On February 12 one hundred ninety-nine years ago the person who did not invent nor discover the theory of biological evolution was born in Shrewsbury, England. And around that date next month, folks the world over will celebrate the discoveries and life of that man, Mr. Charles Robert Darwin.
Coinciding with Mr. Darwin’s birthday, during the weekend of February 8-10 at least 30 churches here in Texas, along with several hundred other denominational and non-denominational congregations across the land, will again this year participate in Evolution Weekend. Evolution Weekend is an annual event meant to serve as an opportunity for congregations to discuss the compatibility of religion and science and to demonstrate that religious peoples from many faiths and locations understand that evolution is sound science and poses no problems for their faith.
In addition, hundreds of museums and educational institutions in this country and around the globe will also be celebrating Mr. Darwin’s birthday (including at the BookPeople bookstore in Austin on February 10) with symposiums, exhibits, teach-ins, library displays, lectures, plays, study circles, essay competitions–and plenty plenty of birthday cakes. More information on such events can be found at Darwin Day Celebration.
The genius of Charles Darwin was, of course, in amassing and identifying evidence for one of evolution’s driving mechanisms, that is, natural selection — one of the greatest ideas, as Richard Dawkins has said, ever to occur to the human mind.
To paraphrase Darwin, natural selection is the principle by which some random variations in traits in a population tend to be preserved and passed on to future generations if they are sufficient enough to aid survival and reproduction given the local environment. The result is, in Darwin’s words, “descent with modification,” that is, biological evolution.
All of Darwin’s ideas about evolution were not correct, his “Provisional Hypothesis of Pangenesis” to explain heritability, for example. But Mr. Darwin was a scrupulously honest scientist and for over 150 years now, rigorous research by scientists from a variety of disciplines the world over, including from today’s fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, have time and again confirmed that the evidence overwhelmingly supports Mr. Darwin’s elegant explanation of biological evolution by natural selection just as much as the evidence unequivocally supports Copernicus’s theory that the Earth orbits the Sun, and not the other way around as religious dogma long insisted.
So, here’s a toast to you, Mr. Darwin! We are deeply grateful for your hard work, honest science, and for helping us to understand a key part of how nature works. Happy birthday!!