I want to learn all I can, live as wisely as I can, and savor every moment on the journey.
Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection was so enlightening for science that it’s worth being reminded about every so often, especially since there are still plenty of people (in America) who denounce it without actually understanding what it is.
I used to be one of them, so I know. These people think the theory of evolution says that we all got here by random, blind chance, like a monkey throwing up a bunch of letters that happen to land in the form of a Shakespeare play. Absurd? Yes! The theory of Intelligent Design makes much more intuitive sense than that; it’s no wonder people won’t accept the scientific evidence for evolution, if this is what they think it means. (And given the powerful anti-knowledge force of religion, it’s no wonder so many of us are still dummies.)
But that’s not at all what it is. There’s a crucial concept these people are missing: natural selection.
I sometimes think of natural selection as “Natural Design” as opposed to “Intelligent Design”—instead of a supernatural being who intelligently created the world, nature itself is this creating force (speaking figuratively, of course).
When Darwin coined the term, he meant it to be contrasted with “artificial selection,” or selective breeding. It’s helpful to remember this comparison in trying to understand natural selection. A livestock breeder carefully selects which of his animals mate in order to increase certain desired traits (based on genes) within his population of livestock. Similarly, in earth’s history, nature (to further personify it for sake of comparison) “chose” which organisms would mate with each other, by “letting” some of them die and some of them live to reproduce. Because the ones who lived and reproduced had traits that gave them a survival advantage in their environment over the ones who died, those advantageous traits increased in their species’ population. This process, when combined with the billions of years of earth’s history, led to the evolution of species to bring us where we are today.
That’s natural selection in a nutshell. Keep in mind that I’m a poet-type, not a scientist. But I do have a great (and continually growing!) awe of and appreciation for science, because of ways like this in which it helps explain our world.