Darwin's Legacy

Climbing Mount Improbable (Review)

The Blind Watchmaker (Review)

Darwin's Dangerous Idea (Review)

 


Universal Darwinism and Biology

Charles Darwin was able to explain design in the biological world as a result of a simple repetitive process: the Darwinian Algorithm. In the over hundred and forty years since he proposed this explanation it has continuously gain explanatory power and is now considered the central organizing principal in the field of biology.

In 1953 the structure of DNA was revealed by Watson and Crick. DNA encompasses the molecular framework for Darwinian reproduction and heredity. DNA is a replicator and is at the seat of the Darwinian algorithm, the essence of evolutionary theory. It is DNA that is at the heart of reproduction, it is the molecular form in which the information of heredity is communicated and it provides a mechanism for the variation in characteristics essential to the Darwinian algorithm.  Since its discovery study of its properties and functionality has probably been the main research area of Biology. Throughout the resulting rapid accumulation of scientific knowledge concerning genetics and evolutionary history, no evidence has posed a serious challenge to Darwin’s theory. Indeed, the theory is successfully used day in and day out to explain evidence found by researchers.

 Today Darwin’s legacy is very much with us and the theory of evolution is integrated into many people’s world view. Essential to the environmental movement is the understanding that all life is related and that we are greatly dependent on this web of living things. There are no longer any laws in western democracies forbidding the teaching of evolution. In America the best the religious fundamentalist can manage is to allow the teaching of ‘Creation Science’ along with evolution in some states. Non-fundamentalist Christian religions have given up their attacks on Darwinian Theory. Many are happy to leave explanations of the physical world completely to science. Even the Pope has accepted evolution as fact. One can say that the Argument from Design concerning the creation of the biological world has been thoroughly refuted and even most of the religious establishment has accepted this outcome.

 Following in Darwin’s tradition many of the foremost biologists of the age such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen J. Gould continue to publish best sellers describing the evolutionary process. One of Dawkin’s books, The Selfish Gene, contained an important addition to the theory of evolution. It posited the existence of the ‘meme’ a second replicators functioning according to the Darwinian algorithm. Unlike genetics that operates in the biological realm, memes operate in the cultural realm. A substantial body of scientific work, described in previous chapters, is now assembled providing evidence that the evolution of culture is due to this replicator.