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Teaching Biology Blog

On 'On the Origin of Species'

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Tomorrow, November 24, is the 149th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species, a book that launched a scientific revolution and forever altered our understanding of who we are. In the last century and a half, both the book and its author have become icons, household names that most people recognize but many only know in a superficial and caricatured way. Charles Darwin, morose old man with a big white beard, who took a boat ride one day and got hit in the head with a finch, thus discovering evolution. The theory of evolution, aka survival of the fittest, except it must not be true because it’s still only a theory after all this time.

This next year is going to be a great time for getting to know both the man and the theory better. Events are planned all over the globe throughout 2009 to celebrate Darwin’s 200th birthday and his seminal book’s 150th. There will be something for everyone from the most accomplished evolutionary biologist to the most reluctant student. Some will offer a nostalgic remembrance of times past, while others look ahead to future scientific breakthroughs that stand on Darwin’s shoulders. For example:

Retrace the voyage of the Beagle by private jet

View the evolutionary tree doodles in Darwin’s own notebooks at the Natural History Museum in London

Catch the Galapagos Mountain Boys performing evolutionary tracks from their album Darwin, Darn It! in San Diego

Attend a colloquium on ‘The Impact of Darwinism on Human Sciences’ in Boston.

None of those in your budget or neighborhood? Then check with your local library, museum, and university for special readings, lectures, tours, and courses. Search online for outlines of Darwin’s life and all of his writings, and for analyses of his work. Browse through the coming avalanche of books and articles to learn how advancements in biology and chemistry and genetics since 1859 have enriched and altered the theory of evolution.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
---Charles Darwin

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