Darwin Day 2016: The State of Evolutionary Theory in Modern Times

Today marks the 207th anniversary of the birth of one of the key minds in shaping the theory of evolution-Charles Darwin. Born in England, the man who would one day get international fame took a liking to natural history as a young boy. Along with his brother Erasmus, he would attend Shrewsbury School. Darwin later apprenticed as a doctor before going to the University of Edinburgh, where he studied medicine. Around the same time, he learned taxidermy.

Eventually, he would embark on the famous Voyage of the Beagle, studying the ecosystems of such places as Patagonia. He would later write on Geology and Botany, as well as conducting research on and postulating the theory of natural selection. Perhaps his best known works are the famous volumes The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man. Unfortunately, he received much negative attention for his work during his lifetime.

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A specimen of Archaeopteryx at the American Museum of Natural History. Fossils of this dinosaur provided Darwin and his colleagues, such as Thomas Huxley, with evidence of evolution.

Today, instead of delving into the details of the life of Charles Darwin, I’d like to talk about evolution, the concept he helped to postulate, in modern times. As many readers may know, many still dispute the concept of evolution. Furthermore, a warped understanding of modern evolutionary theory is certainly present in the general populous.

But who could blame them? From book cover to TV screen to movie, we are exposed to an incomplete or sometimes even false view of the concept. The idea of an unbroken lineage from microbe to fish to reptile to monkey to man is so commonly exemplified it is almost impossible to not hear, read, or see it when one is interested in evolution.

One of the most common ways to convey the idea of the theory is by showing a picture of a hunched-over chimp transitioning to an upright man. We continue working with the media and educators to make sure everyone interested understands that we are learning about and changing our understanding of evolutionary theory every day.

I’m glad to say that there have been great strides made in this effort lately. The larger online presence of the scientific community has resulted in the creation of popular science blogs. After 200 years evolution keeps on spreading among the minds of the human race.

So on this Darwin Day, let’s make a toast to the progress made over the past years. Let’s honor the minds who first came up with the theory. Let’s toast to the fact that their work is still honored and remembered.

 

 

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