This month marks the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. If Darwin were alive today, I think he would be very pleased.

He would undoubtedly be very excited about everything we’ve learned about biology since his time. Like the rest of us, he would be awed by the beauty, grandeur, and complexity of life on Earth.

He would also be pleased that his ideas about natural selection and evolution are to date the only scientific explanation for all of this. His ideas pervade every aspect of modern biology from medicine to genomics to ecology.

His theories dominate because they are supported by mountains of evidence (Read Why Evolution is True to find out more about the data that supports evolution. You can click here for a review of the book.). The evidence in support of evolution is so overwhelming that there is no real debate about it among biologists.

Of course, like any scientific theory, not every “t” is crossed nor every “i” dotted. But that is more of a reflection on how science works rather than the theory itself.

A scientist gathers some data and then proposes a hypothesis to explain that data. Then the scientist does some experiments to test the hypothesis. The new data either supports the hypothesis, requires that the scientist modify the hypothesis to fit the new data, or requires the scientist to come up with a new hypothesis that better explains the data. Then scientists repeat this process over and over again until the hypotheses can be unified into a theory.

This has gone on for 150 years or so for evolution and if anything, evolution is stronger than it was before. Sure, every now and then a hypothesis within the theory needs to be modified but the theory remains as strong as ever.

In fact, no point of contention has yet been raised that is the straw that will break evolution’s back. And there is nothing obvious on the horizon that will.

Darwin would also probably not be surprised that his theory remains controversial because it seems to fly in the face of a Creator. Which is of course nonsense. Despite worries about how Earth being the center of the Universe would cast doubts on the Creator, Christianity survived Copernicus and Galileo. And it will survive Darwin as well.

I heard this interesting interview on NPR over the weekend with Richard Dawkins about his book, The God Delusion. In the interview, Dawkins states that it seems unlikely to him that God would create a Universe that could be explained by natural causes. I disagree.

My understanding is that Christianity is based on faith. If a Creator made the Universe in such a way that scientists could show the Earth was 10,000 years old, then of course a Creator exists. That is the only possibility. So where is the faith in that? How would it be different than the Creator greeting each person and welcoming him or her to the Creator’s Universe?

To me it makes sense that a Creator would make a world that was or could be formed naturally. In which case it doesn’t really matter scientifically whether life arose on Earth through a Creator or by chance. Both ways require evolution. Thank you Charles Darwin for giving us this great framework within which we can understand life here on Earth.

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Happy Birthday Charlie! 17 February,2009Dr. Barry Starr

Author

Dr. Barry Starr

Dr. Barry Starr (@geneticsboy) is a Geneticist-in-Residence at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, CA and runs their Stanford at The Tech program. The program is part of an ongoing collaboration between the Stanford Department of Genetics and The Tech Museum of Innovation. Together these two partners created the Genetics: Technology with a Twist exhibition.

You can also see additional posts by Barry at KQED Science, and read his previous contributions to QUEST, a project dedicated to exploring the Science of Sustainability.

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