The Origins of Species

Origin of SpeciesOn this date one hundred and fifty years ago the book, On the Origin of Species was published. Written of course by that sometime honored and other times maligned person by the name of Charles Darwin. The issues that came forth from the work clearly created division at that time and certainly continue today, perhaps even more so. Given this nice round date and some of the scientific based analysis that came from that publication I thought a short blog was in order.

First, I am going to assume that everyone knows that this work by Darwin is generally credited with the introduction of the theory of evolution. His work was primarily based on observations while on exploration with the Beagle expedition in the 1830’s, which included stops in the Galapagos Islands, and later experimentation and correspondence. In central the theory proposes that through a concept of natural selection (the best suited to the environment) will slowly become the standard of the species.

Of note, is the fact that while this is the book that clearly defines it, there were several idea floating around in the mid 1800’s that could be said to be precursors or even the same as the general idea of evolution. Part of the problem was the general scientific nature of the works presenting such, a lack of supporting evidence for several of the theories proposed, and in some cases just poor writing skills and mistakes in scientific theory – leaving them less the accepted by anyone. Part of Darwin’s greatness is found in his writing, instead of leaving it to only the specialists in the highly educated scientific world, he wrote instead toward the general populace of the mid 19th century in what is general lay terminology with very convincing arguments that are easy enough for nearly any literate person of that day to understand.

By proposing this in the late 1800’s, he was clearing going up against a still largely church indoctrinated scientific community. This community seems to in general if not embrace the idea, at least accept it and pursue other topics based on the scientific merit of the proposal. However, it also clearly put Darwin squarely at odds with the church and general establishment. He was clearly dismissed by most of the church as heretical and worse out right, but not in every case. In fact, the second edition of the publication actually had a forward by a high-ranking official in the Church of England which said in effect that the theory was nice and there was nothing say that God did not create species that could then adapt through time.

It is interesting to note that today, Darwin lays in final rest at Westminster Abbey today, clearly being accepted by the Church of England. Part of the reason may lay in the British perception of what Darwin was saying. They basically took it to mean he scientifically explained the reason they were the great colonial empire that they were – the strong will naturally rise to the top and survive.

Of more interesting thought to me personally though, is while scientific evidence now seems to be in over abundance, his theory is probably more disputed today in America then it was at the time of its publication. Several states have laws either forbidding it teaching in schools or at least require equal time be given to other less scientifically sound theories. In fact, over thirty states have some sort of law that curtail or outright make the theory illegal.

** – image is from the first edition title page, which is in the public domain