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.