Today is the 150th anniversary of biologist Charles Darwin's landmark
scientific work The Origin of Species
. As the founder of evolutionary theory, Darwin has long been
criticized by creationists
and proponents of "intelligent design."
While scientists brush off creationism and
intelligent design as bunk, they have also needed to correct some of Darwin's work over the years. Here's
what some now believe Darwin got wrong.
- Darwin and Racism Dennis Sewell tells Time
about "the way his ideas were abused in the 20th century and the way in
Darwin was wrong about certain key issues. He asserted that different
races of mankind had traveled different distances along the
evolutionary path — white Caucasians were at the top of the racial
hierarchy, while black and brown people ranked below." Sewell explains,
"he presented racial hierarchy as a matter of science. He also held
the poor were genetically second-rate — which inspired eugenics." (But as Atlantic writer David Shenk argues, much of the blame for distorting Darwin's theories on his half-cousin Francis Galton.)
- Failure on Genetics The New York Times's Olivia Judson explains. "Famously, he didn’t know how genetics works; as for DNA — well, the
structure of the molecule wasn’t discovered until 1953. So today’s view
of evolution is much more nuanced than his. We have incorporated
genetics, and expanded and refined our understanding of natural
selection, and of the other forces in evolution."
- Blue-Eyed Mystery The Seattle Times's Karen Kagan surveys
"one of the unanswered questions about evolution that persist 200 years
after the birth of Charles Darwin." Why did blue eyes evolve several
thousand years ago and why has the trait swept through the gene pool?
"Darwin proposed that blue eyes spread among Europeans simply because
they were sexually desirable. Some scientists find that theory
plausible. Others propose that blue
eyes are a side effect of some other trait that is evolutionarily
useful — although as yet unidentified."
- The Speciation Debate The New York Times's Carol Kaesuk Yoon reports
on the post-Darwin debate over what makes a species. "The problem lies
in how biologists define a species. Today, the most
common definition of a species is a group that is reproductively
isolated from other groups [...] As a result, the origin
of species is, necessarily, considered the origin of reproduction
isolation. Yet both concepts would have been rather foreign to Darwin,"
she writes. Many species "are 'much messier' than a definition like the
concept allows. Consider asexual species. If a species is an entity
that does not exchange genes with others, then every asexual organism,
every individual bacterium, for example, could be considered a separate
species, hardly a useful distinction. And the complications go on and
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