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[Opinion] Bicentennial Birthday of Charles Darwin

Posted November. 17, 2008 03:15,   


“How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that,” said biologist Thomas Henry Huxley upon reading Charles Darwin’s “The Origin of Species” published in 1859. Darwin said all species on earth shared the same origin and had evolved over a long time. His idea of evolution by natural selection challenged the creationist doctrine prevalent at the time. American philosopher Daniel Dennett said, “The idea of natural selection is the best single concept that can be thought up by a human being.”

As history has it, Darwin’s theory of evolution was inspired by his voyage on the HMS Beagle that began in 1831. When the ship arrived at the Galapagos archipelago, he discovered that the finches on the islands had different beaks that better adapted to each island’s environment and resources. While some had short and stout beaks to break hard-shelled nuts, others had long and thin beaks to allow them to eat food stuck in rock crevices. The observation could have been made by anyone, but what set Darwin apart was that he realized the differences in the beaks was no accident, but the result of natural selection.

As a child, Darwin fell behind at school to the disappointment of his father, who was a doctor. Darwin was never interested in studying, but was so obsessed with animals that his father once said, “If you keep on hunting and chasing after dogs and mice, you will be a disgrace not only to yourself but also to the family!” Though he went on to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh to meet his father’s expectations, he later changed his major to law after finding out that he had no aptitude for medicine. Darwin later opted to study theology and became a priest. His interest in animals remained unchanged, however. It was an ironic twist of fate that a priest who was supposed to be a creationism advocate established the theory of evolution.

Next year will mark the bicentennial anniversary of Darwin’s birth. In commemoration, the National Science Museum in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, opened the exhibition “All About Evolution” last week. Featured are rare exhibits including fossils of Megatherium (ancestor of the tree sloths) like the ones Darwin found in the Galapagos archipelago. Visitors will be amazed by its height of four to six meters. They can also see how all living things are genetically related and how great it is to be human at the top end of the evolutionary chain.

Editorial Writer Chung Seong-hee (shchung@donga.com)