Charles Darwin’s contributions to evolution and the life sciences have been the subject of more than one talk in this revolutions themed course. It is without doubt that his work was revolutionary and changed the course of science and society. However, the legacy of Darwin and evolution has not been completely positive. Beliefs around evolution have become arguments for typological thinking and beliefs about race supremacy. This is definitely not the intention of scientists, but their work has been altered to become evidence for these ways of thinking. These misconceptions about evolution include beliefs about variations, the goal of evolution, and typological thinking.
Evolution occurs when variations in a species are better suited for survival and therefore stay alive, becoming the dominant variation in the species. This is the basis of natural selection and is how species are able to evolve and change over time. While variations are vital for evolution, they can be looked at as imperfections. We as a society see differences as a negative thing. They are considered deformities or “weird.” This is a comment on how the society we live in is exclusive and reluctant to change. If we remember that without these differences, humans would not exist, then maybe people would be more accepting and inclusive.
Another important point Professor Judy Stone made was that evolution is not moving towards a goal. Rather, evolution just happens; it is a way to adapt to the current conditions. Like living creatures, the Earth is also evolving. We have changed with our planet to become properly adapted for life on it. If we think of evolution as moving towards a goal, then we assume that it will one day end. However, as long as there is life, there will be evolution. The thought that evolution has a goal also suggests that perhaps there is a species that is better, or more perfect, than another. This type of thinking is dangerous, because it begins to exclude members and suggest they are less than the others.
One thing that was made clear in this lecture was that typological thinking in evolution can be toxic for human interactions. This typological thinking helps to reinforce racial boundaries. Race is a social construct; it is something humans have made up and has no scientific basis. Unfortunately, assumptions about evolution have contributed to phenomena of Social Darwinism, which was widespread in the mid-1900s. Social Darwinism applied the concepts of evolution to humans and our society. Essentially, it was an attempt to provide a scientific basis for racism. While Social Darwinism is not really prevalent today, some of its ideas still linger. These manifest into the problems with the public’s perception of evolution. After listening to Professor Stone’s lecture, I think biologists have potential to be social activists. It is possible to change the public’s perceptions of evolution for the better. With a little bit of education, binary views about evolution can change to benefit society and make it a more inclusive place.