Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Book That Changed The World

It is the 150th anniversary of the most important written in modern times. This book not only changed the world, it continues to stir up controversy in discussions and schools throughout the world.

This book should be on everyone's reading list. "On the Origin of Species" tried to solve the many questions of that mystery of mysteries - where do species originate from - and put into context what Darwin saw and experienced on his travels around the world.

Though Darwin returned home from his voyage in 1837, it took him over 20 years to document his findings, amid the demons that he silently fought. He knew this piece of work would literally push people over the edge, stirring up emotions about life and religion that did not mesh with his. He sought the truth about evolutionary biology despite his feelings for his religion, yet he very troubled with the idea that people would turn away from or even disown him for this very personal book.

The book introduced the theory that populations evolved over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. What does this mean? Mom explained it to me by looking at a population of birds.

There is variations in traits. Some birds are black, some green, etc. Not all birds can reproduce to their fullest potential because the environment cannot support unlimited growth. So let's say the black birds get eaten by cats and they tend to reproduce less often than green birds. The green birds have green bird babies because this is a genetic trait. It is a more advantageous trait to be green, which allows the birds to have more babies thereby becoming more common in the population. If this continues, all birds will be green. Pretty genius, huh?

Darwin also documented that the diversity of life arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution. This is where a lot of the controversy lies. Evolution itself is pretty controversial but the idea that everything came from a common descendant just blew people away. Mom used to talk about this a lot at the zoo because people still think humans came from apes. If that were the case, that humans evolved from apes, then apes would have been extinct when humans arose. That is not the case. Humans did not replace apes through evolution, they branched off from apes. They share a common ancestor and this is what disturbs people. Why it does I'm not sure. The ape branch kept on growing and the human branch took a different direction. That is why there are apes and humans, all primates, living today.

When "On the Origin of Species" was published, biologists quickly accepted the idea of evolution, but for many years rejected natural selection. Natural selection was the mechanism by which Darwin proposed the evolutionary process and to him they went hand in hand. The most famous evidence of natural selection were the beaks of the finches Darwin saw on the Galapagos Islands. The beak of each species is suited to its preferred food and this suggests that beak shapes evolved by natural selection. Each island is different, hence different foods are available on different islands. In order to adapt to a specific island, a finch would have a trait or traits best suited to survive and reproduce. Seed eaters need beaks large enough to break open seeds. Insect eaters don't need beaks like seed eaters since they are not breaking open insects. Some birds ate big seeds and some small, so the size of the seed determined the size of the beak. Controversial? I think not!

When Mom arrived in the Galapagos, she thought she had died and gone to heaven. Darwin had walked these same beaches, hiked over these same crags, and stumbled over the same lava fields over 170 years ago. He had seen the same birds that Mom was staring at in amazement at and it was these finches (and other species) that eventually told the story of evolution ith natural selection.

I am a direct descendant of the gray wolf. In fact, all dogs are just domesticated wolves. Hmmm. I'm domesticated? I mean, of course I am. The gray wolf still exists today, so the modern dog (me) branched out from this evolutionary tree. Darwin didn't get this one right though. He thought the diversity of dogs reflected interbreeding with several types of wild dogs. Nope. We are one species with many different breeds.

The world would be a much different place without Darwin, his research, and his writings. I'm not sure what the world would be like or what we would be saying about where we came from and how, but I'm glad that Darwin took his trip around the world. I would like to take a trip around the world and see things that no pug has ever seen. I don't want to do research or write papers though. I just want to chill out, visit with other puggies, and eat lots of great food. I suspect Darwin might have done some of these things on his trip and that this helped him do the other things he needed to do.


Tweedles -- that's me said...

Do you mind if I just come chill out with you too and eat some good food?
I am not into reading unless it is about pugs having a good time!
Lets you and me write a book!

Stubby said...

Hi Tweedles! I would love to have you over and chill out with me. I will have Dad make us some food and we can play in my backyard.

We can definitely write a book. It will be about our adventures in your magic bubble and all the animals we meet when we travel. Oh how much fun we are going to have!

Stubby xoxo

Hank said...

Stubman....can I git in that action? I think we'd have a good time. Oh, and can I bring some PBR?

PS Good history lesson.

Stubby said...

Hey Hank! Of course you can get in on that action. We will definitely have a great time and it will be even better with PBR!

Stubby xoxo