From today’s biology education inside and outside classroom, it is only natural for people to connect theory of evolution by natural selection with Charles Darwin and Galapagos finches in a mind map; some who worked really hard in class might also remember Darwin’s study of barnacles. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg of the theory of evolution. Today’s theory of evolution is much more than Darwin’s idea; in fact, the original Darwinian theory itself, if not complemented by other later studies, probably would not have been accepted at all: the public did not recognize or accept the theory until the development of modern molecular biology and genetics, which made the theory much more complex than what Darwin proposed. Therefore, using the term Darwinian Revolution to describe the development of the theory of evolution in today’s conversation might be a misnomer.
When attributing all the credits of the formation of the theory of evolution to Darwin, we often forget other naturalists who equally contributed to the theory. It is safe to say most people are acquainted with the Darwinian theory from their school education; however, it is equally safe to say that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Alfred Russel Wallace, Thomas Henry Huxley, and other naturalists who made great contribution to the development of the theory, are often left forgotten. According to Dr. Browne, much of our knowledge and vocabulary of the theory of evolution today has non-Darwin sources. However, for some historical reasons at the time, Darwin ended up reaping all the fame. Even though the increasingly independent academia grants us the necessary information to look at the development of the theory in an unbiased light, we sometimes are still limited by the historical and conventional understanding of the theory.
The misconception of the theory of evolution partly stems from the popularity of Darwinism. People use the term Darwinism arbitrarily in different contexts, such as economics and sociology. The wide adoption and adaptation of the theory in different fields are gradually included in Darwinism, rendering the theory of evolution itself less concrete and less scientific. For example, the term “survival of the fittest” has lost its original biological meaning, which concerns not only survival but also reproductive success.
Moreover, we have to think of the theory of evolution as a dynamic theory. The study of genes and the development of molecular biology, which took place about one hundred years after Darwin, have made the theory of evolution scientifically tenable. It is also possible that more rigorous research will further change the theory of evolution. For instance, the development of epigenetics, which studies the modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself, has caused the revival of Lamarck’s theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics and the modification of the Darwinian theory.
It is very likely that the “Darwinian theory of evolution” will continue to change in the future, drifting further apart from Darwin’s opinions. Therefore, in using the term “Darwinian Revolution”, we should keep in mind that it is much more than Charles Darwin.