25 Oct 2005
The Running Press has been on a roll lately, issuing great slabs of anthologies on scientific subjects. This time, we see the appearance of 1,257 pages of evolutionary thought wrapped around the clumsy title of “Darwin: The Indelible Stamp: The Evolution of an Idea.”
The book reprints in elegant readable type Darwin’s four books: “The Voyage of the Beagle,” “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection,” “The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,” and “The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.” The works are presented as they are, with no footnotes except those Darwin supplied.
Of these, “The Voyage of the Beagle” may be the most accessible, with Darwin describing his journey in a series of diary entries.
Each book is introduced by Dr. James D. Watson, whose discovery of the structure of DNA earned him a share of a Nobel Prize. His commentary is brief, to the point and easily understandable, particularly his conclusion about evolution, especially pungent in these days when school boards are introducing “intelligent design”into the classroom. In fact, it should be made mandatory reading:
Let us not beat around the bush — the common assumption that evolution through natural selection is a “theory” in the same way that string theory is a theory, is wrong. Evolution is a Law (with several components) that is as well substantiated as any other natural law, whether the Law of Gravity, the Laws of Motion or Avogadro’s Law. Evolution is a fact, disputed only by those who choose to ignore the evidence, put their common sense on hold and believe instead that unchanging knowledge and wisdom can be reached only by revelation. No matter what modifications have been and may yet be made about the details of evolution through natural selection, Darwin’s and Wallace’s insight remains as profound today as it was 150 years ago. It continues to shape the way we think about, not only the living world and our place in it, but about existence.