Science is a word derived from its Latin root “scientia,” and in Latin, scientia simply means knowledge. In its more contemporary English usage the word science has come to represent the pursuit of knowledge and method through which such knowledge is obtained and factually validated. Today we refer to persons who practice science as “scientists,” but in Charles Darwin’s time such practitioners were referred to as naturalists. If we wanted to split hairs here we could stipulate, in the most technical sense, since Darwin was called a naturalist and not a scientist his theory of variation by means of natural selection could be construed as non-scientific. However, anyone who understands the scientific method, and has read Origin of Species, would point to Darwin’s work as an excellent model of science in action.
Darwin basically traveled around the world in the position of naturalist aboard HMS Beagle, cataloguing the flora and fauna of islands the ship visited. While visiting the Galapagos Archipelago, a group of volcanic islands about 600 miles off the coast of Peru in the Pacific ocean, Darwin made the most intriguing and extraordinary observations. He noticed that species of lizards had somehow adapted to unique and localized environmental conditions on different islands. To Darwin the anatomical diversity among the same species represented a great enigma and he set out to resolve it.
There was only one source known to man at that time of such diversity in species, and it involved the hybridization of domesticated animals. Darwin addresses this variation under domestication in the first Chapter of Origin of Species and in subsequent chapters builds a compelling case for such variation by natural causes in wild species. Based on meticulous analysis of specimens Darwin collected, he forms the precepts of his theory of variation by means of natural selection. His twenty years of scientific investigation culminated with the publication of his work in Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
While Darwin was never able to identify the mechanism of variation, which subsequently required another hundred years of scientific investigation and discovery to resolve, he did develop a hypothesis that the diversity of lizard species on the Galapagos islands were descendants of a common ancestor, based on his impeccable instance of scientific practice. Had Darwin left it there, there probably would have been little controversy over his work, but Darwin in the last chapter of Origin of Species takes it a step further, extrapolating that Man and Ape must also have shared a common ancestor. Had he omitted this assertion, Darwin’s scientific exploits would have probably gone largely unnoticed, but when the religious consistory heard what Darwin had proposed their rebuke of his theories was vehement and boisterous. After all, if Darwin’s assertions were right and could be scientifically proved, the notion God had created man as he exists today was put in question, and if the Genesis creation mythology was subject to question, then, the premise of the creator god was equally vulnerable to quandary.
In 1953, James D. Watson and Frances Crick pulled together the pieces of the chemical puzzle that is life, Deoxyribos Nucleic Acid (DNA). In the intervening 60 years the sciences of biochemistry and molecular biology has developed an intricate and comprehensive understanding of DNA and is implications. Today, what Darwin referred to as variation is termed polymorphism and this process of genetic mutation has been conclusively and indisputably identified as the mechanism driving the diversity of species Darwin first identified. What would probably have elated Darwin, is the fact, that in 2005 when the Chimpanzee’s genome was finally sequenced and set side by side with its human counterpart, the intrinsic evidence confirming that ape and man shared a common ancestor around 7 million years ago was available for all to see. As it would later be labeled, Charles Darwin’s “theory of evolution” was theory no more but a scientifically confirmed fact.
Today, one would be hard pressed to find any credible scientists who dispute evolutionary theory, but there is a subset of devout creationist believers who can not come to terms with what the scientific method practiced by Darwin and other scientists since have proved. Few if any of them had dared turn a page in Darwin’s book to share in his understanding, and fewer still have any knowledge of the intricate chemical structure which underlies the evolution of all life on this little blue planet. Lacking any knowledge of science themselves, affording them understanding of what they obviously know nothing about, such creationist zealots instead attempt to attack science itself, and by posing frivolous and erroneous questions such as the Helium title “Darwinian evolution: Is it based on science or not?” Why don’t they instead apply the scientific method to discover the first scintilla of evidence confirming and validating the creation mythology, and for that matter, anything in the first five books of the Bible?
Charles Darwin. Origin of Species. Reprint Edition: Barns and Nobel, New York, 2004.
James D. Watson. DNA the Secret of Life. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2004.
Jeremy M. Berg. Biochemistry, Fifth Edition. W.H. Freeman & Co., New York, 2002.