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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : Darwin must stay in Indian school textbooks


Source: The Hindu


  • Prelims: Theory of evolution, theory of Dashavatara, survival of the fittest, NCERT etc
  • Mains GS Paper I and II: Science and Technology- developments and their applications and effects in everyday life etc
  • In 2018, the Union Minister of Human Resource Development, called Darwin’s theory of evolution “scientifically wrong” and asked that it be removed from Indian school and college curricula.
    • The Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University, made a claim at the 106th Indian Science Congress, that the “theory of Dashavatara” explains evolution better than Darwin’s theory.




Darwin’s Theory of Evolution:

  • Species keep on evolving or changing with time.
  • As the environment changes, the requirements of an organism also change and they adapt to the new environment.
  • This phenomenon of changing over a period of time as per the natural requirements is called adaptation.
  • As per Darwin’s theory, only the superior changes are naturally selected and the inferior ones are eliminated.
  • Thus, not all adaptations contribute to progressive evolution.
    • For example, people living in tropical countries have more melanin in their bodies to protect them from the sunlight.
  • According to Darwin, all organisms had one common ancestor at some point in time and kept on diverging ever since.
  • His evolutionary theories support the convergent theory and divergent theory of evolution with examples.


Recent issues around Darwin’s theory:

  • The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) dropped Darwin’s theory from the examination syllabus for Class 9 and 10 students in the academic year 2021-22.
  • The NCERT has now dropped the entire section on evolution from its Class 10 textbooks.


Need for Darwin’s theory:

  • Darwin’s theory explains the origin of human beings (and all other forms of life in the world),
    • It also believes that an ‘intelligent designer’ (read: god) built them the way they are and put them in their place.


Background of Darwin’s theory:

  • Darwin’s theory is based on the fossils he collected and the wildlife he observed on his five-year trip (1831-36) on the HMS Beagle.
  • The captain of the ship handed him a copy of geologist Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology.


Influences on Darwin:

Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology.

  • Lyell studied glaciers, volcanoes and fossils, proposed the concept of “gradual geological change”
  • The geological phenomena and objects today result from minute changes accumulating over a period of time,
    • much like random mutations that confer advantage to certain organisms accumulate over time, giving rise to their present-day species.
  • Darwin acknowledged the strong influence of Lyell’s theories on his work.


Biologist Ruth Hubbard:

  • By the time Darwin came along, it was clear to many people that the earth and its creatures had histories.”
  • Hubbard talks of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: French naturalist who proposed his own theory of evolution before Darwin.
    • It portrayed evolution as a process that included accumulation of changes over time and did not involve an ‘intelligent designer’.


Other influences

  • Bertrand Russell:Darwin’s theory was “essentially an extension to the animal and vegetable world of laissez-faire economics”.
  • Malthus also propounded a theory of population in 1798,
    • He claimed that humans compete for limited resources until a catastrophic event leads to a decline in their population.
    • Darwin was greatly influenced: In his autobiography- by Malthus’ ideas of competition in an environment with limited resources.
    • Only those living beings survive that carry variations that give them an edge over others- Darwin termed it as “natural selection”.


Herbert Spencer’s idea of “survival of the fittest”(proposed in 1864):

  • It coalesced eventually into a philosophy called “social Darwinism”, which is well known to have fueled eugenics in the late 19th century.
  • The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex: Darwin claimed that men have evolved to be naturally more intelligent since they have had to continuously use their “mental faculties” to hunt for food, and to defend “their females” and offspring.



  • Darwin seems to invoke the same Lamarckian theory of use and disuse which his theory of natural selection had disproven in the Origin.


Way Forward

  • Depriving students of this information, especially those who do not take up biology after Class 10 is, as dissenting scientists and educators have pointed out, “dangerous”.
  • The examples about evolutionary theories carry crucial insights about science in both the historical and contemporary world.
    • It is rarely the story of a lone man, and it is shaped by the social and cultural beliefs of its times, to which it also actively contributes.
  • These examples remind us that science is a messy affair (like all human endeavors) that requires caution alongside curiosity, creativity and imagination.
  • If the strength of science lies in its ability to stand the test of critical inquiry, then science classrooms must inculcate the embracing of critique, sometimes at the risk of confronting its own troubled history.
  • The teaching of Darwin’s theory offers possibilities of this confrontation without underplaying its strengths.
    • Thus, while Darwin must remain in our textbooks, how we teach him must change



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