Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on November 24, 2014
On the Origin of Species,

On the Origin of Species,

November 24, 1859: Charles Darwin publishes. The full title of his book was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. For the sixth edition, published in 1872, the title was thankfully shortened to On The Origin of Species. Darwin’s book introduced scientific theory stating populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection. He based this on observations and data gathered during his trip aboard the Beagle in the 1830s. After his return to England, he furthered his studies using research and experimentation as well as correspondence with other scientists of the era. Various evolutionary ideas had already been proposed.

Biologist Ernst Mayr has summarized the key points of the book. Every species is fertile to produce offspring which survive to reproduce so the species can grow (fact). Despite fluctuations, populations remains about the same size (fact). Resources are limited and relatively stable over time (fact). A struggle to survive results (inference). Individuals in a population vary significantly (fact). Much of the variance is inheritable (fact). Those less suited are less likely to survive and reproduce while those better suited do survive and create offspring which is the basis for natural selection (inference). This slow process results in populations changing to adapt to their environment (inference).

In later editions of On the Origin of Species, Darwin included a history of evolutionary ideas back as far as Aristotle. Early Christian Church fathers and Medieval European scholars interpreted the Genesis creation story as allegorical rather than literal. Nature was seen as capricious with odd births between species and spontaneous creation of life. The Protestant Reformation inspired a literal interpretation of the Bible. The biblical story did not agree with emerging scientific facts. After the English Civil War, one of the Royal Society’s goals was to show that religion and science could coexist without disrupting political stability.

Darwin was not the only person working on the theory of evolution. An 1855 paper written by Alfred Russel Wallace, described patterns in geographical distribution of living and fossil species and how new species developed from the old similar ones. Charles Lyell saw the relative merits in the paper as well as how it related to Darwin’s work. Darwin had long avoided publishing the controversial work but with this impetus, he rushed to publish a short paper outlining his own theory in order to retain discovery status. Both men were permitted to present papers at the Linnean Society in 1858. There are differences between the two papers in some details. Darwin’s book was published on this date and went on sale for fifteen shillings. It has been in print ever since.

In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.

False facts are highly injurious to the progress of science, for they often endure long; but false views, if supported by some evidence, do little harm, for every one takes a salutary pleasure in proving their falseness.

Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.

I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created parasitic wasps with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars. – all from Charles Darwin

Also on this day: Little Jamie – in 1993, James Bulger’s murderers are found guilty.
Jump to Nowhere – In 1971, Dan Cooper jumped from a plane and was never seen again.
Wilt the Stilt – In 1960, the basketball player garnered another record.
Alone? – In 1963 Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald.


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