Category: October 6 (Page 1 of 3)

Darwin’s Adaptation

It is funny how some things just catch fire in terms of the way in which they are perceived. At the turn of the 19th century, Charles Darwin was born and though he was not the first to conceive of the ideas surrounding evolution, it certainly stuck with him as his legacy. However, the basics of the theories of evolution, that the strong survive and those best suited to survival will out-live the weak. According to social Darwinism, those with strength flourish and those without are destined for extinction. It is important to note that Darwin did not extend his theories to a social or economic level, nor are any credible evolutionists subscribing to the theories of Social Darwinism. However, according to evolutionary theory, nature is a “kill or be killed” system. Those that cannot keep up are either left behind or cut off. If evolution, through chance, is solely responsible for life as we now know it, why should that process be countered? If “survival of the fittest” or “kill or be killed” cannot apply in what we define as “decent society,” then, which is wrong, society or evolution? If neither, then how do we explain morality, charity, and compassion? These are questions we have to ask ourselves when we look to government, who represent our interests. I feel as though on some level, individuals who believe in smaller governments believe in the idea of social Darwinism. Their thought process might be along the lines of we should not bail out businesses that fail, the good ones will succeed and the bad ones will not and that should be the natural course of capitalism. However, they still could believe that there should be government services to provide safety services and emergency services for people. There then would be the next level, where individuals believe that they people should be able to fend for themselves, meaning that they do not need police officers to protect the public, nor firemen or emergency response teams to provide support in the event of a crisis. To them, individuals who cannot accomplish this will be selected out.
David Allen once said “All men are created equal, it is only men themselves who place themselves above equality.” In thinking about how we perceive each other, we have to think of how the objectively different we are. The answer is not much. Though everyone comes from different backgrounds, it is our experiences and education that sets us apart, which does not really apply to the theory of evolution. The first thousand days, as some developmental economists suspect, are the most important in determining outcomes for childhood through adulthood. If some of us were innately better than others, then this empirically proven theory would not hold true, because it would be determined prior to birth. While it is true that some people are born with certain physical attributes, and possibly greater intellectual capabilities than others, it is proven that under the right circumstances that even those born with disabilities can outperform those who have better genetics. In thinking about this, in nature, this would not be the truth, which is why it is hard to think of why social darwinism as an applicable theory.

Discussing the Darwinian Revolution

By publishing one single book, Charles Darwin started a revolution, the one named after him. Even though he might not be the one who originally thought of this particular concept, however, by accumulating his thoughts and results in that book, he challenged the basic stereotype of the human origin. In doing so, he was also challenging very widely held beliefs in religion, science and other aspects of society.

Such has been the impact of the Darwinian Revolution that if you now ask somebody to think of evolution, that person might think of many things But definitely, one would be the very famous image depicting how man slowly and gradually evolved. The historical book was published in 1859, yet its impact can still be seen in 2016. This shows that all revolutions are not sudden. They take their own time to develop and integrate themselves within the society.

Another aspect which perhaps needs rethinking is that if Charles Darwin was not the first to think of ‘The Theory of Natural Selection’, should the revolution be named after him? There have been strong speculations that even 150 years before Charles Darwin, a lot of intellectual thought and debate had gone into The Theory of Natural Selection, including that of his own grandfather. Furthermore, many people claim that Alfred Russell Wallace is the forgotten hero behind the evolution of principle, further stressing that Darwin relied on Wallace for many of his findings. However, this revolution is Darwinian for a host of reasons. Firstly, he was one of the first to stand up against the Church and other religious authorities and claim that they are wrong. Moreover, if you look at the structure of the argument presented in ‘Origin of Species’, it is near flawless. Darwin brilliantly highlights the key principles and findings from his observations and acutely presents them in a systematic manner. One can wonder, had the book been structured differently, it might not have the same historical impact which it did.

Even though the Darwinian Revolution might not seem relevant as other revolutions, what perhaps makes him so popular is the fact that his subject arouses curiosity. It allows people to imagine what they might have been in the past, and what they imagine, fascinates them.

Even if there was a goal, why would humans be it?

Science is far from human-centric. All life on earth is not striving to become human. Evolution is not goal-oriented. These are the types of issues that Dr. Stone discussed during her talk, “The Unfinished Business of the Darwinian Revolution.” The misconceptions that have formed around this topic have proven to be harmful in a number of ways. The construction and reinforcement of these faulty ideas has led to oversimplification. In the minds of many, evolution has become solely based in the idea of competition. Species actively competing against each other to become the most “fit”. This of goal-oriented, typological thinking pattern has masked the true importance of evolution by natural selection. In this talk, Dr. Stone said, “If species are types, then variation is imperfection”. Darwin tackled this misconception head on and steps should be taken to help eliminate this idea from the general public today. Its implications impact some contemporary issues.

Variation is far from imperfection. It is vital to the continuing survival and diversity of life on earth. Species may be selectively pressured, depend on the environment in which they live, and only those that survive will be able to pass on their genetic information. No species is striving to become the “perfect species”. There is no such concept. An organism can only be “perfect” for its environment. Even this is subjective. More than one species can be perfect for the same environment. Success is only measured by reproduction and the passing of genetic information. The idea that evolution is goal-oriented can be attributed in large part to popular science. Inaccurate artwork often depicts evolution as ladder-like rather than branching. This can skew the thinking of many who are not formally educated in biology. Also, some headlines are focused exclusively in the role that genes play in susceptibility to illness. The effect of these is two-fold. Establishing that people with this specific trait are less fit. In actuality, they just have an unfortunate variation that has given them a slightly higher chance of developing a disease. Also, these headlines lead people to believe that genetic factors are the only important component to the susceptibility, when environmental factors may also be contributing.

Another interesting concept that Dr. Stone addressed is the idea that race is a construct. All humans on earth are Homo sapiens. There is no subspecies of human, but for some unknown reason, people have been separated based on physical qualities. There are other factors that separate people; like geography, language, culture, etc. However, race has become a default in separating humans into subspecies. All humans share many common characteristics, but many chose to focus on the differences. Skin color has become such a defining characteristic of humans when that is just one of many variations that make each human unique. Among the possible mental and physical qualities that we share, why is the focus on skin color? It would be as easy to separate people based on eye color or the size of their feet. Typological thinking and misinformation can lead to harmful cognition and behavior. Steps should be taken to eliminate this as a construct, it is unhealthy. An informed population not only understands evolution for use in the sciences, but also for its applicability in daily life among humans.







A Delayed Revolution

Although not necessarily an immediate revolution, Darwin greatly impacted the scientific and secular world, opening its eyes to the realization of evolution.  Despite many other scientists (Robert Chambers, Alfred Russel, and Herbert Spencer) besides Darwin proving and expressing convincing evidence for the theory of evolution, the idea of creationism was still generally accepted by the public as the only explanation for why life existed as it did: God is perfect, and he created these things in his perfect way; in fact, thinking otherwise would be blasphemous.  It’s imperative to consider the time period in which Charles Darwin and his colleagues lived: a relatively sacred and philosophically conservative world when compared to today.  New ideas that challenged the structure of the belief system that Christianity portrayed were dismissed, because only God and related works (the bible), contained true knowledge.  To go against the word of god was considered outlandish and crazy.  Although discussed in a different Revolution’s seminar, the philosophical question is again introduced: what is knowledge and how can it be obtained?  Does knowledge come from something that simply is?  Is knowledge considered to be truthful when it makes sense in God’s image?  Surely than, the Earth must be the center of the solar system because it contains humans that God made in his image.  Or, is knowledge measured with regard to data, with experimentation, with deductive reasoning?  Although may individuals in Darwin’s time seemed to believe in knowledge simply because there is no other explanation, Darwin challenged that long-lasting status quo.  Examples of this new way of thinking and obtaining knowledge are evident in his famous voyage aboard the Beagle and his close documentation of his finches on the Galapagos Islands.  It was here in which Darwin challenged hundreds of years of Christianity and reasons, and purposed his theory of evolution: decent with modification.


Although revolutionary, Darwin’s theory during the mid 1800s was not revolutionary in the sense that it drastically changed the way people perceived nature.  Although his book On the Origin of Species was successful, still only a minority of people bought into the idea of such a powerful concept overthrowing what religion had conditioned people to believe in.  Although evolution gained popularity decade by decade, even in the 1920’s, many still believed this “knowledge” to be blasphemous, evident in John Scopes’ 1925 arrest for teaching evolution in a Tennessee public school.  However, despite the backlash from religious groups, Darwin’s contribution to the scientific world was mammoth.  And, while Darwin’s contribution at the time of his discovery and publication may not have been revolutionary, the populace’s eventual acceptance of this knowledge proves that his findings are revolutionary.  Although Darwin contributed greatly to the understanding of our species’ history, it’s interesting to note how individuals abused this knowledge and twisted in order to justify persecution and the practice of “natural selection”, or rather, “artificial selection”.  World War II Germany and its persecution of Jewish, homosexual, and other “inferior” deemed groups is proof enough about how knowledge could negatively impact a society.  Although not explicitly mentioned in the lecture, Germany’s response and interpretation of this Darwin’s Revolution gives rise to another question: Are all revolutions beneficial?

Revolutions, an Evolution in Itself

Janet Brown’s talk, “Rethinking the Darwinian Revolution” delved into characteristics of the original Darwinian Revolution, and discussed how it has evolved since. One component to her talk was the striking difference between the Darwinian Revolution when Darwin was alive and when he was deceased.  Although Darwin developed his theories and recorded extensive data, his life-altering perceptions about our relationship with other species caused controversy. It was not until Darwin passed away that he became an icon. As Brown mentioned, upon his death Darwin’s friends petitioned to have him buried in the famous Westminster Abbey.

It is intriguing that Darwin’s thoughts, and him as an icon of the presently changing mindset, did not catch steam until after his passing. One notable point Brown discussed was that Darwin was not the only evolutionist of the time. However, with the help of his friends, Darwin became the face of the movement and was quickly idolized. Even though Darwin’s image improved, compared to when he was alive, his revolution would not truly impact the lives of many until the American scientists accepted his theory in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

The story of Darwin demonstrates the different forms a revolution can come in. Specifically, the duration of revolutionary thoughts, and advancements in human’s understanding of the world, can clearly exceed the revolutionary’s lifetime.  Moreover, the evolution revolution underwent many changes and altered its image over many generations. This also shows the number of changes a revolution can undergo, and how different generations may interpret, or misinterpret, its purpose. Thus, revolutions can be variable, evolving, and adaptable; they suit to the current environment and it is the ideas, and not always the people, that keep the revolution in motion.

The Darwinian Revolution

In 1859, there was a groundbreaking revolution in both the scientific and religious realms: the origin of species, authored by Charles Darwin, was published. The book changed how people approach biology forever, and has fundamental impacts on modern science, religion, and other aspects of the society.

A century and a half later, the influence of Darwin remains. In Australia there is City of Darwin, named after the evolution giant. There are Darwin branded merchandises, restaurants, even colleges. However, as Prof. Browne from Harvard University have lectured, Darwin’s opinions were not fully acknowledged till at least a hundred years later.

At the time when Origin of Species was published, the theories did not immediately gain popularity. As Prof. Browne put it, it was not a “revolution” but rather a slow change, stretched out over the course of a century. Darwin’s opinions, as they start to gain popularity, were very much challenged. Most of the questions come from people who come from a religious background and the concept of evolution particularly disputed the existence of a creator. Darwin’s response what safe yet smart: instead of labeling himself as an atheist, he resorts to being an agnostic, refusing to enter the debate of whether God exists.

Despite his great achievements, Darwin is still a person with unique personalities, and by revisiting his life we could unveil how his thoughts came to be and how his theory of evolution is sparked. Living in a very private, remote estate, Darwin had a wealthy heritage which provided him with ample time and financial support to pursue his interests. Because of his remote location, most of the communications with his scientific colleagues are achieved through mails, and this large amount of correspondence left us with a rather streamlined thought process of how his theory took its shape. First, through those mails, we could see that he was a very organized person, and made decisions through listing pros and cons. One example was when deciding whether or not to get married, he listed the pros and cons of marriage, and in the end concluding that dying alone would be worse that having too much company.

Another aspect of Darwin’s theories that the correspondence revealed was the emergence of similar theories at the time. Multiple people have written to Darwin regarding similar evolution theories and without Darwin, the evolution theory would probably still be discovered, but under a different name. Now, since Darwin is the name attached to this theory, his name, like the Bible, is quoted by people with different agendas. Eugenicists insist that Darwin’s theory implies that we need to actively “better” our gene while other groups cite Darwin for other discriminatory policies. Science history views Darwin as a “saint”, burying him at Westminster Abbey while the British Natural History Museum puts his sculpture up and down depending how Darwin is perceived by the general public. Darwin’s simple theory is interpreted and misinterpreted in many different dimensions, but it is this social discourse that keeps the theory alive and drives science forward.

The Darwinian (and others) Revolution

Darwin is often hailed as the sole founder of evolutionary theory, but Janet Browne’s lecture emphasized that his theory was based not only on his own observations, but also years of research by preceding scientists. Today, however, Darwin has become so famous that mountains, cafes, and even a city are named after him. Conversely, the scientists that made his theory possible are not household names. The Darwinian Revolution, then, is not a revolution that can be attributed to one person. It may not even be able to be considered a revolution at all.

This is not to say that Darwin was not a brilliant scientist, because he was. Modern science would not be as advanced as it is today without his research. However, it is also important to remember the other scientists that shaped his work. For example, Alfred Wallace also put forth the theory of evolution by natural selection, and some of his work was published with Darwin’s, but he did not receive nearly as much credit for the theory as Darwin. Herbert Spencer and Robert Chambers both wrote about evolution before Darwin but also have not reached the same level of fame and are not credited with the idea. It can be argued that Darwin’s Origin of Species is the most famous account of evolution by natural selection because it was supported by the most evidence. However, is Darwin a revolutionary if his evidence is based of the forgotten works of his predecessors and not entirely his own findings?

The Darwinian Revolution can be compared to the Scientific Revolution in that it happened over more than a century of time and thus its status as “revolutionary” is contested. Darwin devised his theory of natural selection years after his voyage on the Beagle, during which he simply collected evidence but did not yet fully understand what it meant. Even Darwin’s most notable work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, did not put forth the entire theory of evolution; it provided evidence for the theory of natural selection. All of evolutionary theory was not put together until as late as the 1950s, despite the fact that Darwin’s book is often credited with explaining the theory in its entirety. The now renowned symbol of “Darwin’s finches” was not actually made famous until the 1950s. All of this now seems like overwhelming evidence that the Darwinian Revolution was not an immediate revolution, but a gradual accumulation of evidence and ideas from different sources over about 150 years.

The remarkable fame Darwin has acquired over the years is an interesting phenomenon, perhaps explaining a certain characteristic of human nature. Humans seem to have a tendency to idolize one person within a movement, to designate one figure the “hero” they decide to revere. However, the Darwinian Revolution, and all revolutions and movements, are almost always based of the work of many. “Heroes” have to draw inspiration from somewhere, learn from someone. Revolutions and drastic changes in thought do not come out of nowhere, so it is important to study a revolutionary’s predecessor and give them credit.


Almost anyone that you talk to will have some idea of Darwin. That theory of evolution cartoon will probably also come to mind. The common knowledge of Darwin, and the household use of his name is the result of a revolution over a much longer period than we might normally consider. Janet Browne’s lecture on Darwin was very insightful and here I rely on her wealth information and insights. The evolution cartoon and the idea of “progress” was added not by Darwin, but by others in the mid-1900s. Romanization of Darwin was initiated by family member and other Darwin proponents. So how much of the real Darwin does the average person know? Not much. But does that matter in terms of a revolution?

Darwin could have been a name heard much less often. Darwin became an icon for others to use no matter their agenda. Even immediately following his death, friends of Darwin asked that he be buried in Westminster Abbey (against his wishes), turning him into a “secular saint.” Darwin was the centerpiece of the Natural History Museum. His legacy hit a road block when the Darwin statue was removed in the 1920’s when he started to seem a little too old fashioned. After all, genetics was the new science of the early 1900’s, and important connections were not initially drawn to Darwin’s work. But then Darwin came roaring back into the spotlight. It’s fascinating how a scientist who many deem as incredibly important can go in and out of fashion like anything else. It makes me wonder if Darwin will ever leave the mainstream in the future again.

It is hard to understand Darwin as part of the pop culture context. From a t-shirt to a town named after him, the story of a revolution including many other individuals cannot be mentioned. Alfred Russel Wallace came to similar conclusions as Darwin independently, but only scholars know of Wallace’s incredible generosity in supporting Darwin rather than be bitter about him. Wallace got much less glory and many fewer t-shirts.

I can draw a somewhat vague connection to a Janplan class that I took here at Colby. It was called “Strongmen and Populism in Modern Spain and Latin America,” and one of the people we came across was Zapata. Zapata started out totally unknown, then became the leader of a movement in Mexico and an idea that became more important than he did—especially after his death. I’m sure we could name numerous other examples where a person or an icon is adopted for a wider movement or revolution. Maybe this is what Darwin has become? Though he certainly has the resume to back his fame.

Darwin’s a Revolution?

Janet Browne from Harvard University came to Colby to speak on the Darwinian Revolution. Two points Browne elaborated on was how Darwin is not the only one to speak on Evolution and that the Darwinian Revolution is not really a revolution. Her talk spoke a lot on Darwin’s life and what we have made of it; she spoke of his upbringing, his death and how he’s remembered today. After listening to her expertise on Darwin, I think Darwin was a smart guy who was simply lucky to be recognized as greatly as he is today. So what was it that made Darwin so well recognized, and considered revolutionary?

Of course Darwin is well recognized for his evolution theory. A theory that has greatly contributed to the sciences and has been studied internationally and will continue to be studied for years. Darwin should be well recognized for his work, however, according to Janet Browne there were also other great people who contributed to the evolution theory but are not as greatly publicized – Herbert spencer, Robert chambers, Russell Wallace, etc. Thus, Darwin is brilliant for his work but he was not the only one contributing to such a great theory.

Through Browne’s talk we saw what an ordinary guy Darwin was. Other than being super intelligent, Darwin was a family guy, he married Emma Wedge Wood, who was also wealthy, and they had a bunch of kids. It is also worth mentioning Darwin was an ordinary, privileged* guy. He was privileged to have the money from his parents to move to the rural, Kent ,UK , in a house with servants as of a young age. He had the resources to become educated and have the time to pursue his studies without worrying about working for money. In addition, he was able to use his own back yard to do his studies.

A final point I would like to make about Darwin is how we have come to know Darwin as the great scientist. Today there exist memes, quotes, and sayings said to be stated by him but were actually not, and rather, just inspired by his work. For example, a famous quote that was incorrectly cited as Darwin’s is “Species most responsive to change will survive.” The picture of the apes evolving into humans was also not Darwin’s creation. Apparently, at Darwin’s funeral he was treated like a saint, today, there is a statue of him in the natural history museum in London and his sons even made an effort to incorporate Darwinism into genetics, to continue to branch out his name in the sciences.

I think Darwins’ story is so interesting because this was considered a revolution and is so highly thought of by the people who are very passionate about him, his work and what he represents – the UK. I feel that there is a lot of hype around Darwin and passion for him not only because of his work but because he represents the UK. From this talk we see how he was indeed smart, but he was a normal guy who received a lot of attention. He had the resources to do what he did and was lucky to get the publicity that he got. The people are what keep Darwin so relevant. What does this have to say about revolutions? Well, this shows how powerful those are who get to report history and also have the money and power to make landmarks to commemorate someone in history.



Century-Spanning Revolution?

Darwin and his theories of natural selection are often thought in juxtaposition of God and the theory of Creationism; yet, history suggests otherwise. In Darwin’s life, and particularly in the ways in which his image lived on after his life, there were many associations with religion. Before the idea religion and science must be mutually exclusive permeated around the world, the religious public did not seem to condemn and segregate Darwin and his research as heavily as one might imagine. Although it was recognized that he no longer accredited God to being the ‘creator’ and consequently became an agnostic, Darwin was respected enough throughout the community that his statue was placed in the centre of a museum built as a Cathedral and his funeral was also in a Cathedral.

Similarly to how the Darwin Revolution spanned decades, the potential revolution between science and religion could be in the process right now. The relationship between science and religion has always been a tense and conflicting one, which is especially clear in the Scopes Trials and the ongoing debate of creationism versus evolution, but, it is also a constantly changing and varying relationship. Neither field of knowledge can prove with absolute certainty that their truth is the right truth, and I think people forget that ideas and what we thought we knew to be true can change. Taking Galileo’s heliocentrism theory for example, it was a long and hard fight to get his theory published and for people to take him seriously as opposed to simply shunning him, but eventually, everyone recognized the possibility of his theory and there was a complete 180 degrees turn of thought. The point of this example is not to show that Galileo was right and the majority was wrong, but rather, to show the need for an open mind and consideration of other ideas. At the base of it, there needs to be respect for individual beliefs and an elimination of the strict dichotomy. When will people stop questioning or being uncomfortable with the fact that a doctor, a person of science, can believe in God? Will the next Pope be as willing to speak out about climate change as the current one has?

The possible revolution I hope for may be centuries in the making and continue for centuries more, but I think there will come a point in time when the relationship between science and religion will be a strong and mutually respectful one, when it will not be more shocking to hear of the next Darwin of being remembered in a Cathedral than of them being condemned.

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