Darwin at 200 World salutes founder of evolutionary theory
Two hundred years ago, in a wealthy household in rural England, a
child was born who, in a quiet, dogged and utterly peaceful way, was
destined to become one of the greatest revolutionaries who lived.
Armed just with a pen, Charles Darwin reforged our concept of Nature
and humanity’s place in it, ignited a social debate that blazes to this
day and shook the foundations of religions.
He bequeathed a theoretical legacy - the principle of evolution by
natural selection and the origins of Man - that has not only survived
assault by Creationists and other critics but also remains a pillar of
The February 12 bicentenary has been elevated into a global
celebration, placing Darwin among Newton, Einstein, Galileo and other
greats who not only broke new ground in science but also reshaped our
“For my money, the most important thinker the human species has ever
produced is Charles Darwin,” says evolutionary biologist Richard
Dawkins, author of ‘The God Delusion’ and other works. Darwin’s
blockbusters were two books, ‘On the Origin of Species,’whose 150th
anniversary of publication falls on November 24, and ‘The Descent of
Man,’ published in 1871.
In the first, Darwin expounded his idea of evolution by natural
Species’ mutation is led by individuals whose inherited
characteristics enable them to dominate their habitat.
“In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of
their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their
environment,” he wrote.
Some scientists of the time described Darwin’s words as a stabbing
ray of light, a simple but brilliant illumination.
It explained how some species survived and others were wiped out, and
how environmental pressures sculpted shape and behaviour across the
natural world. It took nearly a century of further work, with the
discovery of DNA, to pinpoint the genetic mechanism of change.
In the second, Darwin applied evolutionary theory to humans, emerging
with the then mind-blowing contention that Homo sapiens and apes
descended from a common ancestor.
“Man still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly
origin,” Darwin said bluntly.
At a stroke, Darwin established humans as just a species of animal,
rather than a lordly creature created in God’s own image that most
people at the time believed. It was a shift in self-perception that was
as humbling as it was, for many, troubling. Evangelical Christians and
other religious groups which take a literal view of scriptures contest
it even today. AFP