Incidentally, Darwin Day falls on the coming week.
Charles Robert Darwin (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) – one of the few scientists’ names that even a layperson can easily roll off the tongue. Even though the layperson may not have the slightest idea what natural selection is all about. I must admit that I was one of these ignorant people almost a decade ago. Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution was first introduced to me in my second year in junior college in Biology classes. Due to the sensitivity of this topic, it was just mildly focused though. While I could then smoothly rattle off scientific terms like “natural selection”, “selective pressure”, my understanding and knowledge of the true theory was no more than the tip of an iceberg. It was some three years later in my third year in university when I took up a module on Evolution and the interest which has never stopped since then and further fuelled by Dawkins, first got sparked off. Once again, due to the conflicts between some religious beliefs and the science of evolution – the creation-evolution controversy – the class was a small group of about thirty students, and I believe, no firmly religious one among us all.
The Darwinian theory shed light on what had always seemed miraculous and perhaps a work of some Creator’s hand. We Chinese have 女娲 who made humans out of earth. Many religions have their own beliefs that humanity, life, the Earth and even the universe were created in their original form by a deity or deities. The actual truth – at least to people who firmly believe in Science, logics, and Darwin, like me – is simple and more realistic. The answer is the work of natural selection over long periods of time – millions of years. Suddenly everything made perfect sense to me – why we look the way we are, why we function the way we can, the development of marvellous organs like the eye and the heart with its valves working in perfect harmony. Things that look as if they were engineered and fine-tuned to exquisite precision, enough to draw awe even from today’s engineers – they all are works of Nature and nothing more. Unfortunately this theory has been misunderstood by many, many who could not be bothered to read more and understand further, and simply delivered a slap right to its face just because they had thought it as what it was not. Instead they chose the lazy way out of believing that everything that seems so perfect and works so fine, like humans and other animals, was put on the surface of our planet by some “stronger power” up above. Even when this Creationist theory makes no real sense.
This is one of the few reasons why I am a practioner of freethought/agnosticism (bordering on agnostic atheism). Of course being brought up by negligibly religious parents played an important part. When something doesn’t exist in your life all this while and you are still living your life perfectly well, its nonexistence doesn’t matter at all.
The theory of natural selection and evolution is one of the several reasons why people all around the globe celebrate the 12th of the second month annually and name it the Darwin Day to commemorate the anniversary of the birth of one of the most eminent scientists ever lived. The celebration of Darwin’s work and tributes to his life have been organised sporadically since his death at age 73. 2009 will mark an important year for Darwin Day celebrations as it will be the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, and will also mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a book which I’d tried to embark on years ago but failed miserably at that time when I was younger and less patient with scientific books. Perhaps it’s easier to succeed these days after going through the Dawkins books. Today, events on Darwin Day are diverse. They have included dinner parties with special recipes for primordial soup and other inventive dishes, protests with school boards and other governmental bodies, workshops and symposia, distribution of information by people in ape costumes, lectures and debates, essay and art competitions, concerts, poetry readings, plays, artwork, comedy routines, reenactments of the Scopes Trial and of the debate between Thomas H. Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, library displays, museum exhibits, travel and educational tours, recreations of the journey of the HMS Beagle, church sermons, movie nights, outreach, and nature hikes.
However none of these above-mentioned activities is going to take place in Singapore. In a country where religion continues to be a sensitive issue (though I see no wrong in this), Evolution continues to be excluded from the local educational curriculum. In a country where lecturers mention a mere word of Evolution and get childish hate mails from religious students, where the topic needs to be taught in a separate class, children of the society continue to be forbidden access to the truth behind the primates and more. When they say that ignorance is the stumbling block of local students of today, I wonder whose fault this is.