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What, Darwin didn't know about genetics?!

rachelr's picture

 While reading Darwin I keep thinking about how strange it is to read about scientists questioning where heritable traits come from. In is so ingrained in us today, even if we don't know the exact mechanisms behind it, that genetic traits are what make us look like our parents. There are the mitochondrial DNA passed down from mother to offspring and the idea of dominant and recessive traits that determine everything from eye and hair color to the likely hood that you may develop certain diseases. The inheritance of acquired traits is another important evolutionary theory of the time, developed by Lamarck in the late 1700s. Not only did Darwin's theory argue essentially all evolutionary theories of the time, but it explicitly challenged colonialism and religion, suggesting that there are not distinct, "better" species or races and that things happen by chance rather than being predestined by God. Today, while individuals and groups sometimes still have issues with both of these challenges, our societies, mindsets, and historical and scientific understandings have deepened and there are more factors now in play. To relate back to Darwin and the understanding of science at the time I find myself doing diachronical reading and evaluations, using the scientific principle of charity in an effort to place myself back in time and simply read with an open mind, willing to learn Darwin's groundbreaking theory through the eyes of a scientist in the 1800s. 


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