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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

American history week- Evolution

In Pennsylvania this week parents have gone to court to argue against the teaching of Intelligent Design in their local schools. (BBC) This theory suggests that because living beings are so complex they must have been designed by a creator. The parents say that it should not be taught alongside Darwinian evolution because it is more religion than science. Evolution (BBC)was first* widely proposed in the nineteenth-century by Charles Darwin. His best known publication on the matter is On the origin of the species, which can be read on Project Gutenberg and on the BBC website linked above. Darwin found that species gradually change over time in response to developments in their natural environment. The plants and animals that are best suited to particular habitats survive to pass on their genes whilst those that are not die out. Over thousands and millions of years these changes create new species. For example we share a lot of genetic material with chimpanzees, as well as common ancestors.

I think Darwinian evolution is accepted as fact by the majority of Britons but it is still controversial in many parts of America. Certain types of Christianity have such a strong presence in the states that a significant part of the population prefers to believe the Biblical explanation for the origins of the world. (i.e. God created the world in seven days.) Evolution has been the subject of American court cases before. This week's case reminds many in America of the Monkey trial of 1925 when John Scopes, a biology teacher, was charged with illegally teaching the theory of evolution. You can read a detailed account of it here.

* Darwin was not the only person to come up with ideas about evolution. The early 18th-century botanist Linneaus came close and George Louis Leclerc discussed the idea in a 1774 publication. You can read more about them and other pre-Darwinian evolutionists here.

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