I have given a great deal of thought of how to start my much anticipated series on the 'The Theory of Evolution' (a trilogy in twelve parts) and after considerable contemplation have decided to go back to the origins (no pun intended), and to the man who initiated modern biological thought, Charles Darwin (1809-1882).
From our perspective of a 160 years of established evolutionary theory it is easy to forget the profound affect
book of 1859, 'The Origin of the Species' had on staid, Victorian society.
Intellectually it took time to percolate but theologically, the reaction from the
first, was fierce and overwhelmingly negative. Once the seminal message of the
book insinuated thoroughly, the reaction from the intellectual establishment was
mixed. In science we talk of paradigm shifts. Rarely in science are we confronted with such a fundamental lurch in our knowledge base that we have to catch
our intellectual breath and resume our scientific
journey anew. Although probably not recognised as such at the time, Darwin 's core insight was
one of those occasions. Scientists are often, although they shouldn't be, resistant to change and especially to new concepts which challenge long held
and cherished beliefs. Scientists are human after all, and are trained
according to the standing truths of their time. If there is one feature that comes with age, of which we should be ashamed, is the stolid uncritical acceptance of what we have been
previously taught (Flaxen lowers his head/arse in shame). Our core knowledge is like a comfy
chair. It fits all our nooks and crannies but intellectually it is bad posture.
There is a conceptual atrophy that comes with age and science is often advanced
by one funeral at a time. Darwin
Thoughtful biologists, of the time, were struck by
fundamental insight into the natural world and how deceptively simple his
notion appeared. Indeed, many clever men wondered why they hadn't thought of it
themselves and gaped open mouthed at the man with the theology degree, who did.