Friday, June 20, 2008

Is Darwin Deserving?

The wonderful Olivia Judson addresses an interesting question in the history of ideas in her latest blog post: is Darwinmania justified? That is, does Darwin deserve his immense reputation and all that acclaim?

My answer, is 'yes, most definitely.' I've read a couple of his books, several biographies (recently a superb very short introduction), and many shorter pieces on his life and the more I find out, the more I respect Darwin as a scientist. Judson agrees, arguing:
And the “Origin” changed everything. Before the “Origin,” the diversity of life could only be catalogued and described; afterwards, it could be explained and understood. Before the “Origin,” species were generally seen as fixed entities, the special creations of a deity; afterwards, they became connected together on a great family tree that stretches back, across billions of years, to the dawn of life. Perhaps most importantly, the “Origin” changed our view of ourselves. It made us as much a part of nature as hummingbirds and bumblebees (or humble-bees, as Darwin called them); we, too, acquired a family tree with a host of remarkable and distinguished ancestors.
'Darwinmania', it should be noted, need not be exclusive: Judson argued convincingly back in January (as I noted then) that Alfred Russell Wallace deserves more recognition. Darwin was a great scientist - up there with Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein - but that doesn't diminish Russell in absolute terms. While Russell went off the rails later in his life (he fell for Spiritualism), he made extremely important contributions in his own right.

But, yeah, Darwin is the man.

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