Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November 24: The Book That Upset Tennessee (Vol. 11, pp. 23-30)

On this day in 1859, "The Origin of Species" was published. The editors of the Reading Guide here are making a snarky allusion to the Scopes Trial, and the famous row over the teaching of Darwin's theory of evolution in 1925.

Even though some are still arguing about its contents, there is little debate that this book helped launch the revolution of modern science. As the Harvard Classics editors wrote, Darwin did more than gather "the ripe fruit of the labors of his predecessors" but "built on the foundations laid by others."

Darwin's theory of the evolution of organisms was not entirely new. Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle offered glimpses of it and more modern philosophers from Bacon on added to the understanding that plants and animals did not just magically appear fully formed on the Earth, but changed and developed over eons.

However, it was Darwin that seized upon the idea, inspired by Malthus' theories on overpopulation, that "favorable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavorable ones would be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of a new species."

This idea has never been accepted by fundamentalist Christians, who cling to the idea that God created the world in seven days and everything was ready to go from the beginning. Science proves that this is clearly untrue, yet creationism is still being taken seriously as an idea. Some organisms, apparently, still have some evolving to do.

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