When leading scientific theories and concepts somehow manage to find a way to your dinner table and become the subject of discussion while you much down on beef and boiled broccoli, there’s a chance you might have nothing to add to the conversation. And after hearing comments and arguments made by the rest of your company or family members, you would have wished you had a proposal to make. There are many breakthroughs that one could call upon, but there is one theory that has altered the way the human race thinks about how life had come about, and the changes millions of species around the world have made in the past to get to where they are today. The idea of simple organisms migrating, dying off, adapting, thriving and changing to fit their needs of survival was unheard of, or solely disregarded, for it was not supported by many or misunderstood. That is, until one man, Charles Darwin and his evolutionary theory of natural selection was presented for the world to take into consideration. He provided mass amounts of evidence after traveling to the Galapagos Islands for research to support his ideas and eventually, his fundamental proposals would forever change the world of science, anthropology, philosophy, and faith.
To begin, Darwin tells us that every species (within populations) contains variation; they exhibit different physical features and/or behaviours from one another. Some examples include body size, voice properties, and numbers of offspring. These abbreviations can range from extreme shifts to minor alterations, and could also be beneficial or harmful. Changes in a species can occur due to environmental factors, such as weather in a certain location, prey and predator situations (camouflage or "blending in" with surroundings), or the simple day to day functions, like eating or drinking. During his stay on the islands, Darwin studied Galapagos finches (a native bird of the area) and observed their diverse beak structures. These varied beaks allowed for specific advantages in their quest for food, such as one being able to crush the shells of seeds or another for grabbing insects.
Another factor he recognized was the idea of inheritance. Characteristics in a species are passed on from the parent to the offspring, some weak, some strong. Depending on the trait and the area that species lives in, it could act as an advantage or disadvantage in their success for survival. For example, during the cold Canadian winter months, an animal who inherited the trait of a thicker fur coat from their parents would thrive versus an animal who inherited a thinner coat and struggle to maintain body heat. In Darwin's case, he explored the hummingbird and the differences in their bills. In particular regions, only limited flowers can be found in which a hummingbird can receive nectar from. The flowers vary in size and depth, and the length of the bird's bill will allow them to get the nectar they need from those flowers. The birds living in this area will pass on the trait of a certain bill size to its offspring so they have the same ability to feed from that vegetation. This characteristic will continue to be passed on from generation to generation of this particular organism, and in this case, is beneficial.
Lastly, Darwin introduced the concept of evolution, as well as its infamous nickname, the "Survival of the Fittest". This final point explains how species who had immigrated to new areas were able to adapt to their new settings, provide the necessities (food, shelter, etc) and avoid predators in order to reproduce. Over time, its characteristics change and individuals with these changes passed them on to the offspring. With these developments, the species flourishes, and the population grows. Meanwhile, a species who has not developed the changes to be successful will wear, and the previous characteristics will be passed on to the offspring, who will struggle to survive. Eventually, the rate at which reproduction was once equal to mortality will decrease, and the species will be lead to extinction. This process applies to all organisms; plants, animals, amphibians, and insects, but does favour in individuals with a greater chance of reproduction and increased development. It’s up to the species as to whether or not it evolves to meet its surroundings, and this is how dominant organisms are formed in regions around the world.
As one can see, Darwin clearly had his work cut out for him, for proving such a theory was not easy. It was criticized by other scientists and religious leaders for its controversy to their own beliefs, but later was accepted as a possible answer to how the environment manages itself. To sum up his conclusions, Darwin published On the Origin of Species, his own work of literature to expand on his thoughts. Scientific naturalism would become a phenomenon, unifying the life sciences, specifically biology, and lead the idea of evolution. So, the next time you’re gathering for supper and feel the need to contribute, bring our good friend Darwin and natural selection to the table. Not only will you look intelligent (temporarily, at least), but you just might teach someone a thing or two on this fundamentalist and his great contribution to our world.