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2009 Sees The 200th Anniversary Of The Birth Of Charles Darwin

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« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2009, 05:28:40 pm »

                                 Preparing the theory of natural selection for publication

For more details on this topic, see Development of Darwin's theory.

Darwin now had the framework of his theory of natural selection “by which to work”,  as his “prime hobby”.  His research included animal husbandry and extensive experiments with plants, finding evidence that species were not fixed and investigating many detailed ideas to refine and substantiate his theory.  For more than a decade this work was in the background to his main occupation, publication of the scientific results of the Beagle voyage.

When FitzRoy’s Narrative was published in May 1839, Darwin’s Journal and Remarks was such a success as the third volume that later that year it was published on its own.

Early in 1842, Darwin wrote about his ideas to Lyell, who noted that his ally "denies seeing a beginning to each crop of species”. Darwin’s book on coral reefs was published in May after more than three years of work. He then wrote a “pencil sketch” of his theory. 

To escape the pressures of London, the family moved to rural Down House in September. 

On 11 January 1844 Darwin mentioned his theorising to the botanist Joseph Dalton ****, writing with melodramatic humour “it is like confessing a murder”.  **** replied “There may in my opinion have been a series of productions on different spots, & also a gradual change of species. I shall be delighted to hear how you think that this change may have taken place, as no presently conceived opinions satisfy me on the subject.”

By July, Darwin had expanded his “sketch” into a 230-page “Essay”, to be expanded with his research results if he died prematurely.  In November public controversy erupted over ideas of evolutionary progress in the anonymously published Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, a well written best-seller which widened public interest in transmutation. Darwin scorned its amateurish geology and zoology, but carefully reviewed his own arguments.

Darwin completed his third geological book in 1846. He now renewed a fascination and expertise in marine invertebrates, dating back to his student days with Grant, by dissecting and classifying the barnacles he had collected on the voyage, enjoying observing beautiful structures and thinking about comparisons with allied structures.  In 1847, **** read the “Essay” and sent notes that provided Darwin with the calm critical feedback that he needed, but would not commit himself and questioned Darwin’s opposition to continuing acts of creation.

In an attempt to improve his chronic ill health, Darwin went in 1849 to Dr. James Gully’s Malvern spa and was surprised to find some benefit from hydrotherapy. Then in 1851 his treasured daughter Annie fell ill, reawakening his fears that his illness might be hereditary, and after a long series of crises she died.

In eight years of work on barnacles (Cirripedia), Darwin's theory helped him to find “homologies” showing that slightly changed body parts served different functions to meet new conditions, and in some genera he found minute males parasitic on hermaphrodites, showing an intermediate stage in evolution of distinct sexes.  In 1853 it earned him the Royal Society’s Royal Medal, and it made his reputation as a biologist.

He resumed work on his theory of species in 1854, and in November realised that divergence in the character of descendants could be explained by them becoming adapted to “diversified places in the economy of nature”.
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« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2009, 05:30:18 pm »


                                         Publication of the theory of natural selection

For more details on this topic, see Publication of Darwin's theory.
Darwin was forced into swift publication of his theory of natural selection.

By the start of 1856, Darwin was investigating whether eggs and seeds could survive travel across seawater to spread species across oceans. **** increasingly doubted the traditional view that species were fixed, but their young friend Thomas Henry Huxley was firmly against evolution. Lyell was intrigued by Darwin’s speculations without realising their extent. When he read a paper by Alfred Russel Wallace on the Introduction of species, he saw similarities with Darwin’s thoughts and urged him to publish to establish precedence. Though Darwin saw no threat, he began work on a short paper. Finding answers to difficult questions held him up repeatedly, and he expanded his plans to a “big book on species” titled Natural Selection. He continued his researches, obtaining information and specimens from naturalists worldwide including Wallace who was working in Borneo.

The American botanist Asa Gray showed similar interests, and on 5 September 1857 Darwin sent Gray a detailed outline of his ideas including an abstract of Natural Selection. In December, Darwin received a
letter from Wallace asking if the book would examine human origins. He responded that he would avoid
that subject, “so surrounded with prejudices”, while encouraging Wallace’s theorising and adding that
“I go much further than you.”

Darwin’s book was half way when, on 18 June 1858, he received a paper from Wallace describing natural selection. Shocked that he had been “forestalled”, Darwin sent it on to Lyell, as requested, and, though Wallace had not asked for publication, he suggested he would send it to any journal that Wallace chose.

His family was in crisis with children in the village dying of scarlet fever, and he put matters in the hands of Lyell and ****. They decided on a joint presentation at the Linnean Society on 1 July of On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection; however, Darwin’s baby son died of the scarlet fever and he was too distraught to attend.

There was little immediate attention to this announcement of the theory; after the paper was published in the August journal of the society, it was reprinted in several magazines and there were some reviews and letters, but the president of the Linnean remarked in May 1859 that the year had not been marked by any revolutionary discoveries.  Only one review rankled enough for Darwin to recall it later; Professor Samuel Haughton of Dublin claimed that “all that was new in them was false, and what was true was old.”

Darwin struggled for thirteen months to produce an abstract of his “big book”, suffering from ill health but getting constant encouragement from his scientific friends. Lyell arranged to have it published by John Murray.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (usually abbreviated to On the Origin of Species) proved unexpectedly popular, with the entire stock of 1,250 copies oversubscribed when it went on sale to booksellers on 22 November 1859.[98] In the book, Darwin set out “one long argument” of detailed observations, inferences and consideration of anticipated objections.  His only allusion to human evolution was the understatement that “light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history”.

His theory is simply stated in the introduction:

"As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

He put a strong case for common descent, but avoided the then controversial term “evolution”, and at the end of the book concluded that

"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
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« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2009, 07:10:45 pm »


              As "Darwinism" became widely accepted in the 1870s,
              amusing caricatures of him with an ape or monkey
              body symbolised evolution.

                                                    Reaction to the publication

For more details on this topic, see Reaction to Darwin's theory.

The book aroused international interest, with less controversy than had greeted the popular Vestiges of Creation.

Though Darwin’s illness kept him away from the public debates, he eagerly scrutinised the scientific response, commenting on press cuttings, reviews, articles, satires and caricatures, and corresponded on
it with colleagues worldwide.

Darwin had only said "Light will be thrown on the origin of man", but the first review claimed it made a creed of the “men from monkeys” idea from Vestiges.  Amongst early favourable responses, Huxley’s reviews swiped at Richard Owen, leader of the scientific establishment Huxley was trying to overthrow. When Owen's review appeared it joined those attacking the book.

The Church of England's response was mixed. Darwin’s old Cambridge tutors Sedgwick and Henslow dismissed the ideas, but liberal clergymen interpreted natural selection as an instrument of God's design, with the cleric Charles Kingsley seeing it as "just as noble a conception of Deity".

In 1860, the publication of Essays and Reviews by seven liberal Anglican theologians diverted clerical attention from Darwin, with its ideas including higher criticism attacked by church authorities as heresy.
In it, Baden Powell argued that miracles broke God’s laws, so belief in them was atheistic, and praised
“Mr Darwin’s masterly volume [supporting] the grand principle of the self-evolving powers of nature”.

Asa Gray discussed theleology with Darwin, who imported and distributed Gray’s pamphlet on theistic evolution, Natural Selection is not inconsistent with Natural Theology.
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« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2009, 07:22:48 pm »


              Julia Margaret Cameron’s 1868 portrait
              shows the beard Darwin grew in 1864.

In a legendary confrontation at the public 1860 Oxford evolution debate during a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, the Bishop of Oxford Samuel Wilberforce, though not opposed to transmutation of species, argued against Darwin's explanation. In the ensuing debate Joseph **** argued strongly for Darwin and Thomas Huxley established himself as “Darwin’s bulldog”. Both sides came away feeling victorious, with Huxley claiming that on being asked by Wilberforce whether he was descended from monkeys on his grandfather’s side or
his grandmother’s side, Huxley muttered:

“The Lord has delivered him into my hands” and replied that he “would rather be descended from an ape than from
a cultivated man who used his gifts of culture and eloquence in the service of prejudice and falsehood”.

Julia Margaret Cameron’s 1868 portrait shows the beard Darwin grew in 1864.Even Darwin's close friends Gray, ****, Huxley and Lyell still expressed various reservations but gave strong support, as did many others, particularly younger naturalists. Gray and Lyell sought reconciliation with faith, while Huxley portrayed a polarisation between religion and science.

He campaigned pugnaciously against the authority of the clergy in education,[109] aiming to overturn the dominance of clergymen and aristocratic amateurs under Owen in favour of a new generation of professional scientists. Owen mistakenly claimed certain anatomical differences between ape and human brains, and accused Huxley of advocating “Ape Origin of Man”. Huxley gladly did just that, and his campaign over two years was devastatingly successful in ousting Owen and the “old guard”.

The Origin of Species was translated into many languages, becoming a staple scientific text attracting thoughtful attention from all walks of life, including the “working men” who flocked to Huxley’s lectures.

Darwin’s theory also resonated with various movements at the time[III] and became a key fixture of popular culture.

Darwinism became a movement covering a wide range of evolutionary ideas. In 1863 Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man popularised prehistory, though his caution on evolution disappointed Darwin. Weeks later Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature showed that anatomically, humans are apes, then The Naturalist on the River Amazons by Henry Walter Bates provided empirical evidence of natural selection.

Lobbying brought Darwin Britain's highest scientific honour, the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, awarded on 3 November 1864.  That day, Huxley held the first meeting of what became the influential X Club devoted to

                                       "science, pure and free, untrammelled by religious dogmas".
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« Reply #19 on: January 12, 2009, 07:47:49 pm »


              Around 1880, an increasingly famous Darwin had suffered years of illness.

                                            Descent of Man, sexual selection, and botany

More detailed articles cover Darwin’s life from Orchids to Variation,
from Descent of Man to Emotions and
from Insectivorous plants to Worms

Despite repeated bouts of illness during the last twenty-two years of his life, Darwin pressed on with his work.

He had published On the Origin of Species as an abstract of his theory, but more controversial aspects of his
“big book” were still incomplete, including his views on humankind’s descent from earlier animals, and possible causes underlying the development of society and of human mental abilities. He had yet to explain features with decorative beauty but no obvious utility. His experiments, research and writing continued.

When Darwin’s daughter fell ill, he set aside his experiments with seedlings and domestic animals to accompany her to a seaside resort where he became interested in wild orchids. This developed into an innovative study of how their beautiful flowers served to control insect pollination and ensure cross fertilisation. As with the barnacles, homologous parts served different functions in different species.

Back at home, he lay on his sickbed in a room filled with experiments on climbing plants. Visitors included Ernst Haeckel who had spread a version of Darwinismus in Germany.  Wallace remained supportive, though he increasingly turned to Spiritualism.

The first part of Darwin's planned “big book”, Variation of Plants and Animals Under Domestication, grew to two huge volumes, forcing him to leave out human evolution and sexual selection. It sold briskly in 1868 despite its size, but interest tailed off.  He wrote most of a second section on natural selection, but it remained unpublished in his lifetime.
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« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2009, 07:55:59 pm »


Caricature from 1871 Vanity Fair

                                                           Political interpretations

Darwin’s theories and writings, combined with Gregor Mendel’s genetics (the “modern synthesis”), form the basis of all modern biology.  However, Darwin’s fame and popularity led to his name being associated with ideas and movements which at times had only an indirect relation to his writings, and sometimes went directly against his express comments.


For more details on this topic, see Eugenics.

Darwin was interested by his half-cousin Francis Galton's argument, introduced in 1865, that statistical analysis of heredity showed that moral and mental human traits could be inherited, and principles of animal breeding could apply to humans.

In The Descent of Man Darwin noted that aiding the weak to survive and have families could lose the benefits
of natural selection, but cautioned that withholding such aid would endanger the instinct of sympathy,

"the noblest part of our nature",

and factors such as education could be more important.

When Galton suggested that publishing research could encourage intermarriage within a "caste" of "those who
are naturally gifted", Darwin foresaw practical difficulties, and thought it "the sole feasible, yet I fear utopian, plan of procedure in improving the human race", preferring to simply publicise the importance of inheritance and leave decisions to individuals.

Galton named the field of study Eugenics in 1883, after Darwin’s death, and developed biometrics. Eugenics movements were widespread at a time when Darwin's natural selection was eclipsed by Mendelian genetics, and in some countries including Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Sweden and the United States, compulsory sterilisation laws were imposed. Nazi eugenics in Germany discredited the idea.
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« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2009, 08:04:06 pm »

                                                        Social Darwinism

For more details on this topic, see Social Darwinism.

Taking descriptive ideas as moral and social justification creates the ethical is-ought problem.

When Thomas Malthus argued that population growth beyond resources was ordained by God to get humans to work productively and show restraint in getting families, this was used in the 1830s to justify workhouses and laissez-faire economics.  Evolution was seen as having social implications, and Herbert Spencer's 1851 book Social Statics based ideas of human freedom and individual liberties on his Lamarckian evolutionary theory.

Darwin's theory of evolution was a matter of explanation.

He thought it "absurd to talk of one animal being higher than another" and saw evolution as having no goal, but soon after the Origin was published in 1859 critics derided his description of a struggle for existence as a Malthusian justification for the English industrial capitalism of the time.

The term Darwinism was used for the evolutionary ideas of others, including Spencer's “survival of the fittest” as free-market progress, and Ernst Haeckel's racist ideas of human development. Darwin did not share the racism common at that time. He was strongly against slavery, against "ranking the so-called races of man as distinct species", and against ill-treatment of native people.

Writers used natural selection to argue for various, often contradictory, ideologies such as laissez-faire dog-eat dog capitalism, racism, warfare, colonialism and imperialism. However, Darwin's holistic view of nature included "dependence of one being on another", thus pacifists, socialists, liberal social reformers and anarchists such as Prince Peter Kropotkin stressed the value of co-operation over struggle within a species.  Darwin himself insisted that social policy should not simply be guided by concepts of struggle and selection in nature.

The term “Social Darwinism” was used infrequently from around the 1890s, but became popular as a derogatory term in the 1940s when used by Richard Hofstadter to attack the laissez-faire conservatism of those like William Graham Sumner who opposed reform and socialism. Since then it has been used as a term of abuse by those opposed to what they think are the moral consequences of evolution.
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« Reply #22 on: January 12, 2009, 08:05:17 pm »


               Darwin in 1880, still working on his contributions
               to evolutionary thought that had had   an                 
               enormous effect on many fields of science.


During Darwin’s lifetime, many species and geographical features were given his name.

An expanse of water adjoining the Beagle Channel was named Darwin Sound by Robert FitzRoy after Darwin’s prompt action, along with two or three of the men, saved them from being marooned on a nearby shore when a collapsing glacier caused a large wave that would have swept away their boats, and the nearby Mount Darwin in the Andes was named in celebration of Darwin’s 25th birthday.

When the Beagle was surveying Australia in 1839, Darwin’s friend John Lort Stokes sighted a natural harbour which the ship’s captain Wickham named Port Darwin.  The settlement of Palmerston founded there in 1869 was officially renamed Darwin in 1911. It became the capital city of Australia’s Northern Territory, which also boasts Charles Darwin University[ and Charles Darwin National Park.

Darwin College, Cambridge, founded in 1964, was named in honour of the Darwin family, partially because they owned some of the land it was on.

Although related to American Emberizidae or Tanagers rather than finches, the group of species related to those Darwin found in the Galápagos Islands became popularly known as “Darwin's finches” following publication of David Lack's book of that name in 1947, fostering inaccurate legends about their significance to his work.

In 1992, Darwin was ranked #16 on Michael H. Hart’s list of the most influential figures in history.

Darwin came fourth in the 100 Greatest Britons poll sponsored by the BBC and voted for by the public.

In 2000 Darwin’s image appeared on the Bank of England ten pound note, replacing Charles Dickens. His impressive, luxuriant beard (which was reportedly difficult to forge) was said to be a contributory factor to the bank’s choice.

The Linnean Society of London has commemorated Darwin's achievements by the award of the Darwin-Wallace Medal since 1908.

As a humorous celebration of evolution, the annual Darwin Award is bestowed on individuals who “improve
our gene pool by removing themselves from it.”

Numerous biographies of Darwin have been written, and the 1980 biographical novel The Origin by Irving Stone gives a closely researched fictional account of Darwin’s life from the age of 22 onwards.
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« Reply #23 on: January 12, 2009, 08:13:22 pm »


                                                   Darwin 2009 commemorations

Darwin Day has become an annual celebration, and the bicentenary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species are being celebrated by events and publications around the world.

The “Darwin” exhibition, after opening at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City in 2006, was shown at the Museum of Science, Boston, the Field Museum in Chicago, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto,then from 14 November 2008 to 19 April 2009 in the Natural History Museum, London, as part of the Darwin200 programme of events across the United Kingdom.

The University of Cambridge features a festival in July 2009.

His birthplace is celebrating with "Darwin's Shrewsbury 2009 Festival" events during the year.

In the United Kingdom a special commemorative issue of the two pound coin shows a portrait of Darwin facing an ape surrounded by the inscription 1809 DARWIN 2009, with the edge inscription ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES 1859. Collector versions of the coin will be released at a premium, and during the year the coins will be available from banks and post offices at face value.

In September 2008, the Church of England issued an article saying that the 200th anniversary of his birth
was a fitting time to apologise to Darwin

"for misunderstanding you and,
by getting our first reaction wrong,
encouraging others to misunderstand you still".
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« Reply #24 on: January 12, 2009, 08:23:51 pm »

                                              List of works by Charles Darwin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is a partial list of the writings of Charles Darwin, including his main works.

All of his writings are available at The Complete Works of Charles Darwin Online:

the Table of Contents provides a complete bibliography of his works, including alternative editions, contributions to books & periodicals, correspondence, life, and a complete catalogue of his manuscripts. This is free to read, but not Public Domain, and includes work still under Copyright. For Public Domain plain text unauthoritative versions of his major works, see Works by Charles Darwin at Project Gutenberg

There is a collected printed edition, the standard for scholarly use: The Works of Charles Darwin , ed. by Paul H Barrett and Richard Broke Freeman. New York University Press, 1987-89. 29 vols. ISBN 0814717969 LC


Published works

1835: Extracts from letters to Professor Henslow (privately printed, not for public sale)
1836: A LETTER, Containing Remarks on the Moral State of TAHITI, NEW ZEALAND, &c. – BY CAPT. R. FITZROY AND C. DARWIN, ESQ. OF H.M.S. 'Beagle.'
1838-43: Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle: published between 1839 and 1843 in five Parts (and nineteen numbers) by various authors, edited and superintended by Charles Darwin, who contributed sections to two of the Parts:
1838: Part 1 No. 1 Fossil Mammalia, by Richard Owen (Preface and Geological introduction by Darwin)
1838: Part 2 No. 1 Mammalia, by George R. Waterhouse (Geographical introduction and A notice of their habits and ranges by Darwin)
1839: Journal and Remarks (The Voyage of the Beagle)
1842: The Structure and Distribution of Coral Reefs
1844: Geological Observations of Volcanic Islands
1846: Geological Observations on South America
1849: Geology from A Manual of scientific enquiry; prepared for the use of Her Majesty's Navy: and adapted for travellers in general., John F.W. Herschel ed.
1851: A Monograph of the Sub-class Cirripedia, with Figures of all the Species. The Lepadidae; or, Pedunculated Cirripedes.
1851: A Monograph on the Fossil Lepadidae; or, Pedunculated Cirripedes of Great Britain
1854: A Monograph of the Sub-class Cirripedia, with Figures of all the Species. The Balanidae (or Sessile Cirripedes); the Verrucidae, etc.
1854: A Monograph on the Fossil Balanidæ and Verrucidæ of Great Britain
1858: On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection (Extract from an unpublished Work on Species)
1859: On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
1862: On the various contrivances by which British and foreign orchids are fertilised by insects
1868: Variation of Plants and Animals Under Domestication
1871: The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex
1872: The Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals
1875: Movement and Habits of Climbing Plants
1875: Insectivorous Plants
1876: The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilisation in the Vegetable Kingdom
1877: The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species
1879: "Preface and 'a preliminary notice'" in Ernst Krause's Erasmus Darwin
1880: The Power of Movement in Plants
1881: The Formation of Vegetable Mould Through the Action of Worms


1887: Autobiography of Charles Darwin (Edited by his son Francis Darwin)
1958: Autobiography of Charles Darwin (Barlow, unexpurgated)


Correspondence of Charles Darwin
1887: Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, (ed. Francis Darwin)
1903: More Letters of Charles Darwin, (ed. Francis Darwin and A.C. Seward)

See also

v • d • eCharles Darwin
Life Education · Voyage on HMS Beagle · Inception of theory · Development of theory · Publication of theory · Reaction to theory · Orchids to Variation · Descent of Man to Emotions · Insectivorous plants to Worms
Family, beliefs, and health Darwin-Wedgwood family · Views on religion · Illness


The Voyage of the Beagle · Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle · On the Tendency of Species to form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection · On the Origin of Species · The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex · The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals · The Power of Movement in Plants · Autobiography · Correspondence
Related subjects History of biology · History of evolutionary thought  · History of geology · Pangenesis · Darwin Industry
[show]v • d • eBasic topics in evolutionary biology
Evidence of common descent
Processes of evolution Adaptation · Macroevolution · Microevolution · Speciation
Population genetic mechanisms Natural selection · Genetic drift · Gene flow · Mutation
Evolutionary developmental
biology (Evo-devo) concepts Phenotypic plasticity · Canalisation · Modularity
The evolution of... DNA · Sex · Aging · Intelligence · The Ear · The Eye · Flight · Plants · Fungi · Life · Humans · Dolphins and whales · Birds
Modes of speciation Anagenesis · Catagenesis · Cladogenesis
History History of evolutionary thought · Charles Darwin · On the Origin of Species · Modern evolutionary synthesis · Gene-centered view of evolution · Life (classification trees)
Other subfields Ecological genetics · Molecular evolution · Phylogenetics · Systematics
List of evolutionary biology topics · Timeline of evolution

Retrieved from



Charles Darwin
| Biology books


THE VOYAGE OF THE BEAGLE,16116.0/topicseen.html


THE DESCENT OF MAN,16118.0/topicseen.html#top




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« Reply #25 on: January 15, 2009, 10:38:28 am »


                   The Big Question: How important was Charles Darwin, and what is his legacy today?

By Archie Bland
30 December 2008

                                           Charles Darwin: Less important than Princess Diana?

                                                            Why are we asking this now?

From the back of a £10 note to the awards in his name that celebrate those who remove themselves from the gene pool by dying in foolish ways, Charles Darwin's legacy is everywhere. He has been on more stamps than anyone save members of the royal family, and yesterday the Royal Mail unveiled another one, to celebrate 2009 as the 200th anniversary of his birth, and the 150th of the publication of his landmark work, The Origin of Species. But that's not the only way the occasion is being marked, and Darwin's influence is felt in far more profound ways than his popular cultural contributions to this day.

Why were Darwin's ideas so important?

It's a mark of how extraordinary a step Darwin took on humanity's behalf that a principle that seems so straightforward and uncontroversial today – that random mutations would make some species better suited to their environments than others, and that those species would be more likely to breed – could have caused such extraordinary upheaval as recently as 1859. Still, that's what happened.

The general idea of evolution preceded Darwin, and he shied away from making the explicit and incendiary claim that even humans were evolved from other creatures. But his explanation of natural selection as a mechanism that made evolution plausibly able to explain the origin of species without reference to a creator up-ended the contemporary orthodoxy. It set a new course that no subsequent scientific work could ignore. And according to the eminent late evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, "Eliminating God from science made room for strictly scientific explanations of all natural phenomena; it gave rise to positivism; it produced a powerful intellectual and spiritual revolution, the effects of which have lasted to this day."

How did Darwin first come to science?

Born in 1809, Darwin's early life was not especially distinguished. He was removed from school in Shrewsbury because of his poor progress, and dropped out of a medical course at Edinburgh University because he was revolted by working on bodies; "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs and rat-catching," his father wrote to him, "and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." But on a divinity course at Cambridge, in preparation for life in the church, Darwin's interest in natural history really began to develop, as a protege of the botany professor John Stevens Henslow.

And how did he develop his ideas?

In 1831, after graduating from Cambridge, Darwin joined the HMS Beagle as the ship's naturalist on a five-year voyage around South America. Darwin later credited that trip with establishing the knowledge and working methods that would sustain his subsequent scientific career. His observations in South America, particularly on the variation in mockingbirds on different islands in the Galapagos, gave him the first inkling of what would subsequently become The Origin of Species. Famously, the first surviving record of his insight is in a sketch of a simple evolutionary tree under the tentative heading "I think". Over the next twenty-three years, he continued to develop and test that hypothesis, until in 1859 he was finally ready to publish the scientific theory that rocked the world.

Why was it so controversial?

Because before Darwin came to the subject, even the most devout adherents to the evolutionary theory had failed to come up with a good explanation of exactly how species became better suited to their environment over time. "Up until 1859," noted Ernst Mayr, "all evolutionary proposals endorsed linear evolution, a teleological march toward greater perfection."

Darwin stripped away that sense of fate. Simultaneously, he made available to the general public an understanding of the development of humankind that did away with the need for a creator. and introduced a way of looking at the world that seemed dangerous to many members of the establishment. Well aware of the subversive implications of his discoveries, he once said that explaining his beliefs was like "confessing to a murder".

What was the public reaction at the time?

The first public presentation of Darwin's ideas, alongside those of fellow pioneering evolutionary biologist Alfred Russell Wallace, drew little public reaction. But the publication of The Origin of Species sparked massive international interest, and the first print run of the book sold out before it appeared. While many hailed his findings as a huge step forward – including some within the clergy – the work also drew much opposition.

"Why not accept direct interference, rather than evolutions of law, and needlessly indirect or remote action?" one early review asked. "Having introduced the author and his work, we must leave them to the mercies of the Divinity Hall, the College, the Lecture Room and the Museum." And Darwin was denied a knighthood for his achievements by the influence of the church. Natural selection did not become a widely accepted principle until the 1930s. But in the end, one measure of how widely accepted Darwin's significance was, came in his death, when he became one of only five people outside of the royal family to be buried in Westminster Abbey in the nineteenth century.

So how influential are Darwin's ideas today?

Their importance in science is inescapable: the whole field of evolutionary biology is founded on his work. More generally, his influence can be felt in how the Christian orthodoxy that underpinned most science has fallen away, and even in our understanding of human interactions, summed up by the phrase "social Darwinism".

Even the church recently recanted its initial opposition to The Origin of Species, issuing a public apology in September. It read: "Charles Darwin: 200 years from your birth, the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still." Still, many people remain sceptical. The continued influence of creationism and intelligent design in the US is well-documented, and here, a 2006 poll said that only 48 per cent of the general public accepted the theory of evolution.

What is being done to change that?

Many organisations devoted to the public understanding of science have seized on the bicentennial of Darwin's birth as a chance to make people more aware of why his work is important, and celebrate him as a great British figure. The Natural History Museum hosts the biggest ever Darwin exhibition until April 2009; moves are afoot to have his home and living laboratory of forty years, Downe, declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco; celebrations will take place across the country on 12 February, his birthday, or "Darwin Day". Even Hollywood has taken note of the romance of his marriage and tragedy of the death of three of his children, and a movie starring Paul Bettany will appear later this year.

So is Darwin the most important scientist of modern times?

Possibly. But any complacency about his place in history should be tempered by an awareness that his significance could easily be forgotten. In 2006, a public poll conducted by the BBC judged him the fourth greatest Briton of all time – one place behind Diana, Princess of Wales.

Is it important to celebrate Charles Darwin today?


*No advance has so upended our worldview since the realisation that the world was not flat

*Darwin's legacy is threatened by proponents of creationism. By commemorating him we defend it

*He's a genuine titan in the history of world thought, and he's British. If that's not worth celebrating, what is?


*Darwin wasn't the only proponent of natural selection – others were working in similar areas at the time

*His insights can't seriously be threatened when they are now so culturally ingrained for all of us

*Harping on the work of a long-dead scientist is a sad indictment of the lack of achievements to herald today
« Last Edit: February 08, 2009, 01:31:08 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #26 on: February 08, 2009, 12:54:30 pm »


                                               Darwin at 200: a family celebration

As the 200th birthday of the pioneering naturalist nears, his great-great-grandchild, the poet Ruth Padel, urges us to see her forebear as an extraordinary human being as well as the man who gave us the theory
of evolution

12 December 2008

'I used to like to hear my father admire the beauty of a flower," wrote Charles Darwin's son Francis, who helped Charles with botany experiments that led to the discovery of the first plant hormone, auxin.

"It was a kind of gratitude to the flower itself – a personal love for its delicate form and colour. I remember him gently touching a flower he delighted in. This sounds sentimental but it was the same simple admiration a child might have. It ran through all his relation to natural things: a most keen feeling of their aliveness.!"

Why celebrate the 200th birthday of a great scientist who touched flowers like a child? I am no scientist, but I am among Charles Darwin's enormous number of great-great-grandchildren and, to me, his overwhelming feature is his humanity. In his thousands of letters, available online now on, you see everywhere his energetic curiosity about every life form, and his wonder at all complexity, which I suspect that his granddaughter, my grandmother Nora Barlow, then transmitted both to my mother and to all of us children.

Translated into science, this wondering at complexity went straight into important new concepts still valid today. Biodiversity, for instance, is all about the complexity of relationship. Or take the co-evolution of flower and pollinator. Moths have kept evolving longer and longer tongues in order to drink orchid nectar without rubbing against the pollen. At the same time, orchids have kept evolving longer and longer nectar spurs, to make the damn moths pollinate them.

Darwin, faced with the Madagascan star orchid, which has an amazingly long nectar spur of 11in, was convinced it had developed through this competitive kind of co-evolution, and predicted that one day a moth with a 10in tongue would be found: such a pollinator was the only way this flower could possibly get itself pollinated. People laughed and thought this crazy – but 40 years later, lo and behold, a hawkmoth was discovered, and it did have 10in tongue. It was named Xanthophan morgani praedicta in honour of a prediction which came from Darwin's perception that everything in nature came out of relationship.
« Last Edit: February 08, 2009, 12:58:35 pm by Bianca » Report Spam   Logged

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« Reply #27 on: February 08, 2009, 01:14:29 pm »

But let's go back to the human. Darwin had a wonderful sense of complexity in human relations too. He and his wife, his first cousin Emma Wedgwood, both came from very large families; they had 10 children and at least five of these had large families (hence the numbers of great-great-grandchildren). He also had a huge capacity for affection, an endearing modesty, a naivety people often called childlike, a great anxiety not to give other people trouble, a lively interest in their doings, and a keen enjoyment of tiny things. I think we should do something better in 2009 than just celebrate Darwin. He did not believe in an afterlife and needs no pats from us.

"There was something wonderfully exhilarating in his company", said his daughter Henrietta. "He was so vivid, had such joyousness of nature, and his laugh was delightful to hear. His courtesy, tact and ready sympathy made him a perfect listener."

This year is an opportunity to know him better, to spend more time in the exhilarating company of a man who gave us the basis of modern biology and expanded other sciences.

"Even if he'd never written On the Origin of Species, geologists would still know him through his work on coral reefs," the geologist Richard Fortey told me this autumn, when I was making a series of Radio 4 programmes as part of the forthcoming BBC season on Darwin.

"His great book on coral reefs was the first to provide a rational explanation for the formation of reefs. It is still valid today. It was the first example of Darwinian method: testing hypotheses in the field against observations."

Then there's psychology. The only moment in On the Origin of Species when Darwin gets near the question of "Man" is to say, "psychology will now be based on a new foundation: the acquirement of each necessary power."

Thirteen years later he developed that in The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, one of the first books to use the new invention of photography. Since 1838 he had posited an organic basis between our feelings and facial muscles, and wondered if this provided the link between apes and human beings. In 1838, no one else dreamed of going down that path.

The first ape seen in London Zoo, in 1835, was Tommy, a chimpanzee – which, I am sorry to say, the zoo dressed in a Guernsey frock and sailor hat. Jenny the orang-utan then went on show, also in a frock, in November 1837. But, despite the apes' clothes, despite seeing them using spoons and even drinking tea, everyone ridiculed the suggestion of a shared ancestry; even most naturalists.

Queen Victoria called Jenny "painfully and disagreeably human" but no one questioned the moral and mental uniqueness of human beings.

"In nothing does it trench upon the moral or mental provinces of man," declared a newspaper leader. But Darwin saw in Jenny's face our own same facial muscle movements. If there were the same muscle movements, why not the feelings, too?
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« Reply #28 on: February 08, 2009, 01:17:51 pm »

In On the Origin of Species, however, he used flora and other fauna, not Man, to demonstrate the principle of evolution. He hated controversy: what he wanted to get across was the principle – that evolution worked by natural selection. The debate about human origins was taken up by younger biologists like TH Huxley so that by the time Darwin addressed it in The Descent of Man (1871) all responsible thinkers had accepted evolution – including leaders of the Church.

Lord Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, whom I interviewed for my radio programmes, pointed out that in 1860, only one year after Origin came out – the year of Huxley's clash at Oxford with Bishop Wilberforce – a sermon was preached by Frederick Temple, headmaster of Rugby and later Archbishop of Canterbury, which effortlessly squared evolution with religion. No problem, said Temple: Darwin has simply shown us how God moves by natural processes over unimaginably long distances of time. And in the same year Darwin got a fan letter from the devout novelist Charles Kingsley, author of The Water Babies, along the same lines. Evolution? A great idea for Christianity. "Even better than making the world," write Kingsley, "God makes the world make itself!"

In 2009, we need to know Darwin better because he is increasingly being identified with one small bit of his work. Ironically for someone who worked by Darwinian method, always led strictly by evidence, always testing ideas in the field, that bit is often called "only a theory".

"Something funny is happening to my generation," said my daughter, aged 22. "They seem to think you can choose to believe evolution or not, like choosing Orange for your mobile not Virgin. If people hear I'm related to Darwin they ask, 'do you believe his theory?' They don't object to evolution on religious grounds, they just have an emotional block about accepting that our ancestors were apes. They just don't want to believe that."

My daughter is much better at biology than me. In normal speech, "theory" can mean a guess or unproved fact but even a poet knows that in science a theory is the highest thing there is: a principle, or a law, drawn from a large body of testable evidence. Try telling someone hit by a slate from the roof that gravity is only a theory.

For these 22-year-olds, knowledge has regressed 150 years because of the rise of creationism; and the Eighties revival of an 18th-century theory ("theory" in a non-scientific sense) called Natural Theology. (It is now called "intelligent design"). But, for 60 years, until the rise of fundamentalism in 1920s America, evolution and religion got on fine.
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« Reply #29 on: February 08, 2009, 01:20:10 pm »

Darwin never said he was an atheist, only agnostic. He had two grounds for objecting to Christianity. One was lack of proof: he was a scientist to his marrow and the one thing he respected was evidence. The other was pain.

"Disease and pain in the world," he noted in 1838, "and they talk of perfection?" He just could not accept the idea of benevolent divinity: he saw too clearly the wastage involved in the way nature worked. "The universe we observe, if properly understood, has all the properties we should expect if there is no purpose,no design, no evil, and no good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. Each form eternally destroyed while others take its place."

This observation acquired a tragic resonance in the decade before he wrote Origin. Twice in those years he watched nature exercise its pitilessness on two of his much-loved children. In 1851 his eldest daughter, sweet-natured Annie, aged 10, fell sick. It was probably TB but Darwin feared it was hereditary.

"It seems an exaggerated form of my illness. She inherits, I fear, my own wretched digestion." In Malvern, where he took Annie for a cure, he watched her worsen, and wrote a series of harrowing letters to his wife Emma, who was just about to have their seventh child (my own great-grandfather, as it happens.) "The doctor says there still is hope, but you would not recognise her poor, sharp, hard, pinched face. It is, from hour to hour, a struggle between life and death. God only knows the issue." ......... V

C After Annie died, Darwin no longer entered the village church. He left the family at the door and tramped through the lanes, looking for birds. This was when the iron entered his soul. His arguments for natural selection and survival of the fittest were honed as he sorted 20 years of evidence and conducted new experiments in the search for detailed proof, and struggled with his bitter personal experience of these laws. "Nature is prodigal of the forms of life. The fit will be preserved, the weak exterminated utterly – as myriads have been before: battle within battle, ever recurring."

He now knew in his own life the pain and loss involved in evolution. The loss not only of species, in millennia of extinctions, but also of individuals like Annie. "Nature is prodigal of time," he said. "She scrutinises every muscle, vessel, nerve. Every habit, instinct, shade of constitution. There will be no caprice, no favouring."
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