On “On the Origin of Species”

Throughout history, there have been a number of scientists that have generated ground-breaking–but at the same time, very polarizing ideas about how the natural world works, but few are as famous as 19th century naturalist and biologist, Charles Darwin. His monumental work, On the Origin of Species, outlined the concepts of evolution through natural selection, but received harsh criticism for what was perceived to be a lack of supporting evidence. Darwin himself addressed many of these concerns at the end of On Species, where one question that he addresses is “why does not every collection of fossil remains afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutations of the forms of life? … [T]he geological record is far more imperfect than most geologists believe”(486). In other words, Darwin believed that there were still vast quantities of fossils to be discovered, and along with those discoveries scientists would slowly be able to piece together associations between all of those fossils, and only then would the gradation of species and their intermediate links would become more clear. Darwin also pointed out the seemingly strange fact that contrary to what the fossil record showed, domesticated animals could often show great variability in just a few short generations. Why then does the fossil record not show this same sort of variability throughout history? Darwin answers this by asserting that “Man, though acting on external characters alone and often capriciously, can produce within a short period a great result by adding up mere individual differences in his domestic productions” (491). Basically, domestication appears to dramatically speed up the rate at which variability can occur within a species because humans–either consciously or unconsciously–bred animals meticulously, though efficiently, and maximized the potential benefits of natural selection.

The above examples were only two of the many points that Darwin touched on in his work. As far as my personal opinion of Darwin’s ideas, to the best of my knowledge the majority of modern biology, geology, etc backs up his theories without any contradictions. Since On the Origin of Species was published, it has become more obvious that the fossil record is much more complex than we previously imagined, and currently it is woefully incomplete. It is true that much more evidence is needed to completely understand how evolution works, but it is clear that Darwin was on to something when he implored us all to be a bit patient, as research slowly builds up to support his once radical ideas.

 

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