February 12 is a significant day for biologists – it’s the date of Charles Darwin’s birth. This year it’s a biggie – if the old gentleman was alive today he’d be 200. There are various commemorative events lined up all around the world, plus TV & radio programs, books & articles, and blogging galore. Here’s an early contribution from David Quammen:
This year marks the 150th anniversay of the most incendiary book in the history of science, and, coincidentally, the 200th birthday of the mild-mannered Englishman who wrote it. Charles Darwin did not invent the idea of evolution, any more than Abraham Lincoln, who happens to share his birthday on February 12, invented the idea of freedom. What Darwin provided in The Origin of Species was a powerful theory for how evolution could occur through purely natural forces, liberating scientists to explore the glorious complexity of life, rather than merely accept it as an impenetrable mystery. "Nothing in biology makes sense, except in the light of evolution," the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky wrote 36 years ago. That light, which began as a glimmer in the mind of a young naturalist aboard HMS Beagle, today casts a beam so bright we can read the very text of life by it. Darwin would be overjoyed to see how much he did not know, and how much we have yet to learn.
D. Quammen (2009) Darwin’s first clues. National Geographic 215(2): 34-53