One hundred and fifty years ago Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species, revealing his theory of evolution. It was a revolutionary idea that underpins all of modern biology.
His great, great grandson Chris Darwin lives in Australia and has the following comments.
On evolution and climate change
‘Just as 19th Century England was in denial that animals and plants could change so we in the 21st Century are in denial that the climate can change. Some progress in eradicating this denial has been made in the last five years but we need to come to our senses and wean ourselves off fossil fuels and destroying forests. The sooner we do it the better, because our descendant may overlook our finer qualities if we bequeath them a rapidly changing climate.’
On human evolution
‘Over the last 100 years human evolution has been going backwards. I, for example, should be dead. I carry bad genes and I have only survived to reproduce due to the considerable assistance of modern medicine. Clearly I am delighted by this but from a purely genetic point of view I am a backward step for humanity. I suspect over the next century parents will start to screen developing offspring in the womb to check for genetic weakness and terminate the weak ones like me. Is that good, is that bad? Now there is a question. I suspect that it will happen simply because every parent wants to give their children the best chance of a good life. We are genetically programmed that way.’
Why does On the Origin of Species matter?
‘If a fundamental principle of a society is incorrect, then inevitably much of the philosophy of that society will also be incorrect. In the early 19th Century in much of the western world it was assumed that humans were made in the image of God and that we were God’s chosen species. That inevitably influenced much of the world view of the people of that time. The theory outlined in The Origin of Species implied that humans are probably just a very charming, very intelligent ape. That has fundamentally changed the world view of anyone who believes that and so can explain much of both the good things and the bad things that have occurred over the last 150 years. The Origin of Species matters.’
How will our ideas of evolution have changed by 2059? 2109? (the 200th and 250th anniversaries of The Origin of Species)
‘There is a light-hearted motto that says: “Never make predictions… especially about the future”.
‘Consequently, I always shy away from making predictions, mostly because it is so hard to predict what the charismatic people of the day will be saying and so driving the society in that direction.
‘However, I would be happy to say what I hope will have changed by 2059 and 2109. It took about two or three centuries for Copernicus’ ideas for our solar system (that the sun not Earth is at the centre of the universe) to be generally accepted. Although I accept that Charles’ theory is more confronting than Copernicus’, I like to think that information travels faster and attitudes change quicker today. So I hope, over the next 100 years, we will come to some kind of agreement of where we have come from so we can make a plan of where we want to go to.’
How will we, our world, wildlife and/or livestock have changed/evolved?
‘This is a very important question, maybe the most important question. This is what I would say: Each human has an extraordinary ability to nurture and an extraordinary ability to destroy. Humanity’s future and indeed planet Earth’s future will be decided by which of these two abilities we choose to feed.’
Chris is available for interview about evolution, Origin, Darwin and life in his shadow. Please contact Niall for Chris’s contact details.