Theory of evolution

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.Evolution of human beings over millions of years from ape-like ancestors

In 1859, a British man called Charles Darwin published a book called On the Origin of Species. This book was based on his studies of creatures he had encountered on his travels to many overseas locations, including the Galapagos Islands. He put forward the theory that all living creatures that exist today, including human beings, have evolved over a period of perhaps millions of years, from more primitive life forms to how they are today by a process of natural selection. Another name for this random development of species is blind evolution.

Darwin was a natural science graduate of Cambridge University and a geologist. He was also a Christian. Darwin did not intend to challenge religious beliefs with his book but many religious believers responded to it with fury. These reasons included:

  • the theory of evolution seemed to go against religious teachings that God made the Earth and created all living things, as they knew them
  • Christians believed that God had created humans 'in his own image', that humans were superior to all other creatures and had a soul that is immortal
  • the theory of evolution challenged the idea that God is the designer of the universe and that the beauty, order and complexity of the universe is evidence of this (the design argument).
  • the idea that living things adapt to their environment was opposed to their belief that God had created the perfect environment for them
  • the Bible says humans were created on the sixth day of creation, not over a period of millions of years

These scientific theories were first put forward in the 19th century, when Christianity was an important influence on people's lives and the way they thought. Many people saw them as a direct attack on their faith. Charles Darwin faced criticism from people who could not accept what they saw as his 'anti-religious' ideas.

Richard Dawkins

Richard Dawkins is a famous biologist and is also an atheist. He is a great supporter of the theory of evolution. One of his main arguments is that if the world had been 'designed', as some people claim, then who designed the designer? For Dawkins, Darwin's theory on natural selection solves the question of where humans come from. As he does not believe in God, Dawkins argues that evolution does not need help from a higher being.

The illusion of design in the living world is explained with far greater economy . . . by Darwinian natural selection.Richard Dawkins

The Darwin fish

The Darwin fish is a symbol used by people who believe in Darwin's theory of evolution. It is a variation of the icthus symbol traditionally used by Christians to secretly show their faith. The ichthus symbol represents a fish. The Darwin fish is similar in design but has added feet to represent evolution.

Darwin fish symbol.