“There must be something special, which causes dogs to howl in the moonlight, in that remarkable and melancholy manner called baying.” (Charles Darwin)
For many people, Charles Darwin represents the beginning of the end of their comfortable notions of reality. Even after 200 years since the publication of his ground-breaking “On the Origin of Species” (1859), many people are still threatened by the very idea of evolution and spend vast sums of money trying to prove evolution is wrong.
Their money was wasted. Although Creationists or Intelligent Design-ists like to insist that evolution is “just a theory” it isn’t. It’s a fact. Accepting evolution is not a threat to annihilate the religious, but being able to widen humanity’s perceptions and increase their capacity for imagination. Evolution is more awe-inspiring than anything religion has to offer. That’s why it’s humanity’s single greatest discovery so far, because we can finally see beyond hopes and beyond boundaries into the ever-changing lava lamp of life.
For our ancestors, trying to figure out questions such as “where did the world come from” were real head-scratchers. They came up with intricate stories based on their limited knowledge of how things work. But we’ve come a long way since then. Although creation myths still have their place in art and literary appreciation, they aren’t science. They aren’t facts that can help us with practical issues.
Before “On the Origin of Species”, it was assumed that every species that currently existed had always existed. They never changed. But in studying geology and talking to many geologists, Darwin came to believe not only that the world was a lot older than what he’d been taught, but that there had been many species that died out. If they had been created by an omnipotent being, then certainly He couldn’t screw up so that entire species died out?
Darwin wasn’t the only scientist that came up with evolution. He was just the first scientists to stick his neck out and get his ideas published and then face public ridicule. But a series of very gradual changes widens our perceptions. Humans are not just related to other people, but to every other living thing on the planet. Our species continued existence is bound up with our distant relative’s existence, too. We do not need to look to space to see if we are alone. We have intelligent life right here next to us.
Evolution has opened the human imagination to many other concepts, such as genetics. At first, our species said, “If we couldn’t imagine it, it can’t have happened.” We could imagine a god as maker, but that was it. But after 1859, we’ve learned that how nature works far surpasses our imagination. But bit by bit, through observation and a willingness to learn, our imagination is catching up to nature.