It’s Darwin’s Day, when we celebrate Charles Darwin’s birthday. He developed the basic explanation for the variety of lifeforms in biology, with the theories of natural selection and sexual selection operating on excess reproductive capacity. The discovery came up in discussion the other day. Carovee said,
Darwin based his ideas on a) existing theories, and b) his own careful observations. If he hadn’t come up with the theory of evolution, someone else eventually would have figured it out.
This is correct. A number of scientists were groping towards the theory. Not only did Wallace come up with the identical theory twenty years later, based on his years of collecting zoological specimens in South America and the Pacific, while Darwin was still assembling the air-tight arguments for his book, but the whole idea was in the air based on scientifically proven observations such as “New forms of organisms arise where there was a similar population in the same geographic area just before them.” Indeed, Patrick “the Scots Invented it First” Matthew tossed off the theory of natural selection, clearly stated but not elaborated, in an appendix to his book about growing timber for naval ships in 1831.
In spite of the prevailing Creationist myth that scientists are driven by an evil desire to deny the existence of their god, anyone observing scientists or reading their accounts with an open mind receives the overwhelming impression of curiosity, joy, and wonder in discovering how the world works.