Don’t forget Darwin

               OK. I’ve started writing this post four times now, and November is almost over, so I have to get this out there. This month marks the 150th year since the publication of Charles Darwin’s book, On The Origin of Species and this year is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth. Darwin’s ideas about living things being driven by environmental forces led to his theory of natural selection which, of course, contributed mightily to the theory of evolution

               The theory of evolution is an amazing insight into how nature actually operates, and it is akin to Galileo’s “discovery” that the earth revolves around the sun (it had been doing just that since it formed, despite our beliefs)*. Darwin’s contribution to natural science, however, is still a point of contention in some places right here in the United States. Worse of all, there are many charlatans and snake oil salesmen who have taken advantage of this situation to peddle their psuedo-science and nonsense to a scientifically illiterate population.

(* Galileo was considered a heretic for what he “believed” and was excommunicated from the church and imprisoned. Luckily for his soul, Pope John Paul II forgave him in 1992 and formally accepted the heliocentric model as true.)

               Rather than lament the sad state of affairs concerning evolution education in our schools, I would like to share with you some of my favorite sites that celebrate Charles Darwin, his discoveries, the theory of evolution and genuine science education.

  • On The Origin of Species: Why not begin by reading for yourself what Charles Darwin had to say? Even though it is a work of science and was produced a hundred and fifty years ago, the language Darwin uses to discuss his observations and explain his ideas is amazingly accessible and easy to follow. Best of all, you can read his own criticisms and discover how this genius of biology worked to clarify what he saw as weaknesses in his “laws of variation” and “natural selection”.
  • Darwin Online: Maybe reading just one book by Darwin isn’t enough for you. If that’s the case, then you can check out all of his significant writings online at this site. You’ll also find a great collection of diagrams and illustrations that accompanied his writing. The only resource I don’t like at this site is the audio files. The computer voice that is used to “read” the works is hard to listen to for a long time. 
  • Darwin Today: Interesting site with announcements to events connected to Darwin and his ideas. Updated regularly to stay current, this site also contains a few simulation flash games that deal with ideas in biology. Think you could be a successful wild plant? Go try it.
  • Teachers’ Domain resources about Charles Darwin: You must register with Teachers’ Domain in order to download materials, but it’s absolutely free. Produced by WGBH and sponsored by the National Science Foundation, this site has lesson plans, videos and slide show presentations that are all suited for the classroom. Bookmark this site and I promise it will reward you well on many topics, not just Darwin.
  • Evolution vs. Creationism: Is Evolution Just a Theory? There are plenty of YouTube videos that deal with the “controversy” between evolution and creationism. The truth is that there is no controversy and evolution is what the average non-scientist would call a “fact” or a “law”. This video should help clear things up a little as it is a critical discussion distinguishing how language can be used to both illuminate and/or obfuscate a position. My favorite part is when Dr. Eugenie C. Scott breaks down the scientific meaning of a “theory” by explaining that, “theories are the most important things in science … Theory to a scientist means explanation. And these are logical constructs of facts, of tested hypothesis, of laws, of all kinds of stuff that taken together and put in a logical descriptive fashion, help us understand some kind of natural phenomenon.” Got that? Good.

               I’m sure there are plenty of other great sites out there celebrating Charles Darwin, but I can’t list them all. Let me know if you find anything out there. Thank you for stopping by and I hope you find something worthwhile.

Copyright © henry toromoreno, 2009. All rights reserved

About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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