Happy Origin Day!


On November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s book was published, On the Origin of Species.

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - University of Sydney/Wikimedia image

Title page, 1859 edition of Darwin's Origin of Species - image from the University of Sydney via Wikimedia image

How to celebrate?  You could read a summary of Ernst Mayr’s shorthand version of Darwin’s theory, and understand it really for the first time  (I hope not the first time, but there are a lot of people who really don’t understand what Darwin said — especially among critics of evolution):

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on key facts and the inferences drawn from them, which biologist Ernst Mayr summarised as follows:[3]

  • Every species is fertile enough that if all offspring survived to reproduce the population would grow (fact).
  • Despite periodic fluctuations, populations remain roughly the same size (fact).
  • Resources such as food are limited and are relatively stable over time (fact).
  • A struggle for survival ensues (inference).
  • Individuals in a population vary significantly from one another (fact).
  • Much of this variation is inheritable (fact).
  • Individuals less suited to the environment are less likely to survive and less likely to reproduce; individuals more suited to the environment are more likely to survive and more likely to reproduce and leave their inheritable traits to future generations, which produces the process of natural selection (inference).
  • This slowly effected process results in populations changing to adapt to their environments, and ultimately, these variations accumulate over time to form new species (inference).
Darwin's original sketch of a "tree of life," from Darwin's journals

Charles Darwin's 1837 sketch, his first diagram of an evolutionary tree from his First Notebook on Transmutation of Species (1837) on view at the the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. Interpretation of handwriting: "I think case must be that one generation should have as many living as now. To do this and to have as many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction . Thus between A + B the immense gap of relation. C + B the finest gradation. B+D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. Bearing relation" (next page begins) "to ancient types with several extinct forms." Wikimedia image

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4 Responses to Happy Origin Day!

  1. [...] November 2010 posts Yes, this is the anniversary of the Origin of Species! Check out Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub’s [...]

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  2. Mike says:

    I think that most people who think they understand it, don’t. It’s beauty is its simultaneous simplicity and complexity. I am also grateful that in writing out his theory, Darwin also laid out clear means to test it; and he also recognized the shortcomings in the knowledge that he and other scientists had. He recognized that more work needed to be done to find the mechanisms of evolution.

    With its shortcomings, it has yet to be overturned as the main theory of evolution and it fits well with the other processes that we continue to discover.

    Happy Origin Day, Ed.

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  3. Murfyn says:

    “Suited to the environment” is an excellent phrase. The words “fit” and “fitness” are used in place of it, adding greatly to the confusion and ignorance about biological evolution.

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