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Feb 12 2009

Happy Darwin Day!

The finches are nailed to the mantle, the Tree of Life is set up in our living room, and the halls are decked with toy tortoises in preparation for the grand day of feasting, debauchery and licentiousness!  Look on every street corner, and you’ll see a young lad or lass singing praises to Our Exalted Chuck, with their hearts filled with the joy of the knowledge that all life is related and every piece of it is but a small piece of one long chemical reaction that started some four billion years ago.

If only we could name the first <a href=

If only we could name the first Tiktaalik fossil Darwin.

Except, that’s not how science works — that’s how religions work, and you know it.  Jodi and I are celebrating today, Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species, by watching the BBC series The Voyage of Charles Darwin on Youtube. I’ll try to embed the full playlist, so you can watch, and get an idea of the real story (or as close as anyone’s ever gotten on camera, at least), behind Charles Darwin’s journey of self-discovery, wherein he stumbled across the idea that would become the foundation of the theory of evolution.  While his ideas were obviously flawed, having not been formed with the benefit of the hundreds of thousands of fossils that have since been discovered, nor the advances in geology that have since been uncovered to adequately date these fossils, nor any concept of inheritance via gene theory, nor plate tectonics to explain population separation, nor epigenetics to investigate the punctuated equilibrium observed in speciation, he sure did get a lot right — enough that the theory of evolution was cobbled together and has since been able to make predictions regarding what would be discovered after the fact.  Long story short, no matter what problems people have with his ideas because his findings contradict their faiths, he got it pretty close to right, as close as anyone could have come given the knowledge of his day.

Despite religions coming around to evolution finally, obviously the concept that a four-thousand-year-old book written by a bronze-age Middle Eastern tribe might not contain the absolute canonical story of the creation of the Earth is threatening to some backward-minded individuals.  This led a particular creationist by the name of Elizabeth Hope to make stories up about his deathbed conversion, a completely spurious claim that is parrotted to this day despite being discredited even in Answers in Genesis (probably the only time I’ll ever link that site).  In actuality, he started out studying theology, and eventually, bit by bit, came around to a rational mindset.  He simply opened his eyes to the evidence all around us of the real story behind our wonderous planet.

Join us in watching this, and if you’ve got it, drink a dram to Our Sainted Chuck.

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