Happy Birthday – Charles Darwin!

darwinToday’s the day. Charles Darwin’s 200th Birthday. And this year also marks the 150th Anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. It’s an interesting comment on Darwin’s personality that although he formulated the theory in his twenties aboard the HMS Beagle, it took him another 2 decades to screw up the courage to publish it. And, in the end, it was only competitive pressure from Alfred Wallace and a not insignificant amount of urging from Darwin’s contemporaries that pushed him to go public with the Theory of Natural Selection. Darwin knew it would be a conceptual bombshell of epic proportions in Victorian England. He wasn’t wrong. Repercussions are still felt today.

But it also marked one of the most significant shifts of scientific thinking in history. As Theodosius Dobzhansky said in 1973, “Nothing in Biology makes sense but in the light of Evolution“. Since the publication, Darwinian thinking has been applied to everything from Artificial Intelligence to Civic Planning to Neural Development to Computer Games. The concept of emergence in complex systems is simple and elegant yet vast in it’s implications. It could well mark the most important  and change inducing conceptual framework for this century.

I find it amazing that today in America, more people believe in the Devil and angels than in the theory of Evolution, according to a recent Harris poll. One of those American’s was recently running for Vice President. According to the same poll, Evolution does now edge out Creationism (47% vs 42%) but is not that far ahead of belief in ghosts (44%) and UFOs (36%). It just shows how beliefs will trump rationalism. Darwin’s theory is a classic example of parsimony: a simple idea that is breathtakingly profound.

So, I offer a sincere Thank You and Happy Birthday to the quiet and gentile biologist that was born 200 years ago today in Shrewsbury, England. Well done Charles, well done.

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