Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Friday, February 12, 2010


At a party a couple of weeks back, I got into a discussion with an “evolution skeptic,” who trotted out that aggravating old line that evolution was only a “theory.” He, it seemed, was holding out for the day that the theory would be passed into “law.” This inspired me to offer a humble birthday present to good old Charles Darwin on his 201st birthday: A very quick, very unsophisticated primer on the difference between theory and a law. A law is basically an observation of nature, and a theory explains an observation. Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation described the force of gravity, and his Theory of Gravitation, which has largely been superseded by Einsteins Theory of General Relativity, attempted to explain it. In this manner, the Law of Evolution could be stated that organisms change morphologically over time. Darwin's Theory of Mutation and Natural Selection explains the mechanics of that change. Theories don't become laws, they modify them. Class dismissed.

Illustrating this post is a new painting of a Red-bellied Paradise Kingfisher (Tanysiptera nympha), one of six members of a New Guinean complex of streamer-tailed forest birds. It was in this region that Alfred Russell Wallace saw such simple island speciation and began to understand how it worked, just as speciation on the Galapagos awakened Darwin to the same ideas.
illustration: RED-BELLIED PARADISE KINGFISHER (2010) acrylic on clay board 10" x 8"


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