Darwin, Mockingbirds, and Truth

Here’s to maintaining our curiosity of the natural world and the courage to question – a message offered by one of the four species of mockingbirds found on the Galapagos Islands. Not fully known, but it was the Galapagos mockingbirds that Darwin used to support his evolutionary theory, not the famous “Darwin” finches.

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Darwin had seen the finches and had collected them, but had forgotten to identify which island from which they came. So they were useless in providing evolutionary evidence. But the mockingbirds did provide compelling evidence for speciation via isolation on different islands – a radical concept since the dominant paradigm was that species were “immutable” and had remained the same since the time of creation.

Why the mockingbird? Darwin recorded where each collected specimen was found. And each of the four were different enough to be separate species. The finch story was not fully understood until the 1970’s, although it’s the finches that are celebrated in nearly all the textbooks – another urban myth.

The take away message here is two fold. One, recording ALL the data is critical in any scientific endeavor. Two, dominant paradigms have a tendency to suppress truth.

It took Darwin decades to finally get to the point where he had the courage to challenge the dogma of divine creation. And only then when another scientist, Alfred Wallace, came up with the same idea and threatened to beat Darwin to the punch. When Darwin finally did publish his Origin book, he said he felt as if he had murdered someone.

Guilt, remorse, self-loathing, social isolation, and fear are some of the consequences of being different. It is ironic that we celebrate those in the past who have challenged orthodoxy to help make the world a better place. Yet, when we are in the midst of that change, those who challenge us are often rejected, or worse.

It’s no wonder change is so slow. However, it would never happen if it were not for those willing to risk it all to speak the truth.

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