In The Beginning

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In the Beginning
The theory of evolution, formalized by Charles Darwin, is as much theory as is the theory of gravity, or the theory of relativity. Evolutionary theory is a scientific theory dealing with scientific data, not a system of metaphysical beliefs or a religion (Wilkins). Biological theories, and especially evolution, unlike the theories of physics, have been argued long and hard in social and political arenas. Even today, evolution is often not taught in primary schools. However, evolution is the binding force of all biological research. It is the unifying theme. Living organisms evolve through genetic changes over generations, and planets evolve through the processes of erosion and deposition. In paleontology, evolution gives workers a powerful way to organize the remains of past life forms, and better understand the one history of life. The history of thought about evolution in general, and paleontological contributions specifically, are often useful to the scientists of today. Science, like any iterative process, draws heavily from its history.
We live on an ancient planet. In the Western world, however, people have long believed that Earth had a relatively recent beginning. In 1650, James Ussher, estimating from his close study of the Bible, calculated that Earth was created in 4004 B.C. (Feder 12). Although not everyone agreed with his calculations, until the nineteenth century most people in the Western world shared Bishop Ussher's view that Earth was relatively young and that its entire history was chronicled in ancient texts.
During the nineteenth century, geologists and biologists accumulated evidence that Earth was much older than previously suspected. Their evidence for an ancient Earth came primarily from the fossilized remains of organisms found in sedimentary rocks. The geologists' guiding concepts were simple: Rocks form slowly by piling up of sediments, and younger rocks are deposited on top of older ones. A great canyon carved into sedimentary rocks may have a visible record of more than a billion years (Levin 4).
Preserved within some rocks were fossils - the remains of organisms that lived while the sediments were accumulating. When older rocks are compared with younger ones, slight but significant differences can be observed among similar fossil organisms. The most famous example is fossil horses. The animals show an increase in size and a reduction of side toes … an increase in the height and complexity of teeth, and a deepening and lengthening of the skull (Levin 318).

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