Thursday 21 February 2019

Three evolution researchers talk about Charles Darwin, evolution on other planets and mass extinction on Earth

February 12, 2019, Max Planck Society
Celebrations are held on the 12th of February each year to commemorate the birthday of Charles Darwin, the 19th-century British naturalist, who achieved major insights into the process of evolution thereby completely revolutionising traditional concepts of life on earth and human's position in it. For Diethard Tautz and Paul Rainey of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön and Ralf Sommer of the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Darwin laid the foundations for evolutionary science, a field of research, which no longer solely considers the past but, instead, increasingly looks to the future.
Diethard Tautz:"Darwin was a revolutionary!"
What, in your opinion, was Darwin's central insight?
Darwin's greatest achievement was recognising the fact that natural selection is the driving force behind evolution. His explanation for the incredible diversity of life on earth was that those individuals that manage to reproduce and pass on their genes to future generations are locked in a struggle for scarce resources. As a result, these individuals are continuously adapting to new environmental conditions thereby spawning a wide range of different phenotypes and survival strategies. An astonishingly simple principle for such an incredibly diverse phenomenon as life!
Was he a revolutionary?
In a way he was: after all, his realisation of the fact that life does not require a supernatural creator came at a time when religion still played a central role in the lives of many people. So, the fact that he freed his mind of religious concepts of the genesis of life could certainly be thought of as revolutionary. The level of blasphemy that this represented is still evident in the degree to which he continues to be castigated by believers in the Biblical genesis myth to this day.
What can Charles Darwin still teach us today?
He was an incredibly close observer, who analysed the insights he had gained on his trips around the world with extreme care and verified them experimentally before going on to draw a wide range of conclusions. His books are virtually bursting with ideas. Whilst that does make for difficult reading in some passages, they continue to provide a rich source of ideas.

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