A McLean, of St Clair School, asks :-
Is evolution now generally accepted by most (or all) of the scientific community?
Graham Wallis, a geneticist at the University of Otago's Zoology Department, responded.
The short answer is: Yes - the fact that plants and animals evolved by descent with modification is accepted by virtually all scientists. The evidence abounds: in the fossil record (organisms appear in the right chronological order), homology of characteristics across species (e.g. pentadactyl limb), convergence in the same environment (e.g. flippers in seals and penguins; fins in sharks and dolphins), developmental stages sometimes reflect phylogeny, vestigial structures (like the whale's pelvis and our appendix) and more recently DNA data.
The idea of evolution actually arose well before Darwin. Georges-Louis Buffon (1707-1788) was the first to suggest that species might change through time, but the idea was only properly developed by Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). The reason that Darwin (1809-1882) is generally attributed with the concept is that he first proposed and developed the idea of evolution by natural selection. There is still debate among evolutionary biologists about the relative importance of natural selection, compared with developmental constraint, phylogenetic constraint, historical contingency and macroevolution. These other ideas were championed by Steven Gould (1941-2002), but there is a clear consensus (including Gould) that the general fit between living organisms and their environment is best explained by evolution through natural selection.