Feb. 12 marked the passing of another Darwin Day. The birthday of Charles Darwin is becoming a popular holiday for science fans, atheists, believers in evolution and those simply looking for a fun and interesting day to celebrate.
Darwin Day is being used for science lectures, parties and other innovative gatherings dedicated to learning and having fun. It’s a good time to look closely at the theory of evolution by natural selection, the idea that Darwin is so famous for formulating and propagating. For all of its prominence in science and culture, evolution is actually a rather tame set of beliefs and poses almost none of the major threats conjured up by its opponents.
Some of the most massive misconceptions about evolution ought to be cleared up first. The guiding principle and process that makes up the gradual change known as evolution is called natural selection. In any environment there is variance in genetic traits and phenotypes among species. The prevailing conditions in the environment and any random changes or events among species’ interactions will be beneficial for species with certain traits, and not so beneficial for species lacking a favored trait, so eventually the favored trait becomes more common in offspring.
At any time, traits may lose or gain usefulness. The general purpose of evolution is to allow species to become better adapted to survive and reproduce. Nothing in the theory of evolution suggests that dolphins or deer will sprout wings over the course of one generation to avoid predators, or that an insect will suddenly be gifted with radioactivity. Differences accumulate over time, and every species becomes best suited to surviving and thriving wherever it lives.
A common complaint leveled against evolution is that it is incompatible with, or even an assault on, religion. Evolution is poised to obliterate and discredit all religions and force worship of science. However, interpreting evolution and believing that it matches the first six days of creation described in the Bible can be an acceptable solution. There is no secretive or nefarious movement to decimate religion, nor do scientists and believers in evolution have the power to remove religion from society.
The goal of evolution is to present facts supported by studies and encourage more people to understand and accept those ideas, rather than attribute all occurrences in life to the acts of unseen gods and refuse to investigate further.
Evolution, contrary to how it is depicted in Pokemon, never affects solely one organism or causes dramatic changes in just one step. Instead, an entire population is affected by the process. Only a population as a whole experiences evolution. Instead of genes competing or having minds of their own, genes simply decrease or increase in frequency. Because some genes happen to be useful in certain situations, they are passed down more often through generations.
Evolution is merely a counting system for genes and does not result in rapid, fantastic changes in appearance. New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford claimed, “Science is either physics or stamp collecting,” and evolution falls firmly into the latter category. Instead of asserting that cats can sprout tentacles or that all monkeys will become humans in a few years, Darwin simply uncovered the basic tenets of tracking and studying genes, and how genes can vary in effectiveness and frequency.
When one studies the theory of evolution over time and in enough detail, it is apparent that none of the claims are really new or radical. Thinkers before Darwin had toyed with or seriously argued in favor of evolution. Evolution is simply gradual change and modification with the overall goal of making species more adapted to their particular environment and favoring certain traits over others when changes occur.
Evolution, in contrast to some critiques against it, is a largely settled and accepted fact among scientists. The ideas of evolution allow us to answer a multitude of questions about how life functions and what changes we may anticipate in the future. It makes life more understandable and fascinating. As far as knowledge goes, evolution is one of mankind’s best and most mundane ideas so far.