(this is all Charlie’s fault (just kidding)… – promoted by pfiore8)
Today is the 199th birthday of Charles Darwin and 2008 marks the 149th year anniversary of his book, On the Origin of Species, where he advocated and provided scientific evidence that showed all species of life evolved over time from common ancestry through the process of natural selection.
Today is also a good time to reflect upon what Darwin’s ideas mean to Americans.
Author Susan Jacoby writes about Darwin’s belated American birthday present in today’s San Francisco Chronicle. She observes unlike the rest of the world fewer than half of all Americans accept the fact evolution occurs and is scientifically valid. “The widespread American skepticism about evolution is a phenomenon unique in the developed world, as is the controversy over whether evolution or religious theories of creation should be taught in public school science classes.”
Wired News reports the battle over evolution still is not over. Next week, Florida’s department of education will vote on a new science curriculum. Nine Florida counties have condemned the curriculum because it teaches evolution and are demanding it be “balanced” with creationist theories. Florida’s current science education standard, which doesn’t name evolution, was given a failing grade. Florida science education is failing the future.
Jacoby believes our fellow Americans’ rejection of evolution is because of ignorance. “This knowledge deficit has nothing to do with religion, but it does point to a stunning failure of American public schooling at the elementary and secondary level.” She thinks “keeping religious out of public school science classes is not enough” and we need to adopt a national science curriculum and standards to have a well educated, modern society.
But what does an educated, modern society mean? How can we be surrounded by scientific and technological marvels in the United States, but still be largely or in part a collective of dullards?
Charles Darwin had a big idea, arguably the most powerful idea ever. And like all the best ideas it is beguilingly simple. In fact, it is so staggeringly elementary, so blindingly obvious that although others before him tinkered nearby, nobody thought to look for it in the right place.
Darwin had plenty of other good ideas – for example his ingenious and largely correct theory of how coral reefs form – but it is his big idea of natural selection, published in On the Origin of Species, that gave biology its guiding principle, a governing law that helps the rest make sense. Understanding its cold, beautiful logic is a must…
Here may lie the answer to a nagging puzzle in the history of ideas. After Newton’s brilliant synthesis of physics, why did it take nearly 200 years for Darwin to arrive on the scene? Newton’s achievement seems so much harder! Maybe the answer is that Darwin’s eventual solution to the riddle of life is so apparently facile…
Darwin raises our consciousness to the sinewy power of science to explain the large and complex in terms of the small and simple. In biology we were fooled for centuries into thinking that extravagant complexity in nature needs an extravagantly complex explanation. Darwin triumphantly dispelled that delusion.
Dawkins touches upon a “nagging puzzle in the history of ideas” where Newton’s ‘simple’ idea was not only discovered first, but is also more widely accepted. By understanding and accepting what Newton explains, the physical sciences have flourished and such understanding has led to our society’s advancements in understanding and technological marvels.
And just as understanding Newton is basic to physical sciences, understanding Darwin is basic to biological sciences. America’s failure to both understand and accept what Darwin explains is suffocating our next intellectual and scientific frontier. What physics and chemistry were to the 19th and 20th centuries, genetics and biology are to the 21st century.
By rejecting evolution, Americans are rejecting the future, but the future still will come. What Americans are truly rejecting is the knowledge and tools that we will need to deal with our changing climate and world. When Americans reject evolution, what we are really rejecting is a place in the modern, civilized world.