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Was Darwin Wrong?

Introduction: Quammen vs. Darwin David Quammen was probably the first to produce a relevant and objective analysis of Darwin’s evolutionary ideas. Quammen was trying to determine, whether evolutionary ideas had some practical potential for defeating the scientific skepticism of religious majority, and whether Darwin was right when searching for animal roots in humans. In Quammen’s words, “evolution by natural selection is the central concept of the life’s work of Charles Darwin. It’s a theory about the origin of adaptation, complexity, and diversity among Earth’s living creatures” (652).

Beyond suggesting that evolution was and is the central element of natural development and selection, Darwin was seeking the means to explain the mechanisms behind selection phenomena. “The gist of the concept is that small, random, heritable differences among individuals result in different chances of survival and reproduction – success for some, death without offspring for others – and that this natural culling leads to significant changes in shape, size, strength, […] among the descendants” (Quammen 654).

In simpler words, weaker representatives produce weaker offspring, and with time useful populations with stronger natural features replace those who do not have a chance to survive. The theory is so simple that hardly anyone would believe it. The results of recent DNA and RNA researches confirm the presence of numerous genetic resemblances between the species. These resemblances have paved the way to creating a completely new classification of species. Darwin was looking for common morphological traits across species – he was paying attention to backbones in vertebrates, and the absence of feathers and scales among mammals.

The growing pool of scientific evidence suggests that Darwin was not that wrong, but why are we still reluctant to recognize the relevance of Darwin’s evolutionary ideas? The problem is that beyond species, science is evolving, too; and only the fittest ideas survive. Science constantly questions the objectivity and reliability of Darwinian ideas against the unquestionable power of religious beliefs about our divine origin. That is why 45 percent of the American population still disagrees with Darwin. Quammen’s interpretation of Darwinism: do we believe?

Despite the fact that the majority of religious American population rejects the acceptability and reliability of evolutionary ideas produced by Darwin, he was the first to choose a purely scientific approach to the problem of human origin. “What made Darwin’s book so remarkable when it appeared, and so influential in the long run, was that it offered a rational explanation of how evolution must occur” (Quammen 654). Biogeography, paleontology, embryology, and morphology formed the scientific basis for the development of Darwin’s ideas about human evolution.

Darwin was not seeking fame; he was seeking scientific proofs that would link humans and the rest of species on planet into one complex network of natural interrelationships. Darwin seemed to have found numerous proofs for the emergence and existence of closely allied species, who inhabited neighboring patches of habitat (Quammen 656). Paleontology has become the key to Darwin’s discoveries, where “closely allied species tended to be found adjacent to one another in successive strata” (Quammen 656). Embryology revealed the hidden facets of evolution patterns, which coincidence could hardly explain.

Morphology was the source of Darwin’s classification of species. The similarities found across different groups of species “gave new meaning to the task of taxonomic classification, which had been founded in its modern form back in 1735 by Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus” (Quammen 657). All these ideas ideally fit into the modern framework of scientific research – the research which ALMOST makes us believe that we have originated from animals. ALMOST – But not completely! So, what is the problem with Darwinian theories?

Why 45 percent of the American population is reluctant to look far into the past and to recognize that Darwin’s assumptions were reasonable? The truth is that beyond all those assumptions and scientific proofs, Quammen himself does not believe that Darwin’s theory of evolution was the end in itself. Rather, it was the means to look at nature through a new scientific prism – the prism that was not perfect, and that has been gradually refined in the process of rapid scientific development. Despite Quammen’s objectivity and his desire to stay unbiased, he must but recognize that not all Darwin’s ideas were true.

Darwin might have been the first to question the divine origin of species, but some of his ideas were deeply misleading. “Being a restless explainer, Darwin floated a number of theoretical notion during his long working life. […] He was wrong about what causes variation within a species. He was wrong about a famous geologic mystery. […] His theory of inheritance turned out to be dead wrong” (Quammen 658); and even when Quammen assumes that Darwin was not right in everything, he is not confident whether he has listed all Darwin’s scientific failures.

The major problem is that science constantly evolves, and we cannot guarantee that evolutionary ideas which have once been rejected will not find their place in future. Antibiotics, infections, genes, and genomes do evolve. Like antibiotics, scientific ideas constantly evolve, too. We may have a pool of solid scientific data that proves the existence of an evolutionary link between whales and carnivorous Eocene mammals, but a profound DNA research will prove this link to be wrong, suggesting that “whales had descended from artiodactyls” (Quammen 662).

Science is never stable; it changes under the impact of the newest research data, assumptions, and research results. A new system of scientific values and beliefs can easily refute and replace the ideas that could have been truthful for centuries. Darwin was the first to draw public attention to the scientific problems of evolution. He has given start to the development of the complex network of scientific subjects and beliefs, but his scientific evidence was not strong and reliable enough to refute and reject the divine theory of human origin.

That is how science is supposed to work: only the fittest ideas survive. Darwin might have caused the revolution in scientific biology, but he was not strong enough to defeat the long-standing religious beliefs about our divine origin. In the light of always changing and evolving scientific beliefs, religion seems to represent a set of extremely stable ideas. The essence of science is to question, while the essence of religion is to believe. Science constantly questions the relevance of previous scientific discoveries; on the contrary, religion never questions the relevance of divine roots in species.

That is why 45 percent of Americans do not believe in truthfulness of Darwin’s scientific assumptions. That is human nature: we tend to believe into unquestionable things, the things that do not make us doubt. Even if we are not religious, and even if we never studied biology at school, we feel that science is a highly unstable area of human performance. Science changes our beliefs; science produces controversial theories and assumptions, and these controversies make us seek the truth beyond the scope of scientific progress.

We seek spiritual experience, but science seems to reject spirituality. That is why many of us would agree to Quammen’s ideas about the changeability of science as such, and the instability of previous evolutionary assumptions, in particular. Darwin was not wrong; it would be more appropriate to say that he was not completely right, and in the light of persistent instability of scientific beliefs we are vainly trying to find a new niche for our evolutionary ideas. Here, religion is very likely to become a refuge in our moral and scientific search for human self.

Conclusion Charles Darwin was the first to choose a purely scientific approach to the problem of human origin. With time, his ideas and assumptions have proved to be completely wrong. His search for a single and relevant answer suggests that in distinction from religion, science is a highly unstable area of human performance. That is why 45 percent of Americans still disagree with Darwin: they prefer unquestionable power of the divine to the questionable truth of Darwinian beliefs about human evolution.

Works Cited

Quammen, D. “Was Darwin Wrong? ” p. 651-63.

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