This came as a little surprise. Just days before Charles Darwin’s 200th birth anniversary and the 150th publication anniversary of his most famous book, the Origin of Species, the Church of England has issued a statement of apology for once vehemently rejecting Darwin’s theory on evolution. The statement says, “Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still. We try to practise the old virtues of ‘faith seeking understanding’ and hope that makes some amends.”
It may be recalled that soon after its first publication in 1859, Darwin’s book, the Origin of Species (by Means of Natural Selection), created massive uproar in the Christian England. Many found its content ‘heretical’, ‘dangerous’ to the belief in God, where as others saw Darwin’s theory as a remarkable feat in the field of science.
In a similar reversal, in 1996 the Vatican chief John Paul II stated there is essentially no “conflict” between Darwin’s theory and Catholicism.
Darwin often is one of the easily misunderstood scientists in history. Even college educated people have misconceptions about Darwin’s theory of evolution. I will cite two examples.
“Men came from monkeys” is a common myth some people associate with Darwin’s theory. Darwin never said it himself. What he said is that both men and moneys have evolved from a common ancestor. Guess what? Thanks to modern genetics, now we now (and it’s not a theory but a fact) that we, humans, share 98% of our total genes with chimpanzees.
Some religious people believe that studying Darwin would convert one to an atheist. The truth, however, is that Darwin never declared himself an atheist in his life time. Darwin’s theory, like any other discipline in science, does not deal with whether God exists or not. Science’s objective is to discover the laws of nature.
Francis Collins, for instance, is as much a brilliant molecular biologist as he is a devout catholic. On the other hand, Richard Dawkins, an esteemed Oxford zoologist, is simply an atheist.
In a local context, in Bangladesh, Darwin and his natural selection theory have suddenly disappeared from secondary and higher secondary science text books. Sadly, such an unproductive decision was made in 2001, when the “secular” Awami League government was in power. It’s worse than even the limited mention of Darwin in our science curriculum that was allowed during the Pakistan period. In a recent article sent to Mukto-Mona (www.mukto-mona.com, the only Bangladeshi website that has already drawn international attention for celebrating the Darwin Day on web), Dr. M. Akhtaruzzaman, an esteemed botany professor at Dhaka University and a proponent of the science said, “We must urgently re-introduce in our SSC and HSC Syllabi some simple topics about Evolution such as Darwinism. It is amazing that in the 21st century millions of our school and college graduates will never know anything about Darwin or Darwinism.”
“While food satisfies a body’s needs, books satisfy a mind’s,” Honorable Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, made this beautiful remark during her inaugural speech at the Bangla Academy ekushe book fair 2009 in Dhaka. Among other things, she hoped that the book fair would help her government achieve its goal of bringing about a positive change in our country.
On this auspicious 200th’s birth anniversary of Charles Darwin, may we expect that her government would take immediate steps to re-introduce Darwin and his theories at school and college level, thus paving the way to the scientific growth of our youths?
Darwin Day, 2009