February 12th is the birthday of pioneering biologist Charles Darwin*, who developed and presented the first mechanism to explain evolution that actually worked – namely, natural selection. Today would be Darwin’s 206th birthday, if he wasn’t long dead. Today is a great day to remember not only Darwin’s massive contribution to our understanding of Nature, but also to reflect on the countless people who influenced him, helped expand or develop on his ideas, challenged him, or simply helped carry his bags – for example, spare a thought for the gardener who tended Darwin’s much written about garden. These individuals that simply make things possible surround any discovery, no matter how large or small.
Of chief importance was Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle, chronicled in his The Voyage of the Beagle. The magnitude of the task of such a voyage can be well represented in this image of the HMS Beagle beached to repair the keel and copper plating. They just had to get the ship onto the beach in the correct orientation, lean it over to one side, make repairs, lean it over to the other, make more repairs, then get the whole thing back into the water without breaking anything – not in a proper dry dock – but on a beach on the coast of South America. No biggie.
*There is an effort to get February 12th officially recognized as “Darwin Day”. While I am all for this concept in principle, one of the major supporters of this effort has been the American Humanist Association. They run “darwinday.org” and have pushed for Congressional resolutions to recognize Darwin Day. They, however, also named Lawrence Krauss as their 2015 Humanist of the Year, ignoring Krauss’ history of support for his buddy Jeffrey Epstein, who happens to be a convicted pimp and pedophile. So, I’m sticking with “Happy Birthday, Charles!”