200 years since Darwin’s birth, what about medicine?

Today is Darwin Day. But, more than that, it is a very special Darwin Day in that it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of evolutionary biologist Charles Darwin. This day is meant to celebrate not just the life, but especially the discoveries, of Charles Darwin. His theory of evolution by natural selection, is one of the most elegant examples of science in history. Darwin’s theory was so robust that subsequent discoveries did not invalidate it. Rather, many were either predicted or easily accommodated in evolutionary theory, and many more complemented it, such that, in the early 20th century, there was a modern synthesis of new discoveries in genetics and evolutionary theory, and that synthesis only made evolutionary theory stronger.

Today, although current evolutionary theory has become even richer and more complex than Darwin’s original theory, it has also changed. Natural selection, although still considered a very important, if not the most important, mechanism driving evolution is now understood to be but one of several mechanisms of evolution, so much so that some have exaggerated the situation by declaring Darwin to have been wrong. He was not, at least not under the constraints of the science available to him in the 1800s. Indeed, new discoveries in genetics, molecular biology, genomics, and proteonomics do not cast doubt on evolution; rather they produce results entirely consistent with it. Remember, Charles Darwin knew nothing of DNA, molecular biology, or genetics. Yet much of his theory has been supported by these new discoveries. Some of it has not, but I have a hard time thinking of another scientific theory that has held up so well for 150 years.

One thing that continues to irritate me is just how widespread rejection of evolutionary theory is. Anti-evolution ideologues are unrelenting in their attacks on “Darwinism,” the worst of which occurred just last year when Ben Stein starred in a movie that linked evolution to the Holocaust. Worse, from my perspective as a surgeon, are the numbers of physicians and surgeons who reject evolution, one of whom, such as neurosurgeon Dr. Michael Egnor, have even become hacks writing for the Discovery Institute.

Consequently, what I thought I’d do for this 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth is to post links to my series Medicine and Evolution. Although I have written about evolution and its role in medicine since then, oddly enough, I haven’t really included any posts in this series since nearly two years ago. I really need to resurrect this series. In any case, if you’ve been reading less than two years, this should all be new to you, and if you have been with me that long, it’s worth looking at these posts again, particularly parts 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, and 11:

Medicine and evolution, part 1: Introduction
Medicine and evolution, Part 2: Applying evolutionary principles to cancer
Medicine and evolution, Part 3: A trypanosome shows the way
Medicine and Evolution, Part 4: Physicians seduced by “intelligent design” creationism and Medicine and Evolution, part 4a: Physicians seduced by “intelligent design” creationism (revisited briefly)
Medicine and evolution, part 5: “Quit whining” about intelligent design?
Medicine and Evolution, part 6: Ivan Schwab on eye evolution
Medicine and Evolution, Part 7: The theory that dare not speak its name?
Medicine and Evolution, part 8: Two major medical misconceptions about evolution parroted by a Professor of Neurosurgery
Medicine and Evolution, Part 9: What was that about evolution having “nothing to do” with antimicrobial resistance?
Medicine and Evolution, Part 10: “Intelligent design” creationists misrepresenting the role of evolution in medicine
Medicine and Evolution, Part 11: Studying the mechanism of multidrug resistance