Those ignorant of the scientific method cannot understand that a scientific theory, or law, is so because of the preponderance of observations and studies corroborating it. The difference between law and theory is nomenclature only. Newton's laws are elaborated and made more correct by Einsteinian relativity and quantum dynamics. They are called laws for traditional reasons; they hold no prescriptive power. Newton's Laws, like Einstein's Theory of Relativity, are human-made descriptions of behavior, not some edict etched into the cosmic fabric. These "laws" are good enough if you want to land on the moon. They fail when considering the physics of black holes or smashing atoms.

Evolutionary theory is as powerful an explanatory mechanism as Newtonian laws and has been subject to scientific history's modifications. Unlike religion, science self-corrects, converging on a closer approximation of the truth, though some detours may occur. Conversely, religion may threaten you with the Inquisition, as Galileo learned when he suggested that the Earth was not the center of the universe but is not amenable to self-correction.

Charles Darwin was not the first proponent of evolution. The evolution of natural species was already widely accepted in the educated European circles of his day. Six years before the publication of "On the Origin of Species" (1859), Franz Unger, a botany professor at the University of Vienna, was espousing a theory of universal common descent:

“Who can deny that new combinations of the elements arise out of this permutation of vegetation ever reducible to a certain law—combinations which emancipate themselves from the preceding characteristics of the species and appear as new species?”

The fossil record was, and is, undeniable: species that existed before no longer exist; species that exist now did not exist before. Geologic strata were also inescapable. The Scottish geologist Charles Lyell argued compellingly in his Principles of Geology (1830) that the earth has existed for a long time and continuously changed. Note that Twentieth-century cosmology independently corroborates the conclusions of a Scotsman studying the rocks of his native land.

Darwin's contribution to evolutionary theory presented a large body of supportive evidence collected during his 5-year voyage on HMS Beagle and his decades of study as a natural historian. Notably, he argued that natural selection was the driving force for evolution. The essence of Darwinism is evolution by natural selection. There were competing explanations for the obvious fact that evolution of species had occurred. One was theistic evolution, the notion that a god had guided it. Another is Neo-Lamarckism, "the idea that evolution was driven by the inheritance of characteristics acquired during the life of the organism." Thirdly is orthogenesis, "the belief that organisms were affected by internal forces or laws of development that drove evolution in particular directions." Orthogenesis is the naive notion that evolution spontaneously tends from the simple to the complex or from less to more perfection. Finally comes mutationism, "the idea that evolution was largely the product of mutations that created new forms or species in a single step."

I noted earlier that science is self-correcting but sometimes takes detours. During the 1880s through the early part of the Twentieth century, evolution by natural selection fell into disfavor, being supplanted mainly by competing explanations. Darwin theorized that the mechanism for the generational transmission of hereditary factors was the relatively easily disproved pangenisis or blended inheritance. Ironically, Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" was published just before an Augustinian friar and abbot, Gregor Mendel, published "Experiments on Plant Hybridization" (1865). The paper detailed the inheritance patterns of the height, pod shape and color, seed shape and color, and flower position and color of the pea plants. He demonstrated that these characteristics were transmitted in predictable ways across generations by invisible "factors," which we now know as recessive and dominant genes. Darwin had also experimented with inheritance in pigeons. However, multiple genes independently influence the traits of pigeons. He could find no patterns of inheritance. This lead him to believe that inheritance was passed by a blending of factors. Mendel showed that this conclusion was not true.

Mendel knew of Darwin and had read his Origin. However, Darwin did not know of Mendel or the research that would correct the one critical error in Darwinism: blended inheritance. It would not be until the early to mid-twentieth Century that Mendel's work would be rediscovered and brought into alignment with Darwinism in the "modern synthesis." Once again, the self-correcting aspect of science yields a more accurate account of reality. In 1953, Francis Crick and James Watson published "Molecular Structure of Nucleic Acids: A Structure for Deoxyribose Nucleic Acid," describing in detail the structure of DNA and how it can act as the transmitter of genetic information as it is passed from generation to generation. Since then, the fields of molecular biology, genetics, population dynamics, embryology, evolution, paleontology, and even sociology all have been contributing to the elaboration of human understanding of two paradigm-shifting works in the Nineteenth Century: "On the Origin of Species" and "Experiments on Plant Hybridization." 

Science is a Western invention. While there were advances in astronomy and mathematics in India and China, these were descriptive only. In the face of Oriental and Middle Eastern mysticism and obscurantism, the Classical Greeks were the first to attempt to use objective observation to understand and explain the world around them: natural philosophy. The history of Western science contains two huge successes in the understanding of the universe and the place of the human species in it. The first was the removal of the planet Earth from the center of the universe as designated by a god. A 2014 National Science Report indicates that 26% of Americans believe the sun revolves around the Earth. The second huge success was the removal of Homo Sapiens from the center of the kingdom Animalia, also designated by a god. In 2008, a study published in Science indicated that 40% of Americans responded "False" to the statement "Human beings, as we know them, developed from earlier species of animals." This belief in Creationism is higher than any European country in the study except Turkey. 


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Hurst, L.D. A century of bias in genetics and evolution. Heredity 123, 33–43 (2019).