Darwin and Currency of the Idea of Evolution in the 160th year of On the Origin of Species

By the end of November (November 24), On the Origin of Species, the monumental work of Charles Darwin, will celebrate its 160th anniversary. With the 160 years that have went by, this book and this theme continue to be at the heart of new studies with every passing day, let alone losing its currency as an idea of evolution that is not limited to biology in general. Let’s focus on this matter.

First and foremost, if we are to start by saying at the very beginning what can probably be said at the end: the topic of evolution is not a topic, in which the “controversial” questions of “whether it is true or not” are current. The functioning of evolution points out a process that progress infallibly under suitable given conditions. The existence of this process is not a matter of discussion or an agenda topic within scientific circles. The fact that it is still being discussed as if it were a controversial topic on an unscientific and superstition-filled ground is literally caused by the lack of knowledge. It is naturally not possible to be involved in any field with “insufficient knowledge”.

As emphasized by many esteemed researchers writing in this field, there are few fields, which have been proven with evidences like evolution and which have solid grounds formed through countless studies made each and every moment. We should not get it out of our minds. Moreover, we should keep in mind that the idea of evolution is in the roots of daily life and of many branches of ordinary medicine.

Despite the colossal 160 years that have passed by, evolution is a style of explanation that fundamentally preserves its currency and meaning. By years, simultaneously with the developing scientific opportunities, it has increased its power even more. It is an earthly theory as it is a model that explains the earth in an earthly manner with concrete evidences belonging to this earth. It makes no references to unknown things that go beyond a specific world of knowledge, exceeding the earth. It does not include any secret structures under any circumstances.

It is a field that is filled with evidences contributed by genetics and other branches, beyond being an unproven thing as usually claimed by those who position themselves against evolution. Its mechanism and functioning are obvious. It focuses on different moments of vitality on a broad spectrum from the adaptation of species to different conditions to the appearance of a new species.

While doing this, evolutionary biology and other scientific fields become integrated. It is possible to trace the history of both formation and development of the species based on the age estimation of a fossil. It is also fundamentally fed by fields, such as archeology and anthropology, throughout this process. It is possible to measure the age of a fossil quite accurately through age estimation techniques, such as the carbon test. All of these are scientific models of explanation that strengthen biology’s hands in understanding what evolution is. Once again, it is obvious in this example that science shows that it is capable of making a stronger explanation in its relations with other fields.

Indubitably, “evolution” is first and foremost a biological concept. It is not surprising at all that such a theme comes to mind when one speaks of Darwin. Yet at the same time, Darwin adapts this concept to the discussion at ethical levels, which he discussed in his book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. The relation between ethics and evolution is as impressive and educative as the topics included in the book titled On the Origin of Species that will celebrate its 160th anniversary. The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex is an essential foundation against the tendency to consider nature an absolute field of competition and fight. It proves that other relations are also essential, not just the fight and struggle.

Because, naturally, there is a fight of existence in nature. Yet, on the other hand, nature, together with the animals that are a part of that nature, has also a collaborative aspect, which has been denied to be seen and swept under the carpet for a long time. Species stand out with their collaborative attributes, together with their fight for existence. Using the concept of existence, it is difficult to explain the adoption of a left-alone baby chimpanzee by other adults, or the acts of a gazelle that risks itself to save a baby. There is an underlying “ethics” here.

Darwin makes it a fundamental problem why specific acts, which make humans perceived as renunciative, collaborative and moral creatures, are not worthy of similar titles when done by animals with essentially the same contents. We can say that a similar impulsion of vitality is an extremely common trait belonging to animals and that this has had an evolutionary progress.

Thus, Darwin explains with various examples that the collaboration between animal species is a normal concept rather than an exception. Focusing solely on biological characteristics on the topic of evolution is a fundamental deficiency in this regard. Because evolution is also a principle of functioning of behaviors and ethical field, as well as biology. Both behaviors and ethics are learned under given social conditions and passed down to next generations.

Undoubtedly, this is not something like the transfer of genes, yet it is seemingly challenging to claim that there are major differences with regard to the mechanism. Behavior is also learned, taught and transferred. New generations build new ethical data sets by adding new data on what they have seen from previous generations. The acts of their ancestors give them a direction, although it is only partial.

The last sentence of On the Origin of Species ends with impressive depictions of the book and of the field: “… there is grandeur in this view of life comprehending that endless forms of the most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”. It is not possible to disagree with this sentence of Darwin. Darwin and his works preserve their currency both in terms of the vitality they hold even today and their power to explain its formation and development, in addition to the articulation of the fact that the idea of ethics is a common trait between living creatures.

Prof. Dr. Kemal Arıkan
Psychiatrist