Charles Darwin
Evolutionary Theory
Charles Darwin both tested and encouraged how people looked at life after his theory of evolution. The enlightenment way of thinking ruled the thought of everyone. This way of thinking was how science and reason can help better mankind, society and eventually create a utopian society. Anything and everything is possible through man and technology if we only put our faith in it. Enlightenment ideals were helping shape society thought for centuries and Darwin help prove and dismiss many of these beliefs and ideals. His book The Origin of Species is that work that shook the foundation of enlightenment belief and work during Darwin’s time which was in the 1850’s.

Darwin promoted or exemplified how enlightenment ideals could bring about a utopian society. He, just an ordinary person, through observation and reason helped provide a discovery that would shake the foundation of society and thought during that time period and even through today’s time. As humans in order to understand where we are going we must first understand our past. This is the first part of the step to learn how to master ourselves and mastering the society we live in. Darwin helped show that science is a key factor in the discovery of human life. Science helped identify how humans and life in general came about. This had a profound impact on society and religion during his time. This discovery helped showed the limitlessness that science and humans had. It helped show that there truly were no boundaries for humans and that they can accomplish anything if they only use reason and science together. Also, going along with enlightenment ideals, whether it was his goal or not, Darwin’s theory gave many people the belief that there is no God, or at least no need for one. Many enlightenment thinkers and philosophers stated that religion and God were both a restriction on society and human development. Darwin’s theory finally gave scientists some scientific proof to argue or fight with theists about how religion is not needed. This was a big deal as religion was the other dominating force in society besides science during Darwin’s time.

Darwin however also showed how the enlightenment way of thought didn’t coincide with his theory. His discovery was instrumental in scientific development, but also showed a side of science that is still out of our human hands. With Darwin’s theory evolution is based on random mutations in genetic DNA. These determinations on mutations were based on what animal is the most fit and reproduces the best. These are two aspects of life that humans, in of themselves, cannot control. This idea was the opposite of what people had been taught by the enlightenment theory. If this theory of evolution was true and humans had no way to control how they evolve, then how can they create that utopian society that the enlightenment said they were capable of? These were questions that frightened many people or at least caused some disagreement with Darwin’s theory. The enlightenment taught that humans were in control not that it is up to some random chance based on factors out of their determination or control. This theory left human development open-ended and that is not what enlightenment thinkers would have wanted people to be thinking.

Charles Darwin was also criticized for his discovery and many disagreed with it entirely. For example, some state that Darwin came up with this theory to simply disprove religion or that he just saw what he wanted to in nature due to the society that he grew up in. Darwin’s response to this would have been that these accusations are ridiculous. When Darwin first set out on his journey for this discovery to the Galapagos Islands he was hoping to find an argument of divine design in nature to explain adaptations in animals. This was certainly not about proving religion or God doesn’t exist but the opposite. Another criticism of Darwin’s theory is how he just happened to come up with this theory when he did. He just happened to discovery evolution in the “heyday of Victorian laissez-faire capitalism” and that he simply “projected the competitive ethos of capitalism onto nature and then bent all of his observations to fit this pattern.” Darwin’s response to this would have been again along the lines of preposterous. He was a scientist and not some economist who knew all about society and its roles through the religion and science of the time. He got away from the same society that people thought he was trying to shape nature into. Darwin could have easily studied birds from the city or near it as well as cattle outside of London. Instead Darwin left the city to determine how true nature and species work. His discovery was one he did not see coming or was in any way predetermined. It was an observation experiment and that is what he observed. Natural selection is a logical answer to what he observed and he in many ways was following enlightenment thought, but was in no way trying to shape nature around a society that he already disagreed with.

Darwin is going to always be a person of discussion as long as his theory is not disproven as it stimulates great debate for scientists and theists. Darwin helped both reaffirm enlightenment ideals, but he also lead people away from enlightenment thought that they had been taught for the last century. He showed that humans had no boundaries for what they are capable but also showed that that growth may not be in their control as they once thought it was. Darwin had critics during his time and still does today and as stated will continue to have them as his theory causes controversy amongst many people. However you feel about Darwin he made a discovery that shaped science and society during his time and helped create the start or spark for modern science through his theory of evolution.

Charles Darwin obviously played a major role in the development of modern science. As stated in Webster’s dictionary, evolution is “the process of continuous chance from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state. It is the historical development of a race or species.” Evolution is the generally accepted theory of how all the species that inhabit this earth came to be. It is important to note, however, that evolution is not a theory that claims to solve how life on earth began, which is where a lot of the controversy crops up. According to many evolutionary biologists, it is a long and gradual process that has been taking place on our planet for billions of years, and that is why we physically cannot see it. Charles Darwin came up with this theory after he visited the Galapagos Islands to observe the life of such and exotic, tropical region. He came back, unexpectedly, with his new idea of evolution based on his most famous example of the variation in beak size of the finches that inhabited the islands.

Darwin first mentions his new idea of evolution in his most famous work On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, and this was published on November 24th, 1859. In this book he explained his idea about the finches, and his most important evolutionary concept, natural selection. Natural selection is the concept that over time, organisms of the same species will acquire random mutations that will cause them to be more fit, or less fit. Fitness is the evolutionary term used to describe an individual’s ability to survive and reproduce. The random mutations in a species that allow for better fitness will eventually take over. This does not necessarily mean that the individuals are bigger and stronger, but rather they are better equipped, based on their genetic makeup, to survive in the environment they are in. Darwin’s most famous example of natural selection is the Galapagos finches. Darwin noticed that some of the finches had larger beaks, which enable them to crack open big seeds for food, and other finches had small beaks which allowed them to get into small crevices to eat insects. Darwin claimed that both of these birds are finches, but they are different species of finch based on the mutation of their beak size. Another, more recent, example used by evolutionary biologists is the mane of a lion. When males are competing to lead a pride, and gain possession of the females, they fight. The mane serves as a protective barrier over a lot of the vital veins and arteries. The male with the larger mane is better suited for battle, and therefore will gain possession of all the females, allowing him to pass on his genes for a large mane to his offspring. The key point in Darwin’s theory is that the best fit animals are not just the ones that are best equipped to survive, but rather the ones that can reproduce as well. Many of the adaptations mentioned above are all seen within one species, and this is called microevolution.

Microevolution is the idea that changes occur within the same species. Many people, including theists, generally accept microevolution because it does not claim anything controversial. It simply states that mutations within a species can lead to adaptations that could be more beneficial for survival in their environment. According to The Evolution Handbook, “Mutations are damage to a single DNA unit.” A DNA unit is typically referred to as a gene. “Damage” may not be the best term to describe a mutation, but rather alteration may be more appropriate in evolutionary terms. These mutations are what cause evolution to happen, and biologists would argue that over billions of years these small mutations would lead to speciation. This is where much of the controversy within evolutionary theory arises. Speciation, according to Evolutionary Analysis, is “mutations, natural selection, migration, and genetic drift causing populations to diverge and form new, independent species. This is controversial because it proclaims that all life forms on earth originated from one single celled organism. Small evolutionary changes in species over millions of years lead to drastic changes in species over billions of years. This is controversial because Darwin first talks of speciation in his book The Descent of Man. In this book is where we see the first proposal of the possibility that humans evolved from chimpanzees. This is hard for many people, especially theists, to wrap their mind around because for so long people were thought of as being special, and not just another animal, but Darwin limits humanity.

There are many flaws in evolutionary theory that have been pointed out due to this controversy over the origins of humans. The process of evolution relies implicitly on the random, chance mutations in genes across the genome. Most mutations have been empirically determined to be harmful, “well over 99%” (Muller, 35). Dobzhansky writes, in Genetics and Origin of Species, “A majority of mutations, both those arising in laboratories and those stored in natural populations produce deteriorations of the viability, hereditary disease, and monstrosities. Such changes it would seem, can hardly serve as evolutionary building blocks.” Here is a major point in evolutionary theory pointed out. If most mutations cause deleterious effects on those they occur in, then how can something like this be the driving force behind evolution?

One of the biggest arguments against evolution is the theory of Intelligent Design, which was proposed by Dr. Michael Behe at Lehigh University. Dr. Behe came up with the idea of “irreducible complexity” to attempt to prove that there was a designer. This means that a cell needs every single carious complex part in place all at once in order to operate, and perform its specific function (Sweetman, 165). Behe uses the bacterial flagellum as a biological example. There are three pars to the flagellum: paddle, rotor, and motor. If all three parts are not working perfectly then the flagellum does not work at all. “Gradual evolution of the flagellum therefore faces mammoth hurdles. No scientist has ever published a model to account for the gradual evolution of this extraordinary molecular machine” (Sweetman, 166). Another complexity that is often considered by proponents of intelligent design is the eye. The eye has to have all of its parts working perfectly or else that animal cannot see. There are also no transitional states for the eye, and therefore no proof that “gradual” improvements were taking place, which is what evolutionary theory claims.

Behe uses this argument of “irreducible complexity” to refute evolutionary theory, and to say that these complexities could not have happened by chance, but rather are the product of a designer i.e. God. Many evolutionists would claim that this theory of intelligent design, however, is not scientific and therefore has no empirical claims against evolution. Evolution is a strictly scientific theory that is testable, observable, and falsifiable, while they would argue that intelligent design is not because its conclusion is entirely metaphysical. This is an argument that evolutionists can use to defend themselves against any design arguments because the metaphysical realm is not testable and falsifiable in concordance with the scientific method.

Another argument against evolutionary theory that seems hard to ignore is Richard Swinburne’s “Laws of Physics” argument. In this argument, Swinburne states that there is order in the universe, and there are physical laws in the universe that govern our planet. The world is presupposed to these laws and the universe follows these laws with such remarkable consistency with no exceptions that it seems reasonable to think the this underlying order was caused by an intelligent mind (Sweetman, 152). Richard Dawkins, who is an evolutionist, refutes this argument from Swinburne by saying that the order in the world can be explained by science and “blind chance”, but the laws of physics had to exist before earth did. Even Stephen Hawking, a renowned physicist, says that it is unlikely that are world could have been caused by chance.

Works Cited
Dobshansky, D. (1995). Genetics and the Origin of Species, 73.

Ferrell, V. (2001). The Evolution Handbook. Altamont, Tennessee: Evolution Facts, Inc.

Freemon, Scott, and Jon C. Herron, (2007). Evolutionary Anaylysis. 4th Ed. Upper Saddle
River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Sweetman, B. (2007). Religion and Science: An Introduction. New York: Continuum.