Charles Darwin's Status

Portrait of the young Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin (1809-1892) is the person most people associate with the Theory Of Evolution. His most famous book was The Origin of Species (1859).

Darwin's Status With Creationists

Some Creationists make personal attacks on Charles Darwin. He is sometimes decried as a racist, or a Marxist, or an atheist, or a plagiarist. He is claimed to have said various more or less silly things, to have doubted his own theories (about the eye, or about the fossil record), and to have recanted.

There would seem to be a presumption that a successful attack on the person of Darwin in some way promotes the status of Creationism today.

Darwin's Status With Scientists

He is a historical figure. He's been on many lists of the "ten greatest scientists of all time" (and such), not for having had one idea, but for the scholarship with which he explored and supported that idea. A few of his many books are still read, but they are not used as science texts.

The modern scientific theory is called "Neo-Darwinian" precisely because it's partly different from Darwin's theory. Darwin didn't know about Mendel's discovery of genes, and he died before the discovery of DNA. And, of course, any scientific theory should stand or fall based on the evidence available now. Science isn't supposed to be based on authority, and it definitely doesn't accept tradition as evidence. Whatever Darwin said (or did), the modern theory stands or falls without him.

So, an attack on Darwin will get a sharp answer from the occasional scientist. But most scientists simply wonder why it's supposed to matter.

Last modified: 4 September 2006

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