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February 12, 2011

Happy Darwin Day!

There have been a few ideas, through history, that completely revolutionize how we think about the world and jump start a long path of scientific inquiry: Copernicus' heliocentric model of the solar system and Newton's laws of motion and gravitation are two striking examples. These provide a fundamental base for modern astronomy and physics. 152 years ago, a book was published that presented a similar fundamental base for all of biology. This book was titled On the Origin of Species, and it was the first to present the idea of evolution by natural selection.  Every field remotely related to biology - ecology, genetics, paleontology, medicine, and more - provides evidence for and is influenced by this the fact of evolution. Today would be the 202nd birthday of its author, Charles Darwin. So, to honor the man and celebrate his idea, have a slice of Darwin cake and look around you at the incredible diversity of life on this planet.

There's a lot of opposition to evolution in the general public, which is an issue I deal with frequently and will likely discuss in more detail in the future. For now, though, I want to leave you with a sense of how beautiful and incredible our planet is, and how much more so considering every living thing we see came from a simple prokaryote 3.8 billion years ago.

If you're interested in reading Darwin's works, they are available as open source documents at Darwin Online.

Credit to Ben of the UChicago Secular Student Alliance for making the awesome Darwin cake.