Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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A dose of Darwin …
Charles Darwin 200 years, Origin of Species 150 years

12 February 2009 • 470 words
Published in Express

The theory of evolution may seem far removed from financial crises and rampant crime. Yet it is Charles Darwin’s scientific ideas of natural and sexual selection, published 150 years ago in On the Origin of Species and 12 years later in The Descent of Man, which explain the herding behaviour of human beings that creates financial bubbles and the need for status that drives impecunious young men to casual murder.

Along with Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, evolution is the greatest and most important scientific idea ever discovered. Although Darwin, who was born 200 years ago on February 12 1809, first formulated his ideas on evolution in the late 1830s, he didn’t publish the theory until 1859. This was because he was well aware of the backlash that would follow, especially from the church, and that he could actually be imprisoned under England’s law of blasphemy . In his notebooks, Darwin advised himself to "Mention persecution of early astronomers--then add chief good of individual scientific men, is to push their science a few years in advance only of their age." Darwin spent the next 20 years collecting additional data to support his theory, but even so he might very likely have published his work posthumously had not Alfred Wallace independently discovered the evolutionary mechanism as well. The two men co-presented their paper to the Linnean Society of London on July 1, 1858.

Since then, evolution has withstood all scientific criticism. The theory’s soundness has been confirmed in other branches of science such as geology, palaeontology, anatomy, bio-chemistry, and genetics. No disconfirming evidence of Darwinian evolution has been either formulated or found in the past 150 years. The theory has, however, been less successful in withstanding political and religious criticisms, where arguments are not based on fact but on bias, emotiveness, and outright distortions. This in itself shows the importance of accepting evolution as a fact of reality, on par with the rotation of the Earth around the Sun. The society that rejects evolution also rejects the scientific view of the world - i.e. a view based on logic and evidence, and which requires the suspension of personal bias in order to discover truth.

In Trinidad and Tobago, the scientific project may not be as important as in developed nations, but the standards listed are obviously essential to solving our social and economic problems. Understanding evolution, as a simple and elegant and powerful scientific fact, can help foster the attitude that our country needs now and for the future.

T&T Humanist Association

See Myth, not history, from UWI academics

See Statement on TT Humanist Day 2008

See Should a leader impose belief over reason?

See TT Humanist : News : Launch : The Virtues of Secularism (PDF)

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