Darwin's Theory of Evolution


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"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the
Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life," usually
shortened to "the Origin of Species," is the full title of Charles
Darwin's book, first published in 1859, in which Darwin formalized
what we know today as the Theory of Evolution. Although Darwin is the
most famous exponent of this theory, he was by no means the first
person to suspect the workings of evolution. In fact, Charles owed a
considerable debt to his grandfather Erasmus, a leading scientist and
intellectual, who published a paper in 1794, calledZoonomia, or, The
Laws of Organic Life. This set down many of the ideas that his
grandson elaborated on 70 years later. However, it was Darwin that
formalized the theory, and presented the most convincing case for the
theory.


Charles Darwin was born on the 12th of February 1809 (incidentally,
the same day and year as Abraham Lincoln), in Shrewsbury, England. He
had a privileged upbringing, and enjoyed science - particularly
biology. He graduated from Cambridge University in 1831, and on
December the 27th of that year, he set off for a five-year journey
aboard the Beagle, a ship bound for South America. His voyage was long
and eventful, including once, in Chile, encountering both an
earthquake and a tidal wave in a single day! He spent the entire
journey sea-sick, but found an interest in naturalism, and began to
think about evolution. Using the evidence he found during his tour of
South America to back up the basic theories set down by his
predecessors, and making his own adjustments and discoveries. Finally,
the Beagle arrived home on October the 2nd, 1836.


During his travels, Darwin kept five note-books, marked A to E, in
which he recorded what he found, made sketches and wrote about his
observations and theories. These later became the basis of his book,
though in a "condensed and corrected" version, to "render the volume
more fitted for popular reading," as Charles stated in the preface to

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"The Voyage of the Beagle."


Whilst in the Galapagos, Darwin noticed that there were fourteen
different types of finch, living on just a few small islands. He also
noticed that fossils of extinct species often resembled the current
species, but that the existing species usually featured some changes
and adaptations from the previous species. This led Darwin to develop
his theory that existing species are descended from previous species,
and change by adapting the changing circumstances of their
environment.


This is one of the most famous illustrations taken from Darwin's
notebooks, showing simply how the process of evolution works:


[IMAGE]


However, even Darwin himself new that his theory had some flaws, as he
acknowledged when he said "if my theory be true, numberless
intermediate varieties, linking closely together all the species of
the same group, must assuredly have existed. But, as by this theory,
innumerable transitional forms must have existed, why do we not find
them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?" Darwin
new that the fossil record didn't support his theory, but felt sure
that more research would prove him right. Unfortunately, further
discoveries have done nothing but undermine the theory. This week link
in the theoretical chain has been referred to as "the trade secret of
palaeontology" by Stephen Jay Gould, a leading spokesman for the
evolutionary theory.


Ultimately, Darwin's theories are very convincing, but as yet
un-proved. His impact on modern biology is undeniable, but it would be
unscientific to take his theories as fact, when they are just that -
theories. Further research is necessary to be able to decide whether
or not Darwin was in fact correct, but at present there are no other
plausible alternatives to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.


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