February 12th is Charles Darwin’s birthday (Feb 12, 1809 – April 19, 1888). And people world wide are celebrating his life and remembering his achievements. Unfortunately the average person seems to know very little about Darwin and his work. Creationists systematically slander the man without actually having read any of his books. And public school teachers are forced to expose their students to dry factoids and poorly written textbooks. But there is much more to the fascinating history of evolutionary biology and its founder. Countless resources are available online for those who have an interest in learning more about Charles Darwin the man, the explorer, the naturalist, and, of course, the scientist. Here are just a few:
The Darwin Day Page
About Darwin: Dedicated To The Life And Times Of Charles Darwin
London Natural History Museum: Charles Darwin, the Young Explorer
University Of California Museum Of Paleontology
The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online
Talk Origins: Exploring the Creation Evolution Controversy
Darwin Day: Stony Brook University 2008
Darwin Day at Cal UCMP
University Of Wisconsin-Whitewater: Darwin Day Lecture
Check the web and see if a university near you is hosting an event.
HAPPY DARWIN DAY TO YOU ALL!
By the power invested in me by the natural world, I now pronounce you man and ape. You may kiss the bride. Smootchie! Smootchie! Enjoy the honeymoon.
(According to a recent study chimps are better than humans at short term memory recall.)
Of course, the evolutionary link between human and ape is a major thorn in the ass of creationists. Some are known to actually proclaim, “I ain’t descended from no monkey”. Darwinians reflexively respond with the DNA evidence, which indicates a 98.89% genetic similarity between humans and chimps. Creationists scoff. But I think part of the problem is a lack of perspective on the part of creationists. In chapter 6 of his book, “The Descent of Man”, Charles Darwin wrote about the classification of humans as special. He said:
“If man had not been his own classifier, he would never have thought of founding a separate order for his own reception”
Would space aliens find humans so morphologically and behaviorally distinct from apes? The anatomists of the 19th century, long before the availability of genetic analysis, saw a staggering number of similarities between the greater apes and man. Anatomist T.H. Huxley wrote extensively on the “resemblances and differences in the structure and the development of the brain in man and apes”. He noted:
“[T]hat the difference between the brain of the chimpanzee and of man is almost insignificant, when compared with that between the chimpanzee brain and that of the Lemur [the lower apes].”
The sheer weight of all the evidence, not just one portion of it, drew most 19th century investigators to conclude that man and apes share a common ancestor. But the creationist modus operandi is to isolate and mangle specific data, and to ignore the big picture. However, by posing a ‘what if’ argument we can see that the objections proffered by creationists are emotionally based and ego driven. For instance, would creationists hate evolution as much IF it showed that apes descended from humans instead of the other way round? Under such a scenario the relationship of humans to apes doesn’t sound as objectionable. Human dignity is preserved. Humans remain at the top of creation. Unfortunately, for creationists it ain’t true.
Also, how can the human species be defined objectively? Darwin noted that a distinct classification point would be difficult to establish:
“In a series of forms graduating insensibly from some-ape like creature to man as he now exists, it would be impossible to fix on any definite point when the term ‘man’ ought to be used”
We can see that only by narrowly construing the evidence and ignoring valuable biological comparisons can the creationist perspective survive.