Life, the universe and everything else

before and after Darwin

In the beginning was God. And everything was simple and easily comprehensible. You had God to worship, the Ten Commandments to follow and nothing to worry about. Because God was responsible for everything and He was supposed to take care for you if you truly believe in Him and pray hard enough. And there were no questions without an answer because everything was encoded in one word – God. And although man knew he was part of something greater than himself, he was feeling important because God had created everything to serve man and man only. There were no questions about the meaning of life, no speculations on morality, no doubt about the right way in life.

Some things never change. But some things do change. George Bernard Shaw said that: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the conditions that surround him... The unreasonable man adapts surrounding conditions to himself... All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” And Charles Darwin was one of these unreasonable men, who carry the progress on their shoulders.

He took the ideas and findings of early scientist, the observations of different farmers and his own personal experience about the diversity and fitness of life on earth and put together the foundation of modern evolution theory used by scientist today. Darwin presented a vast amount of evidence showing that all living things ultimately descended from a few or even one type of ancestor. The greatest naturalist also presented his idea of how this “descent with modification”, or evolution, works; it was called “natural selection.” Natural selection was considered a force for the alteration of species. In essence, in the battle for their survival, only those individuals best adapted to their environment are more likely to survive, reproduce and pass on their genes. Favourable or beneficial mutations of species are favoured and retained, while harmful or useless ones are rejected and lost. So, across generations, different species undergo adaptations through the gradual accumulation of useful variations - those which help them better survive and successfully reproduce in their particular environments. Over time, in a series of tiny, steady, and imperceptible steps, beneficial mutations accumulate and the result is an entirely different organism. Not just a variation of the original, but an entirely different creature. Suppose a member of a species developed a functional advantage (it grew wings and learned to fly). Its offspring would inherit that advantage and pass it on to their offspring. The inferior (disadvantaged) members of the same species would gradually die out, leaving only the superior (advantaged) members of the species. Natural selection is the naturalistic equivalent to domestic breeding. Over the centuries, human breeders have produced dramatic changes in domestic animal populations by selecting individuals to breed. Breeders eliminate undesirable traits gradually over time. Similarly, natural selection eliminates inferior species gradually over time. Darwin proposed “sexual selection” to explain the accentuation of features, not always essential or even beneficial to survival, that increase a species’ chance of securing a mate and breeding. Moreover, sexual selection can produce individuals with such elaborate ornaments that they must be either energetically costly to develop, costly to maintain, or even lead to a direct survival cost for the individual that bears the ornament. For example, the male peacock’s immense and lurid tail attracts female peacocks. But imagine a population that has not yet evolved elaborate sexual ornaments compared to the population, which is derived from the original stock, but males have now evolved elaborate ornaments. In the derived population, many males die due to reasons of sexual selection owing to their ornaments. The average fitness of individuals in the initial population is higher because fewer males die selective deaths compared to the number of males that die selective deaths in the sexually-selected population. And the result is declination in the average chance of survival of the population over time.

Darwin’s ideas turned the world upside-down and changed the way we understand ourselves and everything around us radically. His most infamous idea was that human beings evolved from apes through a series of gradual steps. It\'s here that modern evolutionary psychologists pick up from where Darwin left off. Humans and all their associated habits and behaviours, they suggest, can be explained