organ specific to a few species can not be evolved and suggest that there is an intellegent designer. His name is God by the way. The truth is that these complicated organisms do exist. An example is in the bacterium flaggelum. There is a motor organism in the back of this one celled being(look it up if you dont believe me). It allows the organism to swim and move. This gives a reason why if Darwin were alive now he would have to back down in his theory and retrace his steps. The Bible says in Psalms that the heavans declare the greatness of the Lord. Darwinism is false, and Gods glory is revealed (for example,look up laminin on google image search.This is the glue of the human body, how we are held together)You can see Gods intelligent design everywhere you look in His creation.

    1. Hi ‘gmoney’
      If you are referring to the ‘irreducible complexity’ argument (as coined by Michael Behe), it is not incompatible with evolution. Gene duplication (really rather common in evolutionary history) provides a clear route by which irreducible complexity can evolve.
      Furthermore, the bacterial flagellum is not even irreducibly complex. There are a number of bacterial species that have related structures, of differing function. Also, I myself have worked with a scientist here at my institution who works with flagella (mostly in Salmonella species), and who routinely ablates portions of this machinary, and can show that the resulting organisms still have motility (ie functional flagella).
      I’m not entirely sure what Laminin has to do with anything, but if you look at the actual structure of the molecule (by X-Ray crysallography, or electron microscopy), rather than the creationist schmatic diagrams of it, you will see little about it that is cross shaped (perhaps I can point you towards this paper: http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/reprint/4/2/148.pdf (Fig 1A)).
      Approving the above comment is not a sign I am going to allow the creationists to decend here. I certainly have more to do with my time than write rebuttals to the likes of above, and further comments of this nature will likely be marked as spam.

  2. Good point, Darwin’s achievements should be seen in the context of his day as well as in terms of their importance in present times. That said, I think it is good to celebrate the man who, in his day, made a rather monumental leap that many people are still trying to catch up with.

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