Happy Darwin Day!

In case you missed it (really, where’ve you been?), today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. This year is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of his most famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

The scientific status of evolution by natural selection is solid and the evidence is overwhelming. A quick Web of Science search on ‘natural selection’ comes back with over 8,000 results. However, the public status of evolution by natural selection remains weak. CNN sums it up…

“The most recent Gallup poll on the issue, conducted in May, found that only 14 percent of Americans believe that humans developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life. Forty-four percent believe that God created human beings almost overnight within the past 10,000 years, and another 36 percent believe that God guided humans' evolution from animals over a much longer period of time.”

That 44% is most disturbing to me, although dinos at the nativity would make an awesome Xmas blockbuster.

I think this number is mostly based on misunderstanding of science compounded by a misunderstanding of the evidence for evolution by natural selection. So, how do you decrease that number? Who should be doing it? Should we bother? Personally, I’ve encountered people who are stubborn in their beliefs and shut down any conversation before it starts. This sort of thing frustrates me and results in me not wanting to deal with the issue. I can do my science, go along my way and leave well enough alone. What good does that do? 

I don’t really have any good answers today except for thinking that my involvement with public education about evolution could extend past arguing with drunks in bars.... I mean, I should do more to communicate science in general in addition to my usual focus on my own research. If as Dobzhansky said"nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution," then any of us even remotely tied to biology should have a good understanding of the subject of evolution. Luckily, we’ll be celebrating Darwin and his big book all year so I have time to post more in depth about various aspects of this issue.

Most of my readers (the few I have, thanks for stopping by, by the way!) are scientists (and my mom) so I don’t want to beat a dead…finch, I guess. If you feel particularly yea or nay about my posting more detailed posts on this- please let me know in the comments!  

Either way, happy birthday, Charles!


EthidiumBromide said...

The whole not believing in evolution thing just astounds me. I have a lot of religious friends. Very religious friends. Borderline scary fanatical religious friends. And even they all go to the zoo and look at the gorillas and look at us and make the obvious association that we evolved and were not one day placed here in our current state.

Whether or not they thing that G-d put an earlier life form here and we evolved is up for debate, but the fact that 44% of people think that *poof* we appeared... wow.

If a human can be created overnight, can The Powers That Be finish my research and write a thesis for me overnight, too? Seems like it should be far easier than creating the entire human race. I'll look for the bound (on the proper paperwork) dissertation next to my pillowcase in the morning.

Albatross said...

God knows better than to do anything related to grad school. That's just how evil it is.