12 February happens to be the birthday of Charles Darwin, considered the father of the theory of Evolution. Darwin was born on that day in 1809 in Great Britain. He described how evolution takes place. There is an evolution among living beings through natural selection. He pointed out why there is a variety of living creatures.
The theory of evolution was a bold principle. It requires great courage to put forward this new explanation of how the world has evolved. Darwin had the guts to explain this theory to the world. This theory spotlighted the origin of Man.
It was considered that God created human beings & other living beings. The common people accepted whatever was told by the religious leaders. Darwin was bold. He knew that Copernicus was considered a mad person as he said that the Earth revolves around the Sun. There was a Scientist who was telling that man evolved through a long period of natural selection & rejection.
There are very few people who succeed in propagating new ideas & convincing the world about it. A lot of people who put forward new thoughts & ideas are forgotten as they are unable to prove their new theories.
In the case of Darwin, he belonged to a well-to-do family as his father was a famous doctor in England. His maternal side too was good. So his family wanted him to study well, but he was not interested in schooling, therefore he went to a medical school, but he came home after he fainted seeing the blood there.
Then his father sent him to a college where priests were trained, but he faltered there too. What was his hobby? Young Charles loved to catch the insects & chase the birds. His father once told him that he would bring dishonor to the family. But the nature-loving Darwin got an opportunity when a British government-owned ship viz HMS Beagle was set to go around the world. This changed not only Darwin‘s life but also the world of biology.
Young Charles got a chance to travel in that ship as an honorary ‘ naturalist’ The voyage lasted for five years from December 1831 to October 1836. During this period Darwin collected a lot of information, observed a lot & noted many things. It was believed that God created the world & there was no change in the living creatures. This was the belief before Darwin.
Darwin observed that many things have evolved in the animals on the Galápagos Islands. He studied the Finch bird & turtles. At that time he realized that nature selects some things & those who are fit go ahead due to permutations in their DNA. Due to this change, the creatures get another chance to multiply. Such species survive. This was the idea formed by Darwin during this long voyage.
After returning to England Darwin began to collect proof for his theory. Darwin was not a socialite as he meticulously studied his specimens, analyzed & compared them with his idea of natural selection. In fact, when his friend Alfred Russel Wallace put forward the theory of evolution, Darwin was not present in that meeting. There was a storm about this new theory. On one side the scientists gradually accepted this theory, but the orthodox lobby hurled baseless allegations against him. Actually, there was no mention of a common ancestor of man & the monkey in his first book “I e ‘ Origin of Species”. Slowly the theory of evolution gained acceptance as the initial opposition receded. Even after this Darwin continued to collect new proof for his theory till his death.
Darwin’s theory of evolution & survival of the fittest got further impetus after Mendel’s theory of inheritance, the discovery of DNA & addition of new species with the help of computers & new technological tools. Today we realize how we evolve by facing new challenges of climatic change. Our awareness of ecology & its preservation is based on our knowledge of Darwin’s theory.
A new branch of medicine called ‘ evolutionary medicine’ has emerged & researchers like Dr. Milind Watve of Pune are adding new ideas to this old theory of Darwin. His life shows that he was also a social reformer.
His theory is like Mount Everest in the field of science. Even today some states in the US prohibit the teaching of Darwin’s theory. In the last hundred & fifty years there have been many ups & downs regarding this theory. Jerry Cowan, in his book ‘ Why Evolution is True’, says that Darwin’s theory is opposed by religious fanatics. Darwin also opposed exploitation & slavery. This frail man educated himself & continued to be a student throughout his life. He proved that the pursuit of knowledge is a continuous process & nothing is more valuable than it. ‘ Na hi gyanen sadrusham pavitram iha vidyate’.