Science

What Darwin actually said about man and apes

Following Minister of State for Human Resource Development Satyapal Singh’s comment that Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution of man was “scientifically wrong” because nobody has seen an “ape turning into a man,” here is a look at what the theory in question.

Understanding Darwinism

In his book ‘The Descent of Man’ published in 1871, English naturalist Charles Darwin presented the idea that human beings and apes have a common ancestor. Contrary to common perception, which is reflected in Mr. Singh's statement, Darwin did not say that humans directly evolved from apes. He merely pointed out the similarities between birds, fishes, mammals and reptiles and suggested that all life is related. This, in turn, means that all complex life forms evolved from simpler ones through various genetic mutations.

 

Darwin’s theories have gone on to be largely substantiated by scientific evidence that have emerged in the 20th century, years after his death. The discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) played a pivotal role in helping scientists study the evolution of life through gradual genetic changes over millions of years. Supporting evidence for Darwin’s theory includes morphological similarities like vertebral column and pentadactyl limbs, similarity in gene sequencing in apes and humans, and the comparison among the fossils of the era.

A detail of British artist John Collier's 1883 painting of Charles Darwin is displayed as part of an exhibition in Darwin's former home, Down House, in Kent. File

A detail of British artist John Collier's 1883 painting of Charles Darwin is displayed as part of an exhibition in Darwin's former home, Down House, in Kent. File   | Photo Credit: Reuters

 

Conflicts with religion

Religion has always had an uneasy relationship with Darwin’s theories because they contradict creationism, the belief that life originated and changed through divine creation as claimed in religious scriptures.

In September 2017, Turkey scrapped references to evolution and Charles Darwin from high school syllabus, claiming that evolution is too advanced for high school students. Critics and educators saw this as an attempt to move away from its secular background under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and said that the move will leave Turkish students unable to understand even basic science.

Criticism from the scientific community

Over time, many scientists too have pointed out holes in the theory of evolution. Their reasons have varied from failure to find supporting fossil records to the inability to find a satisfactory explanation for the ‘tree of life’ (which describes the connection between species both living and extinct) in molecular biology.

However, as zoologist Jules Howard argued in an article in The Guardian, as of now, “Darwin’s ideas still seem capable of explaining much, if not all, of what we see in nature.” Additionally, he says, “if a more scientifically accurate way of explaining the diversity of life on Earth comes along, Darwin would be ousted.”

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Printable version | Mar 27, 2020 9:01:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/what-darwin-actually-said-about-man-and-apes/article22485570.ece

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