Darwin Day Thought for the Day
BBC Radio Suffolk on 12 February 2008
Today is Darwin Day, the 199th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, the man who first described biological evolution via natural selection. On Darwin Day we celebrate the enormous benefits that scientific knowledge, acquired through human curiosity and ingenuity, has contributed to the advancement of humanity, and in particular we celebrate the achievements of a great man.
If he were alive today, I‘m sure Darwin would be fascinated by the current BBC TV series, Life in Cold Blood, with Sir David Attenborough, some of which was filmed on the Galapagos Isles, where he made the discoveries that sowed the seeds of doubt about the conventional biblical explanation for the origin of life. I think he’d have been delighted to find how much of his original theory of natural selection has been confirmed by subsequent discoveries. Being a scientist, he’d also have been interested to learn how other scientists have corrected some of his errors, in the light of research that’s only become possible with the development of modern scientific instrumentation and methodology. It’s possible to date fossils much more accurately now, for example, and discoveries like DNA have contributed to our understanding of the similarities and the differences between species.
Since Darwin’s time, human beings have had a huge effect on the natural world. Natural selection has been overtaken by unnatural development; a rapidly increasing population, industrialisation, the exploitation of fossil fuels, and the wasteful lifestyle of those who live in developed countries. Evolution is a slow process. We’re losing species that can’t adapt to an environment that’s being destroyed by humankind. Darwin might have expected us to have sorted ourselves out by now, but it seems we’re slow learners.
Maybe, if more people catch on to the significance of Darwin Day and begin to celebrate it, it will be because they’ve begun to appreciate the wonders of the natural world, such as those that Sir David Attenborough draws our attention to, and have realised that we are part of it. If our environment suffers, so do we.