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UPDATED: November 30, 2009 NO. 48 DECEMBER 3, 2009
Darwin's Legacy

Why does the world exist and what or who created it? These are the questions humankind asked for thousands of years. Before Charles Darwin gave his answers, only creationism and uniformitarianism were turned to as possible reasons.

This year marks the 200th birthday of the outstanding biologist and main founder of the theory of evolution. This year we also celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's masterpiece On the Origin of Species, to which Darwin devoted 22 years and in which he proposed the theory of evolution. The influence of the great theory was not limited to biological studies. It is fair to say that it also exerted a tremendous influence on the development of anthropology, psychology and philosophy that cannot be ignored even today.

Darwin's influence on China can be dated back to the 1870s. When his theory was first introduced to China, the nation was still struggling in an enclosed feudal society trapped in overseas invasions and interior weaknesses. Not surprisingly, the theory of evolution enlightened those pioneers who wanted to reform their lagging motherland.

According to Darwin's theory, evolutionary change takes place through the gradual change of populations and not by the sudden (saltational) production of new individuals that represent a new type. But the Cambrian Explosion around 530 million years ago, the apparently rapid appearance of most of the complex animal groups, puzzled Darwin and many researchers of evolution.

Inquiries into Yunnan Chengjiang fauna fossils from the early Cambrian era by Chinese scientists show biological evolution is a combination of gradual continuity of slow and steady expansion and geological abruptness.

What is more, Darwin's growth from a seminarian to a scientist also reflects the victory of science.

Beginning on December 27, 1831, Darwin started his five-year global voyage to South America, Australia and Africa. He spent much of that time on land investigating geology and making natural history collections. When he returned to Britain, he spent 22 years writing the book On the Origin of Species.

On the occasion of Darwin's 200th birthday, our commemoration of this giant of science embraces a great deal of significance. Currently, China is undergoing rapid processes advancing toward overall modernization. Against a complicated global background, we should concentrate on our own business with scientific attitudes and spirit to achieve our goals, just as Darwin did in his time. In this sense, we should also push forward studies of Darwinism and other social and scientific theories.

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