In Darwin’s Place

Charles Darwin developed one of the most brilliant insights in the history of science: a mechanism that enabled the principle of evolution to unify and inform all of biology. But when he did so, he wrote that “It is like confessing a murder.”

BERKELEY – Imagine that, as a young scientist, you spent years collecting information about the foundations of how nature works. You built your reputation by collecting plants, animals, fossils, and geological samples from around the world, and sending back letters that tracked your development into a first-rate scientist. By the time you returned from a great five-year voyage, you were surprised to find that you were a rising star.

Throughout your trip, and in the years afterward, the mists that had obscured some incredibly simple yet powerful natural explanations lifted. You came to realize that you were in virgin intellectual territory. Your academic mentors and the scientists whose works you had read were continuing to stumble over grand problems that now seemed, if not solved, at least soluble.

People had been talking about evolution for decades, but you have come up with a mechanism – natural selection – that just might explain much of it. You realize that to reveal what you’ve come to understand will not only revolutionize your science, but will potentially shatter many of your countrymen’s religious and philosophical foundations.    

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