Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday Chuck!

Today is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. The notion that life changes over time and the idea that species share a common ancestry both predate Darwin, but, Darwin was the first to provide a viable mechanism by which biological evolution occurs, namely evolution by natural selection. Darwin solidified the idea of evolution and this idea rapidly spread in acceptance among scientists after the publication of Origin of Species.

Evolution's importance can not be overstated. Today evolution is the central organizing principle in the life sciences. To date, it is our only viable explanation for the diversity of life on earth. Data from paleontology, ecology, anatomy and most recently, modern molecular genetics and comparative genomics continue to support the conclusion that life shares a common genetic heritage.

Darwin is a model of how science should work and how scientists should conduct themselves. He was careful, thorough, curious, and dedicated to the details and all the while humble and considerate of his colleagues. Darwin did not have the computational mind of a Newton nor was he capable of the abstraction of an Einstein. Darwin's genius was simply as a clear thinker, ever mindful of the evidence and ready to follow that evidence where it leads. At the center of Darwin's ideas was a broad knowledge of natural history all to be brought to bear on big questions in science.

Darwin and Abraham Lincoln were born on exactly the same day. Both played key roles in building the world we live in today. The bicentenial of their births should be a time to reflect on their accomplishments and follow their example to move society forward.

Happy birthday Chuck!