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Charles Robert Darwin

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Charles Darwin as a young man, probably subseq...

Charles Darwin as a young man, probably subsequent to the Galápagos visit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-82) was an English naturalist whose The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection of 1859 proposed a view of evolution in which “natural selection” determines which species survive and which perish.

In opposition to Larmarck, Darwin believed that evolutionary changes were the result of mutations.¹ New species that happened to survive in physical environments (which also changed) replaced those species that did not.

For many followers of Darwin there is no master or divine plan guiding evolution. In 1871 he wrote The Descent of Man which traced, according to the theory, mankind back to the anthropoids. The clarity of his exposition and the force of his ideas have influenced practically every aspect of modern society.

The Welsh naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, independently conceived the idea of “survival of the fittest” around the same time as Darwin. Recent challenges to this view are still deemed quite suspect, but postmodern, New Age and religious trends towards seeking alternative ways of viewing evolution continue to challenge the current scientific paradigm, which ironically has come to resemble a religious belief.²

Pope Benedict XVI has supported the idea of Theistic Design, a view that some believe is similar to Intelligent Design. Benedict, however, questions aspects of evolutionary theory, arguing that it’s not truly scientific and cannot explain an implied rationality of the process it outlines.

¹ The following outlines how Darwin’s understanding of mutations differed from those of today.

Today, most scientists regard the term “mutation” as a description of a change in an individual gene, and more precisely as some minute alteration of the DNA of that gene, especially a nucleotide substitution. But the idea of mutation has changed considerably from the pre-Mendelian concepts of Darwin’s generation, who viewed “fluctuating variations” as the raw material on which evolution acted, to today’s up-to-the-minute genomic context of mutation. Source: http://www.cshlpress.com/default.tpl?action=full&–eqskudatarq=911&typ2=hpl

² Few realize how the unavoidably biased interpretation of experimental results can shape our worldview, in both the social and the so-called “hard” sciences. See also: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Experimenter%27s_bias

Related Posts » Behaviorism , de Chardin (Teilhard), Fundamentalism, Malthus (Thomas Robert), Sheldrake (Rupert), Social Darwinism

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