Today we celebrate Darwin Day, the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin. 2009 is also the 150th anniversary of the publication of 'On the Origin of Species', but that was published on the 24th of November (A very special day indeed!), so we'll have to wait till then for that one.
Charles Darwin was a British naturalist who developed the concept of natural selection. Basically, if you look at the way that farming works, taking the best examples of a current crop to grow an improved future crop (or heard, etc), that is artificial selection. The overall quality of the crop over time improves because the better samples are selected for by the farmer. The poor quality crops are not used to seed the new crops and therefore don't contribute to the ongoing quality of the overall yield.
Natural selection looks at artificial selection and says that what the farmer is doing in selecting for the better samples, which improves the quality of the overall crop, also happens in nature. This comes from a combination of many pressures, most notably resources and reproduction. The more able an organism is to compete for resources and the ability to reproduce, the more offspring it will have, the more it's characteristics will be passed on to subsequent generations. This also works in reverse for the unfit organisms. If they can't acquire resources or reproduce, they will die and not pass on their genetic material. The combination of these processes leads to a slow, gradual shift in populations towards more fit examples of the organism. The natural pressures have therefore selected the better examples, which have enjoyed more chances to reproduce, which increases the percentage of the population in which the successful genes are displayed.
The beauty of the theory is the incredible simplicity of it. It accounts so well for the variety of life on the planet and has been shown time and time again to be the best explanation we have.
There is a bit of an argument between some (definitely not all) religious people and the scientific consensus over the truth of the theory, but there has never been presented any evidence able to significantly dis-rail the theory and it seems that, for the most part. Those arguing against evolution are basically doing it because of the repercussions that it has for the ideas that man was created as separate from the animals, that all life was spontaneously created and that the earth is too young to allow the times needed for evolution to occur.
These are all unsubstantiated rubbish being spouted by foolish people clinging onto the memoirs of a zombie jew-king by their fingernails, wishing that they could support their beliefs. It's the theological equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and going "lalalalalalalalalalalala I can't hear you!!!!"
I wish everybody out there a happy Darwin Day!
Learn a bit about the process of evolution!
Have a wonderful day!
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