Archive for ‘Origin of Species’

July 10, 2012

What Darwin Didn’t Know – The Video

From the BBC, via Carl Zimmer, via Why Evolution is True.

November 24, 2009

On the Origin of Species — An Early Commentary by Wallace

An early reaction to the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species which was published 150 years ago today. Below is a selection from a letter by Alfred Wallace to his brother-in-law, Thomas Sims. The letter was written while Wallace was still in Indonesia. He had received a copy of the book in February, 1860 — a copy which had been sent by Charles Darwin – “…the Newton of Natural History“.

Delli, Timor. March 15, 1861

Now for Mr. Darwin’s book. You quite misunderstand Mr. D.’s statement in the preface and his sentiments. I have, of course, been in correspondence with him since I first sent him my little essay. His conduct has been most liberal and disinterested. I think anyone who reads the Linnean Society papers and his book will see it. I do back him up in his whole round of conclusions and look upon him as the Newton of Natural History.

You begin by criticising the title. Now, though I consider the title admirable, I believe it is not Mr. Darwin’s but the Publisher’s, as you are no doubt aware that publishers will have a taking title, and authors must and do give way to them. Mr. D. gave me a different title before the book came out. Again, you misquote and misunderstand Huxley, who is a complete convert. Prof. Asa Gray and Dr. Hooker, the two first botanists of Europe and America, are converts. And Lyell, the first geologist living, who has all his life written against such conclusions as Darwin arrives at, is a convert and is about to declare or already has declared his conversion—a noble and almost unique example of a man yielding to conviction on a subject which he has taught as a master all his life, and confessing that he has all his life been wrong.
It is clear that you have not yet sufficiently read the book to enable you to criticise it. It is a book in which every page and almost every line has a bearing on the main argument, and it is very difficult to bear in mind such a variety of facts, arguments and indications as are brought forward. It was only on the fifth perusal that I fully appreciated the whole strength of the work, and as I had been long before familiar with the same subjects I cannot but think that persons less familiar with them cannot have any clear idea of the accumulated argument by a single perusal.

Your objections, so far as I can see anything definite in them, are so fully and clearly anticipated and answered in the book itself that it is perfectly useless my saying anything about them. It seems to me, however, as clear as daylight that the principle of Natural Selection must act in nature. It is almost as necessary a truth as any of mathematics. Next, the effects produced by this action cannot be limited. It cannot be shown that there is any limit to them in nature. Again, the millions of facts in the numerical relations of organic beings, their geographical distribution, their relations of affinity, the modification of their parts and organs, the phenomena of intercrossing, embryology and morphology—all are in accordance with his theory, and almost all are necessary results from it; while on the other theory they are all isolated facts having no connection with each other and as utterly inexplicable and confusing as fossils are on the theory that they are special creations and are not the remains of animals that have once lived. It is the vast chaos of facts, which are explicable and fall into beautiful order on the one theory, which are inexplicable and remain a chaos on the other, which I think must ultimately force Darwin’s views on any and every reflecting mind. Isolated difficulties and objections are nothing against this vast cumulative argument. The human mind cannot go on for ever accumulating facts which remain unconnected and without any mutual bearing and bound together by no law. The evidence for the production of the organic world by the simple laws of inheritance is exactly of the same nature as that for the production of the present surface of the earth—hills and valleys, plains, rocks, strata, volcanoes, and all their fossil remains—by the slow and natural action of natural causes now in operation. The mind that will ultimately reject Darwin must (to be consistent) reject Lyell also. The same arguments of apparent stability which are thought to disprove that organic species can change will also disprove any change in the inorganic world, and you must believe with your forefathers that each hill and each river, each inland lake and continent, were created as they stand, with their various strata and their various fossils—all appearances and arguments to the contrary notwithstanding. I can only recommend you to read again Darwin’s account of the horse family and its comparison with pigeons; and if that does not convince and stagger you, then you are unconvertible. I do not expect Mr. Darwin’s larger work will add anything to the general strength of his argument. It will consist chiefly of the details (often numerical) and experiments and calculations of which he has already given the summaries and results. It will therefore be more confusing and less interesting to the general reader. It will prove to scientific men the accuracy of his details, and point out the sources of his information, but as not one in a thousand readers will ever test these details and references the smaller work will remain for general purposes the best….

Extracted from the Project Gutenberg E-Book of Alfred Russel Wallace: Letters and Reminiscences, Vol. 1 (of 2), by James Marchant

November 10, 2009

The Evolution of Charles Darwin on CBC

Beginning this Wednesday on CBC Radio One: The Evolution of Charles Darwin.

From the Ideas website:

Ideas pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his transformational and contentious book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution through Natural Selection completely changed how we think about the world. In this 4-part series, Seth Feldman guides us through the life and ideas of Charles Darwin, a creative genius. The series is produced by Sara Wolch.

On November 24th, 1859, a new book with a very long title was published in England: On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle For Life. The author was: Charles Darwin, M.A.; Fellow of the Royal, (the) Geological, etc., Societies; and author of Journal of Researches during H.M.S. Beagle’s Voyage around the World.

The Origin of Species
was earth-shattering. In his own day, when he wrote those words, and even now, in our own. Darwin showed us how and why all life is change; that nothing stays the same; that over time all living things adapt and evolve, or perish; and that above all, this is a Natural Process, not the result of Divine Intervention. Darwin’s theory – of evolution through Natural Selection – completely changed the way we see the world.

Episode 1 – Broadcast November 11, 2009

Illustration from Darwin’s Journal of Researches into the Natural History and Geology of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle.

The Prepared Mind: From Darwin’s Early Years To His Voyage Of Discovery On The H.M.S. Beagle.

Charles Darwin was born into a world just beginning to shake itself loose from biblical creationism. The French Enlightenment produced the first modern evolutionary theories – followed shortly thereafter by Darwin’s own grandfather. At Edinburgh and Cambridge Universities, Darwin was mentored by the most progressive natural philosophers of his day, one of whom got him a berth on the H.M.S. Beagle for one of history’s great voyages of discovery.

Episode 2 – Broadcast November 18, 2009

Charles Robert Darwin, aged 45 in 1854, pondering his ideas on the origin of species.

The Transmutationist: Darwin Thinks His Way From The Beagle To The Book.

The young man who stepped off the Beagle not only believed in evolution – or transmutation as it was then known – but also knew better than anyone how it worked. Yet Darwin, family man, country squire, rising star in British science, kept his thoughts secret for more than twenty years. All that time, the evidence piled up until finally the pressure was so great that he had to publish.

Episode 3 – Broadcast November 25, 2009

On The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin.

Primates vs Primates: What On The Origin Of Species Said, And What Was Said About It.

For a book that turned Western Culture upside down, On the Origin of Species was elegantly written and fascinating to read. Darwin made his case logically, patiently and with a keen awareness of his readers concerns and beliefs. Even so, thoughtful scientists, scandalized clergymen and fellow naturalists argued against his theory of Evolution by Natural Selection and never forgave him for removing moral direction from their picture of life.

Episode 4 – Broadcast December 2, 2009

The genetic blueprints for living organisms evolve over time.

The Enduring Legacy Of Charles Darwin: Why Science And Society Today Are Still Wrestling With Darwin’s Big Idea.

The great synthesis between Darwin’s theory of Natural Selection (as the mechanism for evolution) and genetics (as the mechanism for natural selection) is the bedrock of contemporary Evolutionary Biology. But Darwin’s idea – though modified, expanded upon and continuously attacked – has also influenced the way we think about everything from human society to thought itself.

September 14, 2009

Darwin’s Darkest Hour – Video Intro.

A new video has been posted at NOVAonline for the upcoming docu-drama, Darwin’s Darkest Hour:

Premiering October 6th, the two-hour drama will coincide with the 200th anniversary of Darwins birth and the 150th anniversary of his seminal work On the Origin of the Species.

In 1858 Charles Darwin received a letter from naturalist Alfred Wallace, explaining his own theory of evolution. This was the trigger event that led to the publication of Darwins seminal theory on the origin of species.
See more at this previous post.

September 2, 2009

A Darwin Narrates – Beagle: In the Wake of Darwin

From August 11, Sarah Darwin narrates this great video introduction to the VPRO expedition. Great shots of the Clipper Stad Amsterdam in full sail.

August 15, 2009

Photo Album – Guinea Fowl

Helmeted Guinea Fowl (Numida meleagris) portraits, as photographed at the Calgary Zoo, Alberta.

Charles Darwin communicated with many people all over the world seeking evidence to bolster his theory of natural selection. One of his correspondents was Edward Blyth, the chemist and ornithologist who opened up Indian zoology. Darwin hears about Guinea Fowl in this letter (23 Jan, 1856) from Blyth:

“By the way, do you know the positively wild Numida meleagris from Guinea, as distinguished from Ogilby’s N. Rendallii,f7 said to be the ordinary species of the Gambia? Another species which I should like to know about, is the N. coronata (in addition to N. mitrata, if not also N. cristata) in S. Africa. “

The Helmeted Guinea fowl is now considered to be the only one in the genus Numida, in the Order Galliformes, Family Numididae:

The ITIS, ( Integrated Taxonomic Information System) recognises 9 subspecies of N. meleagris.

The species, N. coronata and N. mitrata Darwin mentions above are now considered subspecies. N. cristata is now Guttera pucherani, the Crested Guinea Fowl. Darwin would have loved to know that N. cristata had jumped to another genus, Guttera – (possibly) a fine example of variaton leading to a new closely related genus. (Any information on the taxonomic state of “N. Rendalliiwould also be interesting.)

Darwin mentions Blyth in On the Origin of Species, in the first chapter, Variation Under Domestication:

“Mr. Blyth, whose opinion, from his large and varied stores of knowledge, I should value more than that of almost any one, thinks that all the breeds of poultry have proceeded from the common wild Indian fowl (Gallus bankiva)”. On the Origin of Species, ch.1, pg 19.

The Red Jungle Fowl (now Gallus gallus bankiva) is only one species that Blyth provided information on for The Origin. He also provided information on cattle, geese and horses.

  • More information on the Helmeted Guinea Fowl, including web accessable links to scientific as well as lay literature can be found at
May 13, 2009

Dawkins Reads Darwin

A new audio book release of On the Origin of Species is to be released, read by none other than Darwin’s Rottweiler, Richard Dawkins:

On The Origin of Species must be high on any serious list of the most important and influential books ever written. On its first publication in 1859, Thomas Henry Huxley exclaimed “How extremely stupid of me not to have thought of that.” Charles Darwin’s revolutionary idea is, indeed, an astoundingly simple one, especially when you measure it against the magnitude of what it explains – every fact that we know about life on Earth.

Listen to On The Origin of Species, and you immediately find yourself ushered into the presence of one of the finest minds ever to grace this planet. In this recording, which was a true labour of love, I made no attempt to act the part of Darwin, but instead worked hard, as a modern follower of Darwin, to convey the true meaning of every sentence. I even surprised myself: the exercise of reading Darwin’s words aloud and identifying in every phrase the syllable that needed to be stressed, revealed to me subtleties and depths of meaning that I had missed when reading quietly to myself. I hope listeners will be enlightened in the same way.

Of Darwin’s six editions I chose to abridge from the first. Surprisingly, and in many ways, it is the most modern. Moreover, it is of greatest historical interest, as being the one that actually hit the Victorian solar plexus and drove out the wind of centuries. In abridging the book, my priority was to cut those passages that are now known to be wrong, notably those concerned with genetics. I believe it is what Darwin himself would have wished. What takes my breath away as a modern biologist is how much Darwin got right. It has been well said that he worked a century and more ahead of his time. The year 2009 is both the bi-centenary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of On The Origin of Species and that statement is becoming harder to deny.

On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin, read by Richard Dawkins


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