Origin of Species


On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

By Charles Darwin, 1859

Related Interest:
Darwin's Finches

Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection first went on sale on November 22, 1859, and its printing of 1,250 copies was oversubscribed. It was well received by the scientific community, but condemned by the Christian religion. In America, the book helped spawn the fundamentalist movement that robustly continues into this 21st century. Denial of the primary tenets of Darwin's theory continues today within Christianity, despite evolution's rigorous validation equivalent to that of Newton's laws of motion. Sadly, this continuing conflict between religion and science contributes to a dumbing down of America. Our children and their children and their children will surely pay a high price for the perpetuation of scientific ignorance, as other nations race ahead of us.

Darwin on Natural Selection
Charles Darwin was the quintessential empiricist long before developing one of humankind’s most important and scientifically validated theories. For more than two decades and during his five-year voyage on the Beagle sailing ship he collected data including many fossils. While lacking modern knowledge of molecular biology and radioisotope dating, he was an accomplished geologist aware of the earth’s great age, and understood unnatural selection from the breeding of animals and plants. Ultimately, Darwin pieced together all the evidence to theorize the process of decent with medication through natural selection. Darwin’s On The Origin of Species on November the 24, 1859 is arguably the birth of evolutionary biology and among the few most significant scientific publication of the past 200 years. Consider all that science has learned in the since Darwin’s time, and then wonder how any scientist today might improve on the elegance of Darwin’s own words comprising the first two paragraphs of his monumental book:

“How will the struggle for existence, discussed too briefly in the last chapter, act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply in nature? I think we shall see that it can act most effectually. Let it be borne in mind in what an endless number of strange peculiarities our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, those under nature, vary; and how strong the hereditary tendency is. Under domestication, it may be truly said that the, whole organisation becomes in some degree plastic. Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life. Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of Procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in the species called polymorphic.

We shall best understand the probable course of natural selection by taking the case of a country undergoing some physical change, for instance, of climate. The proportional numbers of its inhabitants would almost immediately undergo a change, and some species might become extinct. We may conclude, from what we have seen of the intimate and complex manner in which the inhabitants of each country are bound together, that any change in the numerical proportions of some of the inhabitants, independently of the change of climate itself, would most seriously affect many of the others. If the country were open on its borders, new forms would certainly immigrate, and this also would seriously disturb the relations of some of the former inhabitants. Let it be remembered how powerful the influence of a single introduced tree or mammal has been shown to be. But in the case of an island, or of a country partly surrounded by barriers, into which new and better adapted forms could not freely enter, we should then have places in the economy of nature which would assuredly be better filled up, if some of the original inhabitants were in some manner modified; for, had the area been open to immigration, these same places would have been seized on by intruders. In such case, every slight modification, which in the course of ages chanced to arise, and which in any way favoured the individuals of any of the species, by better adapting them to their altered conditions, would tend to be preserved; and natural selection would thus have free scope for the work of improvement.”

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