I thought I was through with Darwin Day, but I’ve got Chuck on the brain. It may seem odd for biologists to hold him in such esteem (creationists often say, mistakenly, that we worship him and find no flaws in his work), but the fact remains that, more than any other scientist, he got things right at the outset. Yes, his genetics was wonky, and his book doesn’t really deal with the origin of new species, but it’s remarkable how well his main ideas have held up over the last 158 years. Even Newton, his rival in the “best scientist ever” category, didn’t anticipate quantum mechanics, but Darwin did allude to genes having no differential effect on fitness; i.e., the “neutral theory” that was devised only in the 1960s.
I read The Origin about once every two years, and each time I do I’m amazed at the thoroughness and novelty of Darwin’s thinking: working out the parallel between artificial and natural selection, anticipating objections to his theory, realizing that biogeography and embryology provided strong evidence for evolution, and so on.
If you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend it highly. As I always told my students, you can hardly consider yourself educated if you haven’t read The Origin, which not only tied together all areas of biology and dispelled the myths about life that had reigned forever, but also changed our view of ourselves in a way that Newton couldn’t.