Before Evolution was proposed by Charles Darwin, what were the leading secular theories to explain how life developed?

Before Evolution was proposed by Charles Darwin, what were the leading secular theories to explain how life developed?

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Outside of evolution, what were the leading scientific schools of thought that Charles Darwin contented with when he published his evolution theory as way of natural selection in 1859?

There were many (more or less) non-theological theories of how life had developed before Darwin, starting at the ancient greeks. Many theories included spontaneous generation but also aspects of modification by descent of existing species (i.e. evolutionary change), but most were not that well developed and complete thought. However, one of the more complete evolutionary theories that pre-dated Darwin was Lamarckism, which claimed that individuals pass on traits that they have acquired during their life time. So the basic idea was that individuals respond and adapt to the environmental conditions they experience, and that these traits are then transferred to their offspring. This is one example of a non-theological theory that pre-dated Darwin, but I cannot really say if it was the leading one. I do know that Lamarck's ideas were relatively ignored during his own lifetime.

Darwin included some aspects of these ideas in his "Origin of Species", but challanged Lamarckism when it came to the main processes of evolution. A weak interpretation of Lamarckism has actually seen a revival after the discovery that epigenetics can be transferred from parents to offspring, see e.g. Heard & Martienssen (2014) and Szyf (2014).

Analysis Of Charles Darwin's Theory Of Evolution By Natural Selection

The idea that both living organisms and the earth change consistently can be traced to the ancient Greek (Hergenhahn & Henley, 2014). Despite all these well-known facts it can be claimed that the evolution of living organisms has been considered as a scientific way of thinking concurrently with Charles Darwin (1809-1882) as a result of the fact that Darwin stated the mechanisms of these changes in a systematic and detailed way besides he came up with convenient evidences in his most famous and impressive book On the Origin of Species (1859) (Pickren & Rutherford, 2010).
Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection consists of three fundamental principles. First, all living organisms produce offspring as much as they are able to. Second, genetically different offspring occur as a result of sexual reproduction and mutation. Third, among these different offspring, some of them can survive and reproduce themselves in the given environment in terms of their genetic differences (Greenberg & Haraway, 2002). In this way, natural selection takes place. Organism’s ability for survival and reproduction is called “fitness” by Darwin and fitness is the result of organism’s new features that come from sexual reproduction and mutation. These different features are called adaptive features and being.

Specifically, comparative psychology is a scientific way of study that investigate the evolution and development of animal behavior in order to obtain general principles that are able to explain the origins of all behavior in all animals. Therefore, comparative psychology indicated a new scientific way of study that was based on comparison of humans to other animals. In this way, comparisons can uncover both the similarities between humans and other life forms and the human characteristics differ from other species that make us unique in the world (Greenberg & Haraway.

The History of Evolutionary Theory

*These resources are from Teaching About Evolution and the Nature of Science, on the National Academies Press website.

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To introduce the concept of evolution by natural selection from a historical standpoint and to examine the evidence and arguments that support this theory.


Science never takes places in a void and evolutionary thought is no exception. Although Charles Darwin is considered to be by many the "father" of evolutionary thought, he was in fact aided and guided by the works of many scientists before him. The theories and ideas proposed by his predecessors were limited to the information available at the time. Darwin himself had no knowledge of genetics and therefore, his theory of natural selection as an explanation of evolution was based solely on what he observed and knew at the time.

Because of the complexity of the evidence and the arguments that must be explained, a clear understanding of species evolution probably cannot be achieved earlier than high school. However, students in earlier grades (6-8) should have developed the evidence base for which the theory attempts to account. This lesson provides high-school students with an introduction to a more detailed study of evolution by focusing on the historical origins of Darwin's theory and the ideas that came before it. This historical study provides a good opportunity to feature the importance in science of careful observation and description and to illustrate that not all scientific advances depend on experimentation.

The goal of this lesson is for students to have the opportunity to examine how evolution has been scientifically explained historically. In doing so, students will examine the arguments and theories set forth by three historically important scientists: Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Charles Darwin.

Information about Lamarck is found in most standard biology textbooks. Usually, there will be a brief description of his ideas and then a paragraph or two explaining why he was wrong. Often, students think that models that are no longer accepted must have been poorly developed. Students are also often unaware that Wallace independently developed the theory of natural selection to explain biological evolution. However, due to publishing dates, he is not given the same credit as Charles Darwin. Thus, students should not come away from this lesson thinking that Lamarck and Wallace were inferior scientists because the former's theory was incomplete and the latter did not receive public acclaim. The writings of both of these men made important contributions to evolutionary biology. Discussing these models provides a forum for talking about how and why scientific ideas change over time.

Research shows that students have a tendency to think in Lamarckian terms. That is, students often invoke the needs of organisms when accounting for change over time (Bishop and Anderson, 1990). They may also often believe that evolution is goal-directed. Discussion of Lamarck's ideas will provide a context in which a clear distinction can be made between these ideas and those of Darwin. The purpose of this lesson, however, is not to begin to make comparisons, but simply to make certain students understand how arguments have changed over time. By understanding the arguments put forth by Lamarck and Darwin, students can make fruitful comparisons in another Science NetLinks lesson, Comparing Theories: Lamarck and Darwin.


Using the History of Evolutionary Theory student esheet, students should visit Pre-Darwinian Theories for an explanation of the development of modern evolutionary thinking. Students should read the page on Pre-Darwinian Theories and then move on to Darwin and Natural Selection by clicking on "Next Topic" at the bottom of the page. After students have completed the reading, ask them these questions, which are meant to assess students' preconceptions and ideas about evolution, the theory of natural selection, and Darwin's role in history.

  • What is this reading about?
  • How do you think society influences a scientist's view?
  • How do you think religion influences a scientist's view?
  • How can scientific explanations change over time?
  • What is evolution?
    (Students may not know the distinction between evolution, the historical changes in life forms that are well substantiated and generally accepted as fact by scientists, and natural selection, the proposed mechanism for these changes. This question will allow you to determine students' misconceptions and confusion of the two.)
  • How do scientists explain how evolution occurs?
    (This question should help students in distinguishing the theory of natural selection from the observed fact of evolution.)
  • Do you think that the way people have explained evolution has changed over time? Why or why not?
  • Who was Charles Darwin?
  • How did Charles Darwin explain how evolution occurs?
  • When did Charles Darwin propose his theory about evolution?
  • Did evolutionary theory exist before Darwin?
  • How do you think Darwin developed his theory?
  • Do you know of any other individuals who proposed theories on evolution?


Tell students that they will examine writings from three influential scientists who proposed explanations for biological evolution&mdashJean Lamarck, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Charles Darwin.

Assign the Lamarck reading, Zoological Philosophy, and have students answer the questions posed by the History of Evolutionary Theory student sheet. Students can also use their esheet to access the reading. In class the next day, discuss the Lamarck reading. Before asking questions, allow students the opportunity to ask their own questions about the vocabulary or reading that they may have found confusing. Encourage other students to answer these questions. Once students have cleared up any misunderstandings or confusion, move on to a discussion of the assigned questions.

The exact mechanism proposed by Lamarck should be clear from the reading. Lamarck believed that individuals change over time due to environmental influences and these "acquired" characteristics are then passed on to the offspring. Over time, all the individual organisms that have been subjected to that particular environment will have changed. Implicit in this assertion is that species change as the result of the "needs" of individuals. Although it is not mentioned in the reading, the data that provided the foundation for some of Larmarck's inferences came from the fossil record. Specifically, he argued that the fossil organisms that we no longer see on earth have not become extinct, but rather have changed to such an extent that we no longer recognize them as being the same. The gradual accumulation of these changes over time accounts for the changes that are evident in the fossil record.

Discuss with students the example of the giraffe described by Lamarck as evidence for his theory. According to his theory, a giraffe's long neck developed as a result of the animal's need for leaves on the tops of trees. Over time, the giraffe's organs were strengthened to support long necks, and hence its offspring were also endowed with long necks. Ask students:

  • Why has this example been criticized by other scientists?
    (Individual giraffes cannot change the length of their neck because of a &ldquoneed&rdquo to reach leaves high on a tree. Moreover, individuals can only pass on hereditary material, not a trait acquired due to environmental influences.)
  • If we now know that Lamarck's theory was incomplete, why do we still study it today?
    (First, Lamarck's theory of evolution attracted so much heat from religious conservatives that it depleted their reserves and their will to resist. Second, Lamarck had cleared the way towards developing a complete theory of explaining evolution and the diversity of life. Both Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace built upon the foundations of evolutionary thought laid down by Lamarck. Armed with additional ecological knowledge and worldly experience, they independently developed a durable theory of evolution by natural selection.)

Next, assign the Wallace reading, On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type, and have students answer the questions posed on the History of Evolutionary Theory student sheet. Students can also use the esheet to access the reading. Tell students that Alfred Russel Wallace was a friend of Darwin's, working as a naturalist in Malaysia. He sent Darwin his short paper entitled, "On the Tendency of Variations to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type." In class the next day, discuss the Wallace reading. As before, first allow students the opportunity to ask their own questions about the vocabulary or reading that they may have found confusing. Encourage other students to answer these questions. Once students have cleared up any misunderstandings or confusion, move on to a discussion of the assigned questions.

Finally, assign students the Darwin reading, On the Origin of Species, and have students answer the questions posed in the student sheet. Tell students that they will read an excerpt from his book, On the Origin of Species published on November 24, 1859, 23 years after the conclusion of his voyage on the H.M.S. Beagle. As a side note, students may be interested to know that by the end of the day, the entire first edition (1250 copies) was sold out.

After discussing general questions and the reading questions, ask students:

  • Do you think Darwin's argument was scientific? Why or why not?
    (Darwin's argument was a scientific one he used his observations and knowledge available at the time to develop a sound theory that would explain biological evolution.)
  • Do you think Darwin's argument was more or less scientific than Lamarck's? Explain.
    (Both Darwin's and Lamarck's theories were scientific in that they were reasonable, used observations as data, and relied on the knowledge available at the time. However, we know from our knowledge of genetics and heredity that Lamarck's theory was incomplete. Darwin's theory, however, is consistent with genetics although he had no knowledge of the principles of heredity in his lifetime.)
  • Compare Darwin's theory to that of Wallace's. How were they the same or different?
    (Both had the same theory. Darwin even credits Wallace for sending him his paper and the two presented their ideas together.)
  • Why do you think Darwin is more famous than Wallace, even though we know that they both had the same theory and both presented their findings together?
    (The last published work of Darwin was On the Origin of Species, published 1859 hence, most of the credit of evolutionary thought has been given to Darwin. However, Darwin and Wallace were good friends and colleagues and Darwin mentions Wallace numerous times in his book, particularly in his introduction.)

Answers to the questions posed on the student sheet can be found in the History of Evolutionary Theory teacher sheet.


Tell students that their assessment assignment is to describe the history of evolutionary theory. Students can choose to demonstrate their understanding and knowledge in any appropriate format, such as video, illustrations, poster, essay, or diorama. Specifically, students should discuss/describe the events and people, besides Lamarck and Wallace, which influenced the development of Darwin's theory.

Refer students to the "Understanding What You Learned" section of the History of Evolutionary Theory student esheet. Go over the assignment with students and assign a due date.


Follow this lesson with the Science NetLinks lesson: Comparing Theories: Lamarck and Darwin.

Before beginning a unit on evolution, administer a survey to elicit students' misconceptions about this topic. Rather than grading these surveys and telling students which of these answers are "right" or "wrong," have students keep their surveys and repeat them at the conclusion of the unit. Then, ask students to compare their responses before and after the unit. At this point, also discuss each statement and explain why certain points are true or false in accordance with scientific understanding of biological evolution. This Evolution Survey from the University of Indiana is a good example.

To connect this lesson with social studies and world history, have students draw the history of evolution timeline as shown on the PBS Evolution website on a smaller scale (3-4 sheets of paper). On the bottom half of the timeline, have students label the 31 events from the "Rise of Evolution" segment. On the top half, have students add events from world history that coincide with the changes in evolutionary thought. Students can research world history events from the Hyper History website. This will give students a better understanding of when the changes in evolutionary thought took place. It will also encourage students to consider how world events may have affected the development of evolutionary thought and vice versa.

Evolution Library contains annotated links to a wide variety of useful articles, videos, Web resources, and other tools that can be used to supplement the teaching of evolution.

Herbert Spencer

Yet in an attempt to convey his scientific ideas to the British public, Darwin borrowed popular concepts, including “survival of the fittest,” from sociologist Herbert Spencer and “struggle for existence” from economist Thomas Malthus, who had earlier written about how human societies evolve over time.

Darwin rarely commented on the social implications of his theories. But to those who followed Spencer and Malthus, Darwin’s theory appeared to be confirming with science what they already believed to be true about human society—that the fit inherited qualities such as industriousness and the ability to accumulate wealth, while the unfit were innately lazy and stupid.

What Darwin Didn’t Know

Charles Darwin was just 28 years old when, in 1837, he scribbled in a notebook "one species does change into another"—one of the first hints of his great theory. He'd recently returned to England after his five-year journey as a naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle. In South America, Oceania and most memorably the Galápagos Islands, he had seen signs that plant and animal species were not fixed and permanent, as had long been held true. And it was as if he had an inkling of the upheavals to come as he pored over specimens he had collected and others had sent him: finches, barnacles, beetles and much more. "Cuidado," he wrote in another notebook around that time, using the Spanish word for "careful." Evolution was a radical, even dangerous idea, and he didn't yet know enough to take it public.

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For another 20 years he would amass data󈟤 years!—before having his idea presented publicly to a small audience of scientists and then, a year later, to a wide, astonished popular readership in his majestic On the Origin of Species, first published in 1859. Today, Origin ranks among the most important books ever published, and perhaps alone among scientific works, it remains scientifically relevant 150 years after its debut. It also survives as a model of logical thought, and a vibrant and engaging work of literature.

Perhaps because of that remarkable success, "evolution," or "Darwinism," can sometimes seem like a done deal, and the man himself something of an alabaster monument to wisdom and the dispassionate pursuit of scientific truth. But Darwin recognized that his work was just the beginning. "In the distant future I see open fields for far more important researches," he wrote in Origin.

Since then, even the most unanticipated discoveries in the life sciences have supported or extended Darwin's central ideas—all life is related, species change over time in response to natural selection, and new forms replace those that came before. "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution," the pioneering geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky titled a famous essay in 1973. He could not have been more right—evolution is quite simply the way biology works, the central organizing principle of life on earth.

In the 150 years since Darwin published Origin, those "important researches" have produced results he could never have anticipated. Three fields in particular—geology, genetics and paleoanthropology—illustrate both the gaps in Darwin's own knowledge and the power of his ideas to make sense of what came after him. Darwin would have been amazed, for example, to learn that the continents are in constant, crawling motion. The term "genetics" wasn't even coined until 1905, long after Darwin's death in 1882. And though the first fossil recognized as an ancient human—dubbed Neanderthal Man—was discovered in Germany just before Origin was published, he could not have known about the broad and varied family tree of ancestral humans. Yet his original theory has encompassed all these surprises and more.

Around the world, people will celebrate Darwin's 200th birthday with lectures, exhibits and festivities. In England, where Darwin already graces the ten-pound note, a special two-pound coin will be struck. Cambridge University is hosting a five-day festival in July. In North America, Darwin events are scheduled in Chicago, Houston and Denver, among many other places. Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History established an "Evolution Trail" that highlights concepts from Darwin's work throughout the museum, and a special exhibit shows how orchids have evolved and adapted according to Darwin's theory.

As towering historical figures go, Charles Darwin does not provide much by way of posthumous scandals. The liberty-extolling Thomas Jefferson was slave master to his longtime mistress, Sally Hemings Albert Einstein had his adulterous affairs and shockingly remote parenting style James Watson and Francis Crick minimized their debt to colleague Rosalind Franklin's crucial DNA data. But Darwin, who wrote more than a dozen scientific books, an autobiography and thousands of letters, notebooks, logs and other informal writings, seems to have loved his ten children (three of whom did not survive childhood), been faithful to his wife, done his own work and given fair, if not exuberant, credit to his competitors.

He was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809, into a well-off family of doctors and industrialists. But his up-bringing wasn't entirely conventional. His family was active in progressive causes, including the antislavery movement. Indeed, an illuminating new book by Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin's Sacred Cause, concludes that Darwin's interest in evolution can be traced to his, and his family's, hatred of slavery: Darwin's work proved the error of the idea that the human races were fundamentally different. Both of his grandfathers were famous for unorthodox thinking, and Darwin's mother and physician father followed in those footsteps. Darwin's paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a physician and natural philosopher of vast appetites—and correspondingly corpulent physique—who developed his own early theory of evolution. (It was more purely conceptual than Charles' and missed the idea of natural selection.) On his mother's side, Darwin's grandfather was the wealthy Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the eponymous pottery concern and a prominent abolitionist.

Darwin began training to be a physician but didn't have a taste for doctoring, so he moved on to studying for the Anglican priesthood at Cambridge. His real passion, however, was natural history. Shortly after graduation in 1831, he signed on for an unpaid position as a naturalist aboard the Beagle, which was about to embark on a survey of South American coastlines. During the five-year voyage Darwin collected thousands of important specimens, discovered new species both living and extinct and immersed himself in biogeography—the study of where particular species live, and why.

Upon his return to England in 1836, Darwin stayed busy, publishing scientific works on the geology of South America, the formation of coral reefs and the animals encountered during his Beagle expedition, as well as a best-selling popular account of his time aboard the ship. He married his cousin, Emma Wedgwood, in 1839, and by 1842 the growing Darwin family was established at Down House, in a London suburb. Charles, plagued by poor health, settled down with a vengeance.

By 1844, he was confiding in a letter to a fellow naturalist, "I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable." Still, he hesitated to publicize the idea, instead plunging into the study of domestic animal breeding—natural selection, he would argue, is not unlike the artificial selection practiced by a breeder trying to enhance or eliminate a trait—and the distributions of wild plants and animals. He devoted eight full years to documenting minute anatomical variations in barnacles. A prolific letter writer, he sought samples, information and scientific advice from correspondents around the world.

It was a young naturalist and professional specimen collector named Alfred Russel Wallace who finally spurred Darwin to publish. Working first in the Amazon and then in the Malay Archipelago, Wallace had developed an evolution theory similar to Darwin's but not as fully substantiated. When, in 1858, Wallace sent the older man a manuscript describing his theory of evolution, Darwin realized that Wallace could beat him into print. Darwin had an essay he had written in 1844 and Wallace's manuscript read at a meeting of the Linnean Society in London on July 1, 1858, and published together later that summer. Wallace, then on an island in what is now Indonesia, wouldn't find out about the joint publication until October. "There's been an argument about whether Wallace got screwed," says Sean B. Carroll, a biologist and author of books on evolution. "But he was delighted. He was honored that his work was considered worthy" to be included alongside that of Darwin, whom he greatly admired.

This first public airing of Darwinian evolution caused almost no stir whatsoever. But when Darwin published his ideas in book form the following year, the reaction was quite different. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life soon sold out its first press run of 1,250 copies, and within a year some 4,250 copies were in circulation. Allies applauded it as a brilliant unifying breakthrough scientific rivals called attention to the gaps in his evidence, including what would come to be known as "missing links" in the fossil record and prominent clergymen, politicians and others condemned the work and its far-reaching implications. In 1864 Benjamin Disraeli, later Britain's prime minister, famously decried the idea—barely mentioned in Origin—that human beings too had evolved from earlier species. "Is man an ape or an angel?" he asked rhetorically at a conference. "I, my lord, I am on the side of the angels. I repudiate with indignation and abhorrence those newfangled theories."

Darwin had anticipated such protests. "Any one whose disposition leads him to attach more weight to unexplained difficulties than to the explanation of a certain number of facts will certainly reject my theory," he wrote in Origin. But, he also said, "I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality."

The age of the earth was, for Darwin, a major unexplained difficulty. He recognized that a great deal of time must have been necessary for the world's diversity of plants and animals to evolve—more time, certainly, than the 6,000 years allowed by the leading biblical interpretation of earth's age, but more also than many scientists then accepted. In 1862, the physicist William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) calculated that the planet was unlikely to be more than 100 million years old—still nowhere near enough time for evolution to have acted so dramatically. "Thomson's views on the recent age of the world have been for some time one of my sorest troubles," Darwin wrote to Wallace in 1869. Further studies, including one by Darwin's son George, an astronomer, fixed earth's age at well under 100 million years.

It wouldn't be until the 1920s and 1930s that geologists, calculating the rates of radioactive decay of elements, concluded that the earth was billions of years old—according to the latest studies, 4.5 billion years. Darwin surely would have been relieved that there was enough time for evolution to have accounted for the great diversity of life on earth.

Modern geology has helped solve another puzzle that troubled Darwin—the existence of oddly similar terrestrial species on separate continents. How, for example, to explain the emus of Australia, ostriches of Africa and rheas of South America— large, flightless, long-necked birds with the same distinctive sternums? Early evolutionists, following Darwin, invoked scenarios such as long-gone land bridges stretching thousands of miles to explain how apparently related species could wind up so far apart. The outrageous truth wasn't revealed until the 1960s, when scientists discovered plate tectonics and confirmed that the continents, far from being permanent fixtures of land surrounded by water, were giant rafts floating on molten rock. This discovery justified the nagging suspicion of middle school students everywhere that the continents should fit together into a giant jigsaw puzzle, as indeed they once had. In Darwin's time, the idea that once-contiguous continents shifted apart, separating sister species one from another, would have been nearly as audacious as evolution itself.

Evolution explains the vast diversity of life on earth, with single species becoming many as they adapt to different environments. "Remarkably," says the evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson, "although his masterwork was entitled On the Origin of Species, Darwin really didn't pay much attention to how one species splits and multiplies into many." Darwin did acknowledge the importance of this process, called speciation, at the very end of Origin: "Life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one. 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." But, says Wilson, Darwin focused on "how one species was transformed by some force or other into another species through time, not how species could multiply."

Darwin's famous Galápagos finches—more than a dozen species all descended from the same South American ancestor—would become the iconic example of speciation. But understanding the process would have to wait for the work of Wallace in the mid-1860s. "Wallace clearly expressed [speciation] in a major study made of butterflies of the Malay Archipelago," Wilson says. Wallace, working in an area with tens of thousands of islands, showed that a single butterfly species could slowly become many as it adapted to the specific conditions encountered on each island. "From then on biologists put more time into thinking about multiplication of species," Wilson says, "and by the turn of the century they had a pretty clear idea of how species originate. But that was something that Darwin held back a little."

Darwin knew that plant and animal species could be sorted into groups by similarity, such that birds clustered into songbirds and raptors, say, with each group subdivided again and again down to dozens or hundreds of distinct species. He also saw that the individuals within any given species, despite many similarities, also differed from one another—and some of those differences were passed from parents to their offspring. And Darwin observed that nature had a brutally efficient method of rewarding any variation that helped an individual live longer, breed faster or leave more progeny. The reward for being a slightly faster or more alert antelope? The lions would eat your slower neighbors first, granting you one more day in which to reproduce. After many generations and a great deal of time, the whole population would run faster, and with many such changes over time eventually become a new species. Evolution, Darwin's "descent with modification through natural selection," would have occurred.

But what was the source of variation and what was the mechanism for passing change from generation to generation? Darwin "didn't know anything about why organisms resemble their parents, or the basis of heritable variations in populations," says Niles Eldredge, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

In Darwin's era, the man who did make progress on the real mechanism of inheritance was the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel. In his abbey garden in the late 1850s and early 1860s, Mendel bred pea plants and found that the transmission of traits such as flower color and seed texture followed observable rules. For instance, when plants with certain distinct traits were bred with each other, the hybrid offspring did not have a trait that was a blend of the two the flowers might be purple or white, but never an intermediate violet. This surprising result helped point the way toward the concept of "units" of inheritance—discrete elements of hereditary information. An offspring inherits a set of these genetic units from each parent. Since the early 1900s, those units of inheritance have been known as genes.

Mendel knew Darwin's work—his German copy of Origin was sprinkled with handwritten notes—but there's no evidence that Mendel realized that his units of inheritance carried the variation upon which Darwinian selection acted. "The interesting thing is that Mendel had both pieces of the puzzle in his hands, but he never put it together," says Michael Ruse, a historian and philosopher of science at Florida State University. "He never once said, 'Ah hah, I've got the answer to Darwin's problem.'" Mendel's discoveries remained obscure until after he died in 1884, and Darwin never knew of them. But what if he had? "If Darwin had read Mendel's papers, he might have picked up on it," Ruse says, "but I'm not sure it would have made much difference."

Today, comparative genomics—the analysis of whole sets of genetic information from different species—is confirming the core of Darwin's theory at the deepest level. Scientists can now track, DNA molecule by DNA molecule, exactly what mutations occurred, and how one species changed into another. (In one particularly fitting example, researchers are now working out the molecular changes that allowed Darwin's Galápagos finches to evolve different beaks in response to their different feeding strategies.) Darwin himself made a stab at drawing a "tree of life," a diagram that traces the evolutionary relationships among species based on their similarities and differences. But scientists are now constructing the most detailed tree of life ever, as part of the Encyclopedia of Life project (sponsored in part by the Smithsonian Institution), using DNA sequence data as well as traditional anatomical and behavioral characteristics to trace the precise evolutionary relationships among thousands and thousands of species.

There have been plenty of evolutionary surprises in recent years, things that Darwin never would have guessed. The number of genes a species has doesn't correlate with how complex it is, for example. With some 37,000 genes, rice has almost twice as many as humans, with 20,000. And genes aren't passed only from parent to offspring they can also be passed between individuals, even individuals of different species. This "horizontal transfer" of genetic material is pervasive in bacteria it's how antibiotic resistance often spreads from one strain to another. Animals rarely acquire whole genes in this way, but our own DNA is packed with smaller bits of genetic material picked up from viruses during our evolutionary history, including many elements that regulate when genes are active or dormant.

Do these surprises challenge the central idea of Darwinian evolution? "Absolutely not," says David Haussler, a genome scientist at the University of California at Santa Cruz. "I am struck with the fact daily that the more information we accumulate, the more validation we find of Darwin's theory." Once new material has nestled into a host's genome via horizontal transfer, the genetic material is as subject to natural selection as ever. Truly one of the most remarkable traits of Darwinism itself is that it has withstood heavy scientific scrutiny for a century and a half and still manages to accommodate the latest ideas. "So far the data sets we've looked at and the surprises we've found show that the essence of the idea is right," Haussler says.

Another growing field of biology is shedding further light on the origins of variation. Evolutionary developmental biology, or evo-devo, focuses on changes in the exquisitely choreographed process that causes a fertilized egg to mature. Behind one series of such changes are the so-called homeotic genes, which dictate where legs or arms or eyes will form on a growing embryo. These central-control genes turned out to be almost identical even in animals as different as worms, flies and human beings. Many researchers now think that much of evolution works not so much through mutations, or random errors, in the major functional genes, but by tweaking the ways by which developmental genes control other genes.

"The building blocks of squids and flies and humans and snakes are stunningly similar," says Carroll, of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, one of the founders of evo-devo. "It kind of upsets your worldview at first," he adds, "but then you see that it bolsters the Darwinian view a thousandfold. These kinds of connections were at the heart of descent with modification."

Carroll says he thinks Darwin would be thrilled with the evolutionary details scientists can now see—how, for example, changes in just a small number of regulatory genes can explain the evolution of insects, which have six legs, from their ancestors, which had even more. From there, it's a short step to solving some of the mysteries of speciation, working out the mechanics of exactly how one species becomes many, and how complexity and diversity can be built up out of very simple beginnings. "I think this is a new golden age of evolutionary science," says Carroll. "But what we're really doing is fleshing out Darwin's idea in ever greater detail."

Perhaps the most surprising discovery in recent years has to do with one of Darwin's predecessors in evolutionary theory. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, a French naturalist, developed his own theory of biological evolution in the early 19th century. He suggested that acquired traits could be passed along to offspring—giraffes that stretched to reach leaves on tall trees would produce longer-necked offspring. This "soft inheritance" became known as Lamarckism and soon proved susceptible to parody: Would clipping the tail off a rat lead to tailless pups? Of course not, and in time soft inheritance was dismissed, and Lamarck became a textbook example of shoddy thinking.

Then, in the early days of genetic engineering more than two decades ago, researchers inserted foreign genes into the DNA of lab animals and plants and noticed something strange. The genes inserted into such host cells worked at first, "but then suddenly they were silenced, and that was it, generation after generation," says Eva Jablonka, an evolutionary biologist at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Researchers figured out that the host cells were tagging the foreign genes with an "off switch" that made the genes inoperable. The new gene was passed to an animal's offspring, but so was the off switch—that is, the parent's experience influenced its offspring's inheritance. "Mechanisms that were at the time hypothetical proved to be real," says Jablonka, "and of course much more complicated than anyone thought, which is natural."

All sorts of changes in cellular machinery have shown up that have nothing to do with the sequence of DNA but still have profound, and heritable, impacts for generations to come. For example, malnourished rats give birth to undersized pups that, even if well fed, grow up to give birth to undersized pups. Which means, among other things, that poor old Lamarck was right—at least some acquired traits can be passed down.

Darwin included the concept of soft inheritance in Origin, mentioning "variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse," for example. It has been said that Darwin himself was not a particularly strict Darwinian, meaning that his work allowed for a wider variety of mechanisms than many of his 20th-century followers would accept. "In a way," says Jablonka, "we're going back to Darwin and his original, much broader notion of heredity."

Origin barely touched upon the most contentious evolutionary issue: If all life has evolved from "lower forms," does that include people? Darwin finally addressed the issue in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, published in 1871, explaining he had been studying human evolution for years, but "with the determination not to publish, as I thought that I should thus only add to the prejudices against my views." How right he was, both that "man is the modified descendant of some pre-existing form"—and that an awful lot of people would prefer to believe otherwise. They shared Disraeli's discomfort at being descended from apes and complained that evolution pushed a divine creator to the side.

Disbelief in human descent may have been a justifiable comfort in Darwin's time, when few fossils of human ancestors had been discovered, but the evidence no longer allows it. Darwin, in Origin, admitted that the lack of "intermediate varieties" in the geological record was "the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory."

The objection certainly applied to the paucity of ancestral human fossils in Darwin's time. Years of painstaking work by paleontologists, however, have filled in many of the important gaps. There are many more extinct species to be discovered, but the term "missing link" has for the most part become as outdated as the idea of special creation for each species. Anthropologists once depicted human evolution as a version of the classic "March of Progress" image—a straight line from a crouching proto-ape, through successive stages of knuckle draggers and culminating in upright modern human beings. "It was a fairly simple picture, but it was a simplicity born of ignorance," says biological anthropologist William Jungers of Stony Brook University in New York. "The last 30 years have seen an explosion of new finds."

There are now hundreds of known fossils, stretching back six to seven million years and representing about two dozen species. Some were our ancestors and others distant cousins. "There have been many experiments in human evolution," Jungers says, "and all of them but us have ended in extinction." Our direct ancestors evolved in Africa some 200,000 years ago and started spreading out perhaps 120,000 years later. Remarkably, our modern human forebears shared parts of Europe and western Asia with the Neanderthal species as recently as 30,000 years ago, and they may have also overlapped with two other long-gone ancient humans, Homo floresiensis and Homo erectus, in Southeast Asia. "We were never alone on this planet until recently," Jungers says.

Darwin himself was confident that the deep past would be revealed. "It has often and confidently been asserted, that man's origin can never be known," he wrote in 1871. "But 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." He also recalled, looking back on the shellacking he took for focusing on natural selection's role in evolution, that "the future must decide" whether "I have greatly overrated its importance." Well, the future has come down solidly on Darwin's side—despite everything he didn't know.

Asked about gaps in Darwin's knowledge, Francisco Ayala, a biologist at the University of California at Irvine, laughs. "That's easy," he says. "Darwin didn't know 99 percent of what we know." Which may sound bad, Ayala goes on, but "the 1 percent he did know was the most important part."

Fantastically Wrong: What Darwin Really Screwed Up About Evolution

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Oh cheer up, old pal. You had one of the greatest ideas ever. So what if you got a bit of it wrong? Plus, you've got that sweet beard. Not all of us can have such sweet beards. AP

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It’s hard to overstate just how brilliant and huge an idea Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was and continues to be. It absolutely rocked Victorian England, to the extent that stuffy old Victorian England could be rocked past people just barely raising their voices in polite protest. But some folks, particularly highly religious types, weren’t too happy with the idea that nature can run perfectly fine on its own, without the guiding hand of a higher power. Not happy in the least bit.

But contrary to popular belief today, scientists were kicking around the idea of evolution before Darwin—even Charles' grandpa, Erasmus, alluded to it in verse, like a true OG. Charles' contribution was specifically the natural selection bit, that organisms vary, and these variations can better suit individuals to their environment, thus boosting their chances of passing down these traits to future generations. (Weirdly, Darwin's friend, the brilliant naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace, had arrived at the same idea independently at around the same time. The two presented their preliminary findings to the Linnean Society of London, before Darwin blew the lid off the whole thing with On the Origin of Species.)

There was a bit of a problem with all of this natural selection stuff, though: Darwin didn’t know how it, uh, worked. Offspring had a mix of their parents’ features, sure. But how? What was going on at the moment of conception? It was a huge hole in Darwin’s theory of evolution. So in 1868, almost a decade after he published On the Origin of Species, Darwin tried to plug that hole with the theory of “pangenesis,” a wildly wrong idea that goes a little something like this:

Charles' grandaddy, Erasmus, a real gangsta.

Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797). Oil on canvas via Corbis

Every cell in our bodies sheds tiny particles called gemmules, “which are dispersed throughout the whole system,” Darwin wrote, and “these, when supplied with proper nutriment, multiply by self-division, and are ultimately developed into units like those from which they were originally derived.” Gemmules are, in essence, seeds of cells. “They are collected from all parts of the system to constitute the sexual elements, and their development in the next generation forms a new being.”

Because both parents contribute these cell seeds, offspring end up blending the features of mom and dad. But what about a child exhibiting more features of one parent than the other? This comes about when “the gemmules in the fertilized germ are superabundant in number,” where the gemmules “derived from one parent may have some advantage in number, affinity, or vigor over those derived from the other parent.” In other words, they kinda just put more effort into it.

Gemmules must develop in the proper order to build a healthy organism. When something glitches along the way, though, you get birth defects. “According to the doctrine of pangenesis,” Darwin wrote, “the gemmules of the transposed organs become developed in the wrong place, from uniting with wrong cells or aggregates of cells during their nascent state.”

But most important of all, Darwin’s theory of pangenesis could finally explain variations among organisms—the raw fuel of evolution. This has two causes. First, "fluctuating variability" comes from “the deficiency, superabundance, and transposition of gemmules, and the redevelopment of those which have long been dormant." In other words, they're expressed in a grandchild after skipping a generation, though the gemmules themselves haven't "undergone any modification."

Darwin’s theory of pangenesis could finally explain variations among organisms—the raw fuel of evolution.

The second touches on a now discredited theory of Lamarckism, which argued that traits an organism acquires during its lifetime, perhaps because of environmental factors, can then be inherited by its young. Darwin believed gemmules could be altered during an organism's lifetime, and these newly altered gemmules could multiply and supplant the old ones. (Lamarckism is dead, but some modern scientists argue that because behaviors like your language are acquired, this represents nongenetic inheritance that can change the course of an organism’s evolution. But it’s still quite a controversial subject that we needn't get into here. Those interested should read this good primer on the topic.)

So to sum up: Gemmules are seeds of cells that you get when your parents conceive you. They must form in the proper order to build a healthy organism, and the way they mix results in variations. Some gemmules can lie dormant, resulting in traits that skip generations, or change over an organism's lifetime, resulting in offspring inheriting traits that their parents had developed due to environmental factors.

Circumnavigating the Globe

The Beagle left the Galapagos and arrived at Tahiti in November 1835, and then sailed onward to reach New Zealand in late December. In January 1836 the Beagle arrived in Australia, where Darwin was favorably impressed by the young city of Sydney.

After exploring coral reefs, the Beagle continued on its way, reaching the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa at the end of May 1836. Sailing back into the Atlantic Ocean, the Beagle, in July, reached St. Helena, the remote island where Napoleon Bonaparte had died in exile following his defeat at Waterloo. The Beagle also reached a British outpost on Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, where Darwin received some very welcome letters from his sister in England.

Gregor Mendel and Religion

Gregor Mendel's research was so time and resource intensive that it could never have been completed without the full commitment of the St. Thomas monastery. It took 8 years, involving several members of the monastery [_5_] , and monopolized the monastery's greenhouse and two hectares of research plots. A junior friar could not command such resources but an abbot could. Mendel's project was answering a question that Abbot Napp thought was key to understanding hybridization. Other friars had been working on heredity and variation before Mendel's project began (e.g. Klacel).

The Historical Origins of the Idea of Development in Children

The idea of development did not begin or end with children. The idea of development in children arose from a set of older ideas about natural and human history. By the mid-nineteenth century, ideas about evolution, development, and progress formed a virtual trinity. Evolutionary history (phylogeny), individual development (ontogeny), and social change (history) all illustrated and revealed development. When systematic child study began in the United States, it entered through an ideological prism of evolution, progress, and development.

Although arguments for development in both natural and human history were not new, the nineteenth is most famously known as the century of "history," ⋞velopment," and "progress." Prior to the publication of the theories of the English naturalist Charles Darwin (1809�), the Scottish publisher and author Robert Chambers (1802�), in his influential 1844 anonymously published book, Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, maintained that alongside gravitation there was one great law of life–the law of development. Just as inorganic matter was governed by the principle of gravitation, so all of life was governed by the principle of development. The English philosopher Herbert Spencer (1820�) captured the optimistic spirit of the times when he wrote that the ultimate development of the ideal man (in his words) was logically certain progress was not an accident for Spencer, it was a necessity. Civilization, Spencer wrote, was not artificial, but part of nature and all of a piece of a developing embryo or the unfolding of a flower. This was no mere analogy for either Spencer or the American culture that so warmly welcomed him.

Amidst the din of development, Darwin remained (arguably) neutral. Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection, as set forth in his seminal work, On the Origin of Species (1859), served not only as a radical secular theory of the origin of humans it also provided a new scientific sanction for a set of older beliefs. Though Darwin himself was not committed to the notion that the evolutionary record implied development or progress–that human beings are necessarily more ⋞veloped" than other species, or that species perfect themselves through evolutionary change–many of his predecessors and proponents were just so committed. Darwin's theory of gradual, nonprogressive evolutionary change was assimilated into a culture that was ideologically prepared to receive and transform Darwin into a spokesman for development in general. Armed with the authority of science, developmental zealots seized upon the new and secular science to confirm and extend a set of older ideas. Biologists, philosophers, historians, and many of the blossoming new social and political scientists seized Darwin's theory of evolution as a platform for demonstrating development in fields far and wide. So-called evolutionary theists worked hard at reconciling the Biblical account of human origin with the new science. Many solved the dilemma by assimilating natural law as a visible demonstration of God's work. Riots of analogies were drawn between the development of different animal species, human races, civilizations, and children. The idea of development, broadly construed and expressed in fields as divergent as evolutionary theory, philosophy, anthropology, and history formed, the dominant intellectual context for the systematic study of development in children. The child's development served to demonstrate the connection between development in evolution and the development of civilization. The child became a linchpin𠄺 link between natural and human history.

The Institute for Creation Research

Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is hailed in the mainstream scientific community as the unifying theory of the life sciences. He has been elevated to demigod status and given a place of esteem in the public arena, where any ideas outside his outdated theory are systematically and unfairly expelled.

But Darwin wasn't a god. He wasn't even a demigod. He was a man whose speculations of long ages of death and mutation offered an anti-Creator explanation for the diversity of life observed on earth. Two centuries after his birth, it is time for Darwin to come off his throne long enough for us to examine the man behind the monkey.

Charles Darwin was born in 1809. He attended boarding school at Shrewsbury School, and in October 1825 went to Edinburgh University to study medicine. While there, he worked under Robert Grant studying marine invertebrates. He did not handle the sight of blood and suffering well, so he abandoned medicine and aimed at ministry instead. Church of England ordination required a bachelor's degree from an English university, so he entered Christ's College at Cambridge in 1828.

Darwin wasn't a wonderful student, but he was passionate about natural science. He collected beetles and became close friends with botany professor John Stevens Henslow, who introduced him to other leading naturalists. He enjoyed William Paley's Evidences of Christianity and Natural Theology, which argued for divine design in nature. Soon after earning his bachelor of arts degree in 1831, he studied field geology in north Wales with Adam Sedgwick.

The HMS Beagle

Henslow proposed that Darwin take his place on the HMS Beagle journey to the Americas as an unpaid naturalist and gentleman companion to Captain Robert FitzRoy. Darwin was almost a complete novice, his experience based only on rudimentary geological studies, beetle-collecting, and the dissection of marine invertebrates.

During the five-year journey, Darwin kept detailed notes of his observations and conclusions. Along with letters, he sent specimens to Cambridge. FitzRoy had given him a copy of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, which promoted uniformitarian concepts and heavily influenced Darwin's thinking. In Cape Town, he met astronomer John Herschel, who favored Lyell's uniformitarianism as "a natural in contradistinction to a miraculous process." 1

Darwin made some of his more famed observations in excursions to the coasts and islands of South America, such as the variations he noted in finches and mockingbirds found in the Galapagos. Before that, he observed in Tierra del Fuego how Fuegians, after living in England, acted differently than their "savage" relatives, comparing it to the differences between domesticated and wild animals.

Henslow faithfully distributed the notes he received during the voyage, and when the Beagle returned in 1836 Darwin was already a celebrity and accepted among the scientific elite. He sought expert opinions for some of his findings. Darwin toyed with the idea of the transmutation of species, or one species changing into another, and in July 1837 produced in his notebook his famed evolutionary tree, above which he scrawled, "I think." He edited the expert reports on his specimens and, with Henslow's help, produced the multi-volume Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (1832-1836).

On the Origin of Species

Expanding on the idea of the transmutation of species, Darwin added the concept of nature selecting certain desirable traits and passing those on to future generations. He theorized that if enough desirable traits accumulated, a new species could be formed altogether. Coupled with the long geological age theories of Lyell, the descent with modification--not the popular "change over time" definition that evolutionists favor today--theory was born.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life went on sale November 22, 1859. Darwin knew his book would conflict with creation-based origin concepts.

Though Darwin had not completely renounced his faith, he expelled creation science as a plausible explanation. He acknowledged the power of God, just not God's power to create.

Origin of Species was popular, thanks to Darwin's friends in the elite scientific community. The Church of England's response was mixed, its leaders either accepting it as theistic evolution or rejecting it as heresy. Because of his health, Darwin didn't attend debates, but friends such as Joseph Hooker and "Darwin's bulldog" Thomas Henry Huxley advocated strongly for him.

Darwin went on to publish many books, including the controversial The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871) and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872). Origin of Species was translated into many languages, and Darwinism became a movement that spurred other evolutionary ideas, including Lyell's Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (1863), Huxley's Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature (1863), and Henry Walter Bates' The Naturalist on the River Amazons (1863).

Darwin's work is also associated with ideas such as Herbert Spencer's "survival of the fittest," though Darwin himself did not coin the term. Having witnessed slavery aboard the Beagle, Darwin didn't like it, yet his ideas have been used to justify practices ranging from laissez-faire capitalism, racism, colonialism, Francis Galton's eugenics, and social Darwinism.

Loss of Faith and Death

Though Darwin was baptized in the Church of England, he came from a family of nonconforming Unitarians, and his father and grandfather (Zoönomia author Erasmus Darwin) were freethinkers. He considered the Bible an authority on morality, but after his Beagle voyage he questioned its history. He also questioned the benevolence of the Creator in the face of pain and suffering, rather than seeing it as the result of mankind's sin and the fallen world.

After his daughter Annie died in 1851, Darwin's faith in Christianity dwindled further and he stopped going to church. 4 He suffered ill health throughout his adult life and died in Downe, Kent, on April 19, 1882. There is speculation that he reverted to Christianity on his deathbed, but these claims were refuted by his children. His colleagues requested that Royal Society president William Spottiswoode give him a state funeral and inter him in Westminster Abbey near John Herschel and Isaac Newton. Darwin was one of only five non-royals to be given a state funeral during the 19th century.

Darwin Today

Darwin Day has become an annual celebration. This year will mark Darwin's 200th birthday and the 150th anniversary of Origin of Species' publication. To commemorate this, Darwin exhibitions have opened in museums around the world, including one that will end April 19 at the Natural History Museum in London. The University of Cambridge will feature a festival, as will his birthplace in Shrewsbury.

A special two-pound coin has been minted in Darwin's honor in the U.K. And in 2008, the Church of England issued a formal apology to Darwin "for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still." 5

But today, Darwin's theory of descent with modification--which spurred many other detrimental ideas--remains riddled with holes large and plenty enough to foster major doubts in his claims. Transitional life forms, which if not found would be the undoing of Darwin's theory, 6 are still missing. His theories on pangenesis (the blending of hereditary traits) and abiogenesis (life begat by non-life) were refuted by Gregor Mendel 7 and Louis Pasteur 8 respectively. And research continues to show complexity in design, rather than random modification.

Despite the mounting scientific evidence against it, many scientists today still blindly adhere to Darwinism. "Biologists must constantly keep in mind that what they see was not designed, but rather evolved," wrote molecular biologist Francis Crick. 9

So, in 2009 we celebrate a man whose ideas prompted many questions to be asked, but which have unfortunately resulted in many incorrect and even destructive answers. Even 150 years after his book hit the shelves, Darwinian evolution remains a theory in crisis.

  1. Darwin, C. 2006. The Origin of Species: A Variorum Text. Ed. M. Peckham. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 69.
  2. Darwin, C. 1859. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray, 3.
  3. Ibid, 167.
  4. Van Wyhe, J. 2008. Darwin: The Story of the Man and His Theories of Evolution. London: Andre Deutsch Ltd.
  5. Wynne-Jones, J. Charles Darwin to receive apology from the Church of England for rejecting evolution. Telegraph. Posted on September 14, 2008, accessed January 13, 2009.
  6. "Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic chain and this, perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies, as I believe, in the extreme imperfection of the geological record." Darwin, Origin, 280.
  7. Dao, C. 2008. Man of Science, Man of God: Gregor Johann Mendel. Acts & Facts. 37 (10): 8.
  8. Dao, C. 2008. Man of Science, Man of God: Louis Pasteur. Acts & Facts. 37 (11): 8.
  9. Crick, F. 1988. What Mad Pursuit: A Personal View of Scientific Discovery. London: Sloan Foundation Science, 138.

* Ms. Dao is Assistant Editor.

Cite this article: Dao, C. 2009. Charles Darwin: The Man Behind the Monkey. Acts & Facts. 38 (2): 12.


The above "Tree of Life sketch" appears on page 36 of the notebook - the first 35 pages being effectively taken up by Darwin's consideration of his grandfather Erasmus Darwin's earlier evolutionary musings as published in Zoonomia or the Laws of Organic Life (1794) a two-volume medical work dealing with pathology, anatomy, psychology, and the functioning of the body.

Charles Darwin had first read his grandfather's work at the age of eighteen and may have returned to it in 1837 as a possible source of inspiration in relation to his own theorising. The title Zoonomia actually appears as the heading of page 1 of Darwin's Notebook B of 1837.

Erasmus Darwin's work includes the following acceptance of heritable evolutionary change:-

On the other hand swiftness of wing has been acquired by hawks and swallows to pursue their prey and a proboscis of admirable structure has been acquired by the bee, the moth, and the humming bird, for the purpose of plundering the nectaries of flowers. All which seem to have been formed by the original living filament, excited into action by the necessities of the creatures, which possess them, and on which their existence depends.

From thus meditating on the great similarity of the structure of the warm-blooded animals, and at the same time of the great changes they undergo both before and after their nativity and by considering in how minute a portion of time many of the changes of animals above described have been produced would it be too bold to imagine, that in the great length of time, since the earth began to exist, perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind, would it be too bold to imagine, that all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which THE GREAT FIRST CAUSE endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions, and associations and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down those improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!

Erasmus Darwin's idea of heritable evolutionary change being that a potentially rapid one driven by the "necessities of the creatures" where new parts and new propensities were open to being acquired - after birth - in line with such necessities in accordance with an unexplained "power of acquiring new parts".:-

Charles Darwin's I Think diagram on page 36 may then represent his own claim to distinct theorising.

It seems that in these early times Darwin felt himself to be actually on the cusp of developing a most far-reaching theory.

If we peruse another Notebook B page, also dating from 1837, it can be appreciated how much of the foundation for his eventual Origin of Species theory was already being "mentally" laid out all of 22 years before the eventual publication of the Origin of Species.:-

. led to comprehend true affinities. My theory would give zest to recent & Fossil Comparative Anatomy: it would lead to study of instincts, heredity, & mind heredity, whole metaphysics, it would lead to closest examination of hybridity & generation, causes of change in order to know what we have come from & to what we tend, to what circumstances favour crossing & what prevents it, this and direct examination of direct passages of structure in species, might lead to laws of change, which would then be main object of study, to guide our speculations.

Page 228 ends page 229 begins:-

. with respect to past & future. The Grand Question, which every naturalist ought to have before him, when dissecting a whale, or classifying a mite, a fungus, or an infusorian. is "What are the laws of life".-

"I had been deeply impressed by discovering in the Pampean formation great fossil animals covered with armour like that on the existing armadillos secondly by the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent and thirdly, by the South American character of most of the productions of the Galapagos archpelago, and more especially by the manner in which they differ on each island of the group none of the islands appearing to be very ancient in a geological sense."

Darwin further wrote- "It was evident that such facts as these, as well as many others, could only be explained on the supposition that species gradually became modified and the subject haunted me. But it was equally evident that neither the action of surrounding conditions, nor the will of the organisms (especially in the case of plants) could account for the innumerable cases in which organisms of every kinds are beautifully adapted to their habits of life . "

It seems that Darwin felt that he could not publish his acceptance of transmutation unless he could explain it:-
"I had always been struck by such adaptations, and until these could be explained it seemed to me almost useless to endeavour to prove by direct evidence that species have been modified . "

A later section of this autobiography relates a key stage in his development of an inherently persuasive hypothesis about a scenario where there would be a naturally explicable origin of species being his reading, late in 1838, of an Essay by the Reverend Thomas Malthus.
To use Charles Darwin's own words from his Autobiography:-

"..After my return to England it appeared to me that by following the example of Lyell in Geology, and by collecting all facts which bore in any way on the variation of animals and plants under domestication and nature, some light might perhaps be thrown on the whole subject. My first note-book was opened in July 1837. I worked on true Baconian principles, and without any theory collected facts on a wholesale scale, more especially with respect to domesticated productions, by printed enquiries, by conversation with skilful breeders and gardeners, and by extensive reading. When I see the list of books of all kinds which I read and abstracted, including whole series of Journals and Transactions, I am surprised at my industry. I soon perceived that selection was the keystone of man's success in making useful races of animals and plants. But how selection could be applied to organisms living in a state of nature remained for some time a mystery to me.

Fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of a new species.

Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it."

In his Essay on the Principle of Population Thomas Malthus had suggested that:-

". Through the animal and vegetable kingdoms nature has scattered the seeds of life abroad with the most profuse and liberal hand. She has been comparatively sparing in the room and the nourishment necessary to rear them. The germs of existence contained in this spot of earth, with ample food, and ample room to expand in, would fill millions of worlds in a few thousand years. Necessity, that imperious and all-pervading law of nature, restrains them within the prescribed bounds. The race of plants and the race of animals shrink under this great restrictive law . "

Darwin took up Malthus' "imperious and all-pervading law of nature" as providing a mechanism whereby individuals within a species which, because of some very slight variation, were better suited in win out in the "struggle for survival" by being more able to gain the food necessary to allow them to survive in the short term, and to allow them to become the parents of a new generation - which could thereby tend inherit this favourable very slight variation - in the longer term.
(This basic and food-related struggle for survival between individuals within an existing species proved to be capable of extension towards a consideration of a more complex and food-related struggle for survival between existing species and new species).

Darwin continued to develop a theory expaining the naturally arising development of new species but at the same time had begun to think seriously that life as a scholarly bachelor would be unappealing and decided to attempt to pay court to his sincerely religious first cousin, Emma Wedgwood. By the summer of 1838 Emma agreed to marry Charles Darwin, knowing him to hold skeptical views and even wrote to him soon after their engagement telling him that she was sad that "our opinions on the most important subject should differ widely."
As wife to Charles Darwin Emma continued to hold strong religious beliefs and to be distressed by the absence of God in her husband's theorising always quietly encouraging him to see faith as a matter for "feeling, not reasoning".

Emma Darwin was in the habit of actually writing letters to her husband! She thought that by so doing she could better compose her intimate thoughts for his consideration. One such letter includes the following passage-

During 1844, Darwin, with Emma's editorial advice and participation, extended an initial thirty-five page abstract of his theory written in pencil in 1842 by preparing a two hundred and thirty page-long overview of his theory for publication. He also framed, in July 1844, an accompanying letter to his wife urging as to how she was to seek the aid of friends to that end and asking her to regard a then substantial sum as being set aside to fund the project:-

It should not be over-looked that although Darwin was then only some thirty-five years old he had had many bouts of serious illness since returning home from his Beagle voyage. It is thought he may have picked up an intermittently seriously debilitating condition known as Chagas Fever during those years of travel and exploration in far-flung places.

Both the pencil sketch of 1842 and the fleshed-out Essay of 1844 are included in Darwin, Francis ed. 1909. The foundations of The origin of species. Two essays written in 1842 and 1844. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Francis Darwin says of the pencil sketch of 1842:-

Francis Darwin then lays out the pencil sketch of 1842 thusly:-


§ i. On variation under domestication, and on the principles of selection . 1

§ ii. On variation in a state of nature and on the natural means of selection . 4

§ iii. On variation in instincts and other mental attributes . 17

§§ iv. and v. On the evidence from Geology.
(The reasons for combining the two sections are given in the Introduction) . 22

§ vi. Geographical distribution . 29

§ vii. Affinities and classification . 35

§ viii. Unity of type in the great classes . 38

§ x. Recapitulation and conclusion . 48

Character of Domestic Varieties

Difficulty of distinguishing between Varieties and Species

Origin of Domestic Varieties from one or more Species

Domestic Pigeons, their Differences and Origin

Principle of Selection anciently followed, its Effects

Methodical and Unconscious Selection

Unknown Origin of our Domestic Productions

Circumstances favourable to Man's power of Selection
Pages 7-43

Variation under Nature. Variability

Wide ranging, much diffused, and common species vary most

Species of the larger genera in any country vary more than the species of the smaller genera

Many of the species of the larger genera resemble varieties in being very closely, but unequally, related to each other, and in having restricted ranges
Pages 44-59

Struggle for Existence. Bears on natural selection

The term used in a wide sense

Geometrical powers of increase

Rapid increase of naturalised animals and plants

Nature of the checks to increase

Protection from the number of individuals

Complex relations of all animals and plants throughout nature

Struggle for life most severe between individuals and varieties of the same species often severe between species of the same genus

The relation of organism to organism the most important of all relations
Pages 60-79

Natural Selection. Natural Selection

its power compared with man's selection

its power on characters of trifling importance

its power at all ages and on both sexes

On the generality of intercrosses between individuals of the same species

Circumstances favourable and unfavourable to Natural Selection, namely, intercrossing, isolation, number of individuals

Extinction caused by Natural Selection

Divergence of Character, related to the diversity of inhabitants of any small area, and to naturalisation

Action of Natural Selection, through Divergence of Character and Extinction, on the descendants from a common parent

Explains the Grouping of all organic beings
Pages 80-130

Laws of Variation. Effects of external conditions

Use and disuse, combined with natural selection organs of flight and of vision

Compensation and economy of growth

Multiple, rudimentary, and lowly organised structures variable

Parts developed in an unusual manner are highly variable: specific characters more variable than generic: secondary sexual characters variable

Species of the same genus vary in an analogous manner

Reversions to long-lost characters

Difficulties on Theory. Difficulties on the theory of descent with modification

Absence or rarity of transitional varieties

Transitions in habits of life

Diversified habits in the same species

Species with habits widely different from those of their allies

Organs of extreme perfection

Organs of small importance

Organs not in all cases absolutely perfect

The law of Unity of Type and of the Conditions of Existence embraced by the theory of Natural Selection
Pages 171-206

Instinct. Instincts comparable with habits, but different in their origin

Domestic instincts, their origin

Natural instincts of the cuckoo, ostrich, and parasitic bees

Hive-bee, its cell-making instinct

Difficulties on the theory of the Natural Selection of instincts

Neuter or sterile insects

Hybridism. Distinction between the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids

Sterility various in degree, not universal, affected by close interbreeding, removed by domestication

Laws governing the sterility of hybrids

Sterility not a special endowment, but incidental on other differences

Causes of the sterility of first crosses and of hybrids

Parallelism between the effects of changed conditions of life and crossing

Fertility of varieties when crossed and of their mongrel offspring not universal

Hybrids and mongrels compared independently of their fertility

On the Imperfection of the Geological Record. On the absence of intermediate varieties at the present day

On the nature of extinct intermediate varieties on their number

On the vast lapse of time, as inferred from the rate of deposition and of denudation

On the poorness of our palaeontological collections

On the intermittence of geological formations

On the absence of intermediate varieties in any one formation

On the sudden appearance of groups of species

On their sudden appearance in the lowest known fossiliferous strata
Pages 279-311

On the Geological Succession of Biological Beings. On the slow and successive appearance of new species

On their different rates of change

Species once lost do not reappear

Groups of species follow the same general rules in their appearance and disappearance as do single species

On simultaneous changes in the forms of life throughout the world

On the affinities of extinct species to each other and to living species

On the state of development of ancient forms

On the succession of the same types within the same areas

Summary of preceding and present chapters
Pages 312-345

Geographical Distribution. Present distribution cannot be accounted for by differences in physical conditions

Affinity of the productions of the same continent

Means of dispersal, by changes of climate and of the level of the land, and by occasional means

Dispersal during the Glacial period co-extensive with the world
Pages 346-382

Geographical Distribution - continued Distribution of fresh-water productions

On the inhabitants of oceanic islands

Absence of Batrachians and of terrestrial Mammals

On the relation of the inhabitants of islands to those of the nearest mainland

On colonisation from the nearest source with subsequent modification

Summary of the last and present chapters
Pages 383-410

Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology:
Embryology: Rudimentary Organs. Classification, groups subordinate to groups

Rules and difficulties in classification, explained on the theory of descent with modification

Classification of varieties

Descent always used in classification

Analogical or adaptive characters

Affinities, general, complex and radiating

Extinction separates and defines groups

Morphology, between members of the same class, between parts of the same individual

Embryology, laws of, explained by variations not supervening at an early age, and being inherited at a corresponding age

Rudimentary Organs their origin explained

Recapitulation and Conclusion. Recapitulation of the difficulties on the theory of Natural Selection

Recapitulation of the general and special circumstances in its favour

Causes of the general belief in the immutability of species

How far the theory of natural selection may be extended

Effects of its adoption on the study of Natural history

Concluding remarks
Pages 459-490


This sketch of 1844 receives the following mention in Darwin, Francis ed. 1887. The life and letters of Charles Darwin, including an autobiographical chapter. London: John Murray. Volume 2.

many forms are altogether gone, while of others we have now only kindred species. Thus to find not only frequent additions to the previous existing forms, but frequent withdrawals of forms which had apparently become inappropriate - a constant shifting as well as advance - is a fact calculated very forcibly to arrest attention. A candid consideration of all these circumstances can scarcely fail to introduce into our minds a somewhat different idea of organic creation from what has hitherto been generally entertained. (page 152)

To a reasonable mind the Divine attributes must appear, not diminished or reduced in some way, by supposing a creation by law, but infinitely exalted. It is the narrowest of all views of the Deity, and characteristic of a humble class of intellects, to suppose him acting constantly in particular ways for particular occasions. It, for one thing, greatly detracts from his foresight, the most undeniable of all the attributes of Omnipotence. It lowers him towards the level of our own humble intellects. Much more worthy of him it surely is, to suppose that all things have been commissioned by him from the first, though neither is he absent from a particle of the current of natural affairs in one sense, seeing that the whole system is continually supported by his providence (pp.156-157).

Even though he went to the trouble of gathering his thoughts so as to prepare a manuscript overview of his theorising, Darwin actually preferred to keep his potentially most controversial ideas a private matter because of his reluctance to meet an expected adverse reaction from family, friends, and the wider public by airing controversial views. He may have been particularly reluctant to cause distress to Emma, his sincerely christian wife.
Despite the time and effort put into its preparation the manuscript overview was placed in storage in a securely sealed packet that bore the message "Only to be opened in the event of my death" written by Darwin's own hand.
Darwin placed this sealed and solemnly directed parcel in a cupboard under the stairs of his home in Kent! It was to remain there for some fifteen years!

During these times Darwin continued to live in the Kent countryside and, when his health allowed, to thoroughly investigate how species might change through converstions with pidgeon fanciers and farmers as well as conducting a large number of scientific experiments. He kept up friendships with a wide range of persons and communicated widely by letter with other parties interested in Natural History.
One such friendship was with Sir Charles Lyell and one particular debating point between them was whether or not individual species were fixed in form or whether their forms were open to change.

As has already been mentioned in September 1855 a paper entitled On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species by ALFRED R. WALLACE, F.R.G.S. appeared in a scientifically inclined publication known as the Annals and Magazine of Natural History.

This paper was read by the famous geologist Sir Charles Lyell, a famous geologist and a personal friend of long-standing to Charles Darwin. Lyell, against his own previous and strongly held opinions, found its contents to suggest strongly that species were not fixed creations of God, but were, in fact, naturally mutable. In November 1855, soon after reading Wallace's article, Lyell seems to have started keeping a "species notebook" in which to record his own thoughts about a possible mutability in species.

Between 13-16 April 1856 Sir Charles Lyell and his wife paid a visit to the Darwins, at their home in the Kentish countryside. Lyell made an entry in his diary on the 16 April headed 'With Darwin: On the Formation of Species by Natural Selection', and cited, among other things, the example of pigeons.

It appears that on this visit Darwin actually gave an outline of his theory of evolution by natural selection to Lyell - who urged Darwin to prepare some account of his theory for publication on the grounds that Wallace might seem to be the originator of these views if his species variation work, as outlined in his On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species by ALFRED R. WALLACE, F.R.G.S., was the first to gain acceptance in scientific circles.
At this time Darwin was just after completing a major scientific work on the classification of living and fossil barnacles - a task that had taken up eight years of his life between 1846-1854, which had enhanced his scientific reputation, and which had given him deeper insights into species adaptation.

Sir Charles Lyell subsequently heard word about a week-end visit paid to the Darwin's during the last week of April by Joseph Dalton Hooker, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Thomas Vernon Wollaston, possibly from his scientific friends Hooker and Huxley themselves. In a letter of 30 April 1856 to Charles James Fox Bunbury, Lyell stated: 'When Huxley, Hooker, and Wollaston were at Darwin's last week, they (all four of them) ran a tilt against species farther I believe than they are deliberately prepared to go. Wollaston least unorthodox. In this letter Lyell also mentions something of his own discussions with Charles Darwin - 'Darwin finds, among his fifteen varieties of the common pigeon, three good genera and about fifteen good species according to the received mode of species and genus-making of the best ornithologists, and the bony skeleton varying with the rest!'

On 1 May 1856 Lyell wrote to Darwin about Natural history matters - this letter included the phrase "hear that when you & Hooker & Huxley & Wollaston got together you made light of all species & grew more & more unorthodox" - shortly thereafter Lyell wrote - "I wish you would publish some small fragment of your data pigeons if you please & so out with the theory & let it take date & be cited - & understood.
Two days later Darwin replied to Lyell and after giving his own view of the converstion with Hooker, Huxley and Woolaston explicitly considered Lyell's suggestion that he, Darwin, should make his views on species known:-

. We had much to me most interesting conversation, when he (i.e. Woolaston) & the others were here: Wollaston strikes me as quite a first-rate man & very nice & pleasant into the bargain. It is really striking (but almost laughable to me) to notice the change in Hookers & Huxley's opinions on species during the last few years.-

With respect to your suggestion of a sketch of my view I hardly know what to think, but will reflect on it but it goes against my prejudices. To give a fair sketch would be absolutely impossible, for every proposition requires such an array of facts. If I were to do anything it could only refer to the main agency of change, selection, - & perhaps point out a very few of the leading features which countenance such a view, & some few of the main difficulties. But I do not know what to think: I rather hate the idea of writing for priority, yet I certainly sh d . be vexed if any one were to publish my doctrines before me.- Anyhow I thank you heartily for your sympathy. I shall be in London next week, & I will call on you on Thursday morning for one hour precisely so as not to lose much of your time & my own: but will you let me this one time come as early as 9 o'clock, for I have much which I must do, & the morning is my strongest time.

The manner in which Darwin presumed, on this occasion, to nominate his own visiting time, and the warm farewell to a "dear old Patron" does much to show the closeness of the friendship between the two men.
On 14 May 1856, Charles Darwin recorded in his journal that he 'Began by Lyell's advice writing species sketch'.

Darwin did read Wallace's paper and commented about Wallace's work in the form of interleaved notes on his own copies of the Annals and Magazine of Natural History issued as volumes fifteen (January-June 1855) and sixteen (July-December 1855). - . His general summary "Every species has come into existence coincident in time & space with preexisting species."- Uses my simile of tree- It seems all creation with him. "

A letter of Darwin to Wallace written the following year has survived:-

This summer will make the 20th year (!) since I opened my first-note-book, on the question how & in what way do species & varieties differ from each other. - I am now preparing my work for publication, but I find the subject so very large, that though I have written many chapters, I do not suppose I shall go to press for two years.-

From a letter by Charles Darwin to Alfred Russel Wallace dated May 1 1857

It was while waiting at Ternate in order to get ready for my next journey, and to decide where I should go, that the idea already referred to occurred to me. It has been shown how, for the preceding eight or nine years, the great problem of the origin of the species had been continually pondered over, and how my varied observations and study had been made use of to lay the foundation for its full discussion and elucidation. My paper written at Sarawak rendered it certain to my mind that the change had taken place by natural succession and descent - one species becoming changed either slowly or rapidly into another. But the exact process of the change and the causes which led to it were absolutely unknown and appeared almost inconceivable. The great difficulty was to understand how, if one species was gradually changed into another, there continued to be so many quite distinct species, so many which differed from their nearest allies by slight yet perfectly definite and constant characters. One would expect that if it was a law of nature that species were continually changing so as to become in time new and distinct species, the world would be full of an inextricable mixture of various slightly different forms, so that the well-defined and constant species we see would not exist. Again, not only are species, as a rule, separated from each other by distinct external characters, but they almost always differ also to some degree in their food, in the places they frequent, in their habits and instincts, all these characters are quite as definite and constant as are the external characters. The problem then was, not only how and why do species change, but how and why do they change into new and well-defined species, distinguished from each other in so many ways why and how do they become so exactly adapted to distinct modes of life and why do all the intermediate grades die out (as geology shows they have died out) and leave only clearly defined and well-marked species, genera, and higher groups of animals.

Now, the new idea or principle which Darwin had arrived at twenty years before, and which occurred to me at this time, answers all these questions and solves all these difficulties, and it is because it does so, and also because it is in itself self-evident and absolutely certain, that it has been accepted by the whole scientific world as affording a true solution of the great problem of the origin of the species.

At the time in question I was suffering from a sharp attack of intermittent fever, and every day during the cold and succeeding hot fits had to lie down for several hours, during which time I had nothing to do but to think over any subjects then particularly interesting me. One day something brought to my recollection Malthus's "Principles of Population", which I had read about twelve years before. I thought of his clear exposition of "the positive checks to increase" - disease, accidents, war, and famine - which keep down the population of savage races to so much lower an average than that of more civilized peoples. It then occurred to me that these causes or their equivalents are continually acting in the case of animals also and as animals usually breed much more rapidly than does mankind, the destruction every year from these causes must be enormous in order to keep down the numbers of each species, since they evidently do not increase regularly from year to year, as otherwise the world would long ago have been densely crowded with those that breed most quickly. Vaguely thinking over the enormous and constant destruction which this implied, it occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live? And the answer was clearly, that on the whole the best fitted live. From the effects of disease the most healthy escaped from enemies, the strongest, the swiftest, or the most cunning from famine, the best hunters or those with the best digestion and so on. Then it suddenly flashed upon me that this self-acting process would necessarily improve the race, because in every generation the inferior would inevitably be killed off and the superior would remain - that is, the fittest would survive. Then at once I seemed to see the whole effect of this, that when changes of land and sea, or of climate, or of food-supply, or of enemies occurred - and we know that such changes have always been taking place - and considering the amount of individual variation that my experience as a collector had shown me to exist, then it followed that all the changes necessary for the adaptation of the species to the changing conditions would be brought about and as great changes in the environment are always slow, there would be ample time for the change to be effected by the survival of the best fitted in every generation. In this way every part of an animal's organization could be modified exactly as required, and in the very process of this modification the unmodified would die out, and thus the definite characters and the clear isolation of each new species would be explained. The more I thought over it the more I became convinced that I had at length found the long-sought-for law of nature that solved the problem of the origin of the species. For the next hour I thought over the deficiencies in the theories of Lamarck and of the author of the "Vestiges," and I saw that my new theory supplemented these views and obviated every important difficulty. I waited anxiously for the termination of my fit so that I might at once make notes for a paper on the subject. The same evening I did this pretty fully, and on the two succeeding evenings wrote it out carefully in order to send it to Darwin by the next post, which would leave in a day or two.

I wrote a letter to him in which I said I hoped the idea would be as new to him as it was to me, and that it would supply the missing factor to explain the origin of the species. I asked him if he thought it sufficiently important to show it to Sir Charles Lyell, who had thought so highly of my former paper.

from Alfred Russel Wallace : My Life, pp. 360-363.

And so it was that Wallace sent a twenty page long memoir about this evolutionary theory to the influential expert naturalist Charles Darwin, arrived in Darwin's hands in June 1858. In a covering letter Wallace asked that Darwin forward the memoir to a famous scientist, Sir Charles Lyell, if Darwin thought the content merited his attention.

Darwin subsequently sent Wallace's manuscript to Lyell with his own covering letter of 18th June 1858 that included the following sentences:-

Some year or so ago, you recommended me to read a paper by Wallace in the Annals, which had interested you & as I was writing to him, I knew this would please him much, so I told him. He has to day sent me the enclosed & asked me to forward it to you. It seems to me well worth reading. Your words have come true with a vengeance that I shd. be forestalled. You said this when I explained to you here very briefly my views of "Natural Selection" depending on the Struggle for existence.- I never saw a more striking coincidence. If Wallace had my manuscript sketch written out in 1842 he could not have made a better short abstract! Even his terms now stand as Heads of my Chapters.

Please return me the manuscript which he does not say he wishes me to publish but I shall of course at once write & offer to send to any Journal. So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed. Though my Book, if it will ever have any value, will not be deteriorated as all the labour consists in the application of the theory.

I hope you will approve of Wallace's sketch, that I may tell him what you say.

In the event, Darwin, in consultation with Sir Charles Lyell and Sir Joseph Hooker, agreed that there should be a public joint presentation of the potentially dramatically controversial views that he, and Wallace, had independently developed.

On July 1, 1858, a joint paper by Wallace and Darwin was read
to a meeting of the Linnean Society of London
held at Burlington House, (pictured above).

Neither Wallace nor Charles Darwin were present at the meeting when papers attributable to each were brought to the attention of the wider scientific public - in the form of the thirty or so persons who were gathered together on that date in Burlington House, London.

Although the Theory of Evolution would, in time, have immense repercussions on the biological sciences as well as on wider society we have three unimpeachable testimonies that the meeting of July 1858 itself caused very little controversy, or even much in the way of interest, to emerge.

The paper was reprinted and reviewed in several magazines including The Zoologist, and was commented on in some reviews and letters but the reaction was generally quite muted. The Linnean Society President, Thomas Bell, even went so far as to write that "The year which has passed has not, indeed, been marked by any of those striking discoveries which at once revolutionize, so to speak, the department of science on which they bear" in his Linnean Society presidential report of May 1859.

Charles Darwin himself in his Autobiography (1887) wrote:-

Also in 1887 Hooker provided a recollection of the meeting to Charles Darwin's son Francis Darwin:

I beg leave to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of July last, sent me by Mr. Darwin, & informing me of the steps you had taken with reference to a paper I had communicated to that gentleman. Allow me in the first place sincerely to thank yourself & Sir Charles Lyell for your kind offices on this occasion, & to assure you of the gratification afforded me both by the course you have pursued, & the favourable opinions of my essay which you have so kindly expressed. I cannot but consider myself a favoured party in this matter, because it has hitherto been too much the practice in cases of this sort to impute all the merit to the first discoverer of a new fact or new theory, & little or none to any other party who may, quite independently, have arrived at the same result a few years or a few hours later.

I also look upon it as a most fortunate circumstance that I had a short time ago commenced a correspondence with Mr. Darwin on the subject of "Varieties," since it has led to the earlier publication of a portion of his researches & has secured to him a claim of priority which an independent publication either by myself or some other party might have injuriously effected- for it is evident that the time has now arrived when these and similar views will be promulgated & must be fairly discussed.

It would have caused me much pain & regret had Mr. Darwin's excess of generosity led him to make public my paper unaccompanied by his own much earlier & I doubt not much more complete views on the same subject, & I must again thank you for the course you have adopted, which while strictly just to both parties, is so favourable to myself.

Following on from Wallace's initial approach Darwin, besides preparing a paper that was read to the Linnean Society, made efforts to draw together what he himself later referred to as an "abstract" out from his extensive research notes into a work of sufficient authority and completeness for publication.
That work was prepared and published under the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was first published on 24 November 1859. There were only 1,250 copies published in this first edition, and Darwin had suggested to his publisher that even this would be too many for what he presumed to be a limited market.
Although the book was priced at fourteen shillings - more than a week's wages for a labourer and hence beyond most persons convenient means - and its content was slightly technical this edition sold out to the book trade on the day of publication.
A second edition of 3,000 copies was issued some two months later.

Few books have had such a profound and far-reaching impact on Human Society across the world.

To quote Charles Darwin, (from his Autobiography), again:-

In September 1858 I set to work by the strong advice of Lyell and Hooker to prepare a volume on the transmutation of species, but was often interrupted by ill-health, and short visits to Dr. Lane's delightful hydropathic establishment at Moor Park. I abstracted the MS. begun on a much larger scale in 1856, and completed the volume on the same reduced scale. It cost me thirteen months and ten days' hard labour. It was published under the title of the 'Origin of Species,' in November 1859. Though considerably added to and corrected in the later editions, it has remained substantially the same book.

It is no doubt the chief work of my life. It was from the first highly successful. The first small edition of 1250 copies was sold on the day of publication, and a second edition of 3000 copies soon afterwards. Sixteen thousand copies have now (1876) been sold in England and considering how stiff a book it is, this is a large sale. It has been translated into almost every European tongue, even into such languages as Spanish, Bohemian, Polish, and Russian. It has also, according to Miss Bird, been translated into Japanese* (*Miss Bird is mistaken, as I learn from Prof. Mitsukuri.-F.D.), and is there much studied. Even an essay in Hebrew has appeared on it, showing that the theory is contained in the Old Testament! The reviews were very numerous for some time I collected all that appeared on the 'Origin' and on my related books, and these amount (excluding newspaper reviews) to 265 but after a time I gave up the attempt in despair. Many separate essays and books on the subject have appeared and in Germany a catalogue or bibliography on "Darwinismus" has appeared every year or two.

The success of the 'Origin' may, I think, be attributed in large part to my having long before written two condensed sketches, and to my having finally abstracted a much larger manuscript, which was itself an abstract. By this means I was enabled to select the more striking facts and conclusions.

Watch the video: RTB 101: How Does Evolution Account for Stasis? (May 2022).