Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Happy Darwin!

It was 150 years ago today that a book was published that revolutionized how we view the world. Charles Darwin's Origin of Species, published Nov. 24, 1859, provided an explanation for all of life's awesome diversity.

One of the common misconceptions about the book, one often touted by creationists, was the Darwin "invented" evolution. Actually, the concept of evolving processes had been put forth long before. Rather, in Origin, Darwin outlined, in painstakingly detailed Victorian language, a mechanism by which it occurred: Natural selection. He explained how individual creatures with new traits best suited to their environment are better able to survive and reproduce offspring. And how those new traits can become dominant in a population, thereby steering evolution.

For the record, one of the reasons intelligent design fell so flat on its face four years ago during the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial, was Lehigh University biochemistry professor Michael Behe was unable to provide a similar mechanism for the concept, other than that "we can infer design by the working arrangement of parts."

Darwin showed how all the parts fit together. However, as Darwin understood, Origin would also challenge religious notions. For more on the creationist reactions to Origins, I have an article today on Religion Dispatches.

And the New York Times has a really cool article today written by Sean Carroll about Darwin's passion for snails and what scientists have learned about the creatures in the past 150 years.

To celebrate this auspicious anniversary, earlier this month the Southcentral Chapter of the PA-ACLU, of which I'm a board member, co-sponsored a Concert for Darwin.

It was a wonderful evening. Held at the amazing Midtown Scholar book store, it featured alt-American music by Jefferson Pepper and Varmints in Heaven (Full-disclosure: Jefferson also goes by the name of "Husband."), a terrific talk by Ken Miller, the plaintiff's lead science expert in Kitzmiller, and hip-hop performer Baba Brinkman, whose Rap Guide to Evolution absolutely delighted a somewhat, at first, skeptical audience.

Most amazingly, it brought together a group of people who love science and music, and who believe that curiosity and passion about how the world works trumps a close-minded worldview any day.

One of the things that most pleased me was the remarks afterward of a former colleague: "It felt really good to be in a room filled with like-minded people."

Also, at the concert, Eugenie Scott, executive director of the National Center for Science Education, opened with a reading from the final page of Origin. If you get a chance today, crack open Origin and read that last page. It's a beautiful stirring summary of this Earth's diversity and how we are all connected to one another.

"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank..."

Lauri in York

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1:26 AM  

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