Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) was born on 12 February and this day is celebrated by scientists and science enthusiasts as Darwin Day. Darwin discovered the major evolutionary process called natural selection.
Darwin's discovery of natural selection elevated evolution from a philosophical speculation to a science. But it was not just a science that Darwin launched. As philosopher Daniel Dennett rightly points out what Darwin discovered was an algorithmic process. With self-replicators and variations natural selection can happen anywhere - whether it is carbon-based life forms or silica based ones.
Natural selection has become what can be called an archetypal process. Evolutionary biologist and geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky (1900-1975) famously said that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Without evolution he stated that biology would become 'a pile of sundry facts, some of them interesting or curious but making no meaningful picture as a whole.'
Ecologist Peter J Richerson and anthropologist Robert Boyd in their work on how culture transformed human evolution took the statement of Dobzhansky and said that nothing in culture makes sense except in the light of evolution.
Evolutionary framework has become indispensable to understand varied disciplines. For example theoretical physicists today speak of Quantum Darwinism to explain the way the reality of classical physics emerging from the quantum world of subatomic particles and weird quantum phenomena. Even religious beliefs are seen by schools of sociologists as undergoing natural selection based evolution.
The science of evolution itself has been evolving showing the scientific power of what Carl Zimmer calls 'Darwin's Dangerous Idea.' During the time of Darwin the science of genetics was unknown. It was a major gap in the explanatory power of Darwinian evolution. It was a Catholic monastery abbot Gregor Mendel who discovered the laws of genetics. Actually genetics shows the continuity of species while evolution speaks about how species change and evolve.
Darwinian science incorporated the findings and discoveries of genetics including mutations and a new synthesis emerged. Some of the greatest minds of the twentieth century like Morgan, Dobzhansky, JBS Haldane etc. worked on the problem. What emerged is a very powerful construct called neo-Darwinism. But this also gets challenged through new discoveries.
A very good example is the recent discovery that the random mutations which forms the basis of neo-Darwinian construct may not be that random at all. A study of mutations in a modest roadside flowering plant Arabidopsis thaliana by the scientists of Max Planck Institute has shown that the plants somehow make sure that the crucially important portions of their genome do not undergo much mutations. Now evolutionary model also has to take into account epigenetic factors. As our understanding of evolution enlarges more dimensions and more movements get added to this dynamic dance of life called evolution.
Without understanding evolution we cannot understand ecology and we cannot understand how viruses evolve and even how human societies evolve and community dynamics. Understanding evolution has become key for a society to have a healthy life - physically, culturally and spiritually.
By and large Hindu culture has been pro-evolution. Hindus mostly do not have problems in accepting evolution. Year after year PEW studies point out that Hindus and Buddhists are the world's great religious denominations with 70 to 80 percentage of adherents accepting evolution. Yet in India despite having a large student population that too in STEM, has not really started celebrating Darwin Day.
After globalisation while Valentine's Day became a kind of consumerist cultural aggression creating ugly responses more important and more knowledge-centric Darwin's Day has never been promoted among Indian youth.
Akhil Bharateeya Vidhyarthi Parishad (ABVP) the student wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has taken it upon itself to promote Darwin's Day among the students. On 9 February 2022 official handle of ABVP Tamil Nadu - North tweeted that their national conference with the theme "students' power for national reconstruction" commences on 12 February Darwin's Day and would reflect on Darwinian evolution.
The display to celebrate Darwin's Day placed by the ABVP students at their conference venue at Pondicherry had these wordings:
'On Darwin's Day, ABVP celebrates Darwinian concept of natural selection which reinforces pluralism, bio-diversity and oneness in humanity.'
It is quite interesting that in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry while the so-called leftists and the pseudo-rationalists have always refrained from taking up Darwin in a big way because of their fear of hurting the religious sentiments of the fundamentalists who form the support base of these organisations, the ABVP has come forward to take up the cause of science.
Also unlike the proponents of social -Darwinism the ABVP has rightly pointed out how Darwinian evolution reinforces the unity of humanity and also the importance of biodiversity and pluralism.
In a happy coincidence the ABVP conference is happening at Pondicherry - the abode of that saint-poet-visionary of evolution Sri Aurobindo. He sang evolution and the possibilities of glorious future evolution of humanity through its spirit. That in his 150th birth anniversary the ABVP has highlighted Darwin's Day may interest the spiritually oriented people.
One wishes other student organisations in India will also follow the exemplary model shown by ABVP in promoting scientific worldview and harmony.
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