Darwin observed many phenomena that culminated in his theory of evolution. Among these phenomena were commonalities in the growth and reproductive processes of species, apparent in the embryonic stages. Darwin postulated that dominant varieties supplant inferior varieties based on advantage in the struggle for existence. He observed that some species exhibit traits that serve no purpose, as if the species had forgone the need for such traits but was waiting on nature to catch up. Variation within species was the most obvious proof of natural selection for Darwin; it was also incompatible with the dominant theory of Creation: “on the view of each species having been independently created, why should the species of the same genus differ from each other, be more variable than the generic character in which they all agree?” (494). Why should species develop variations at all, if they are perfectly endowed by a creator? He maintained that variation resulted from of a combination of randomness, use and disuse, and the physical conditions of life.
Darwin’s observation that “living things have in common their chemical composition, their germinal vesicles, their cellular structure, and their laws of growth and reproduction” (504) lays a compelling foundation for his suggestion that “all the organic beings which have ever lived have descended from one primordial form, into which life was first breathed” (504). I am curious as to his usage of ‘was first breathed’ and how it potentially mediates between Creation and Evolution theory. I don’t think they are necessarily mutually exclusive ideas. Darwin’s theory may explain life all the way back to the ‘primordial form’, but it does not account for what came before. Likewise, the Big Bang theory explains what came before, but it still does not account for the Why?
“As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection” (513). I worry that a statement like this was misappropriated in order to assert man’s dominance over nature. ‘Progress towards perfection’ is an Enlightenment trope that was used not only in the formation of liberal ideals, but also to justify the exploitation of non-whites and Nazi-ideology. Darwin didn’t mean to suggest anything of the sort, but the word choice lends itself to misinterpretation. Darwin obviously had the foresight to acknowledge that in a long-distant future, humans may be supplanted by a new species altogether.