12th February, Darwin Day
Monday 12th February is Darwin Day, the anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin in 1809. Scientists, Humanists and Rationalists around the world will be celebrating Charles Darwin’s birthday in a variety of ways.
Charles Darwin’s book The Origin of Species set out his theory of evolution by natural selection.
Whenever I get the chance, I tell children in Suffolk schools about evolution. It’s surprising, and worrying, how few seem to know much about it. Unless they know the truth, they are susceptible to the lies being promoted by Creationists who are distributing “Intelligent Design” teaching materials wherever they can.
This is how I’ve introduced evolution in schools:
Since I started this sentence, the Earth has travelled 100 miles around the Sun, the Sun has moved 1,000 miles in its circuit of the Galaxy, and the Orion Nebula has moved 100,000 miles relative to us.
A few years ago, NASA took a photograph with the Hubble Space Telescope, leaving the shutter open for 10 days. The 10 inch square photograph is of an area of space which to the naked eye is about the same size as a grain of sand viewed from 6 feet away. To cross it at 10 times the speed of light would take 300,000 years. There are about 1,500 galaxies in the picture, each containing billions of stars. Here we are, whirling round a relatively small star, a tiny planet in all the vastness of space.
3½ billion years ago Earth was uninhabitable. Half a billion years later simple organic compounds were formed – the basis of life. It was a long time before DNA evolved, which made more complex life forms possible. The trilobites and ammonites appeared about 570 million years ago. Insects appeared about 300 million years ago. The dinosaurs were much more recent, and if we represent the history of earth with a diagram of an hour in time – a clock face – human beings have only appeared within the last minute or so.
There’s no evidence for the theory of creation, but plenty of evidence for evolution. The odds against us being here at all are amazing. The variety of species is amazing. We are amazing. Why invent supernatural explanations for life, when the natural world is so amazing and there is still so much more to learn? Humanists apply science and reason to the understanding of the universe and our origins.
Further reading – We’re all monkeys.