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The Origin of Species

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Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, published in 1859, is one of the most controversial books of the 19th century. Although the theory is widely accepted by scientists today, it is still banned in many schools (esp. in southern U.S. states) (see Scopes Monkey Trial). The full title of the book is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

In it, Darwin presents a theory of evolution that is in most aspects identical to the theories now accepted by scientists. He carefully argues out this theory of evolution of species by natural selection by presenting all the accumulated scientific evidence from his voyage on the HMS Beagle. His theories were opposed to the then-accepted viewpoint of creationism. It is arguably one of the pivotal works in scientific history. Moreover, it was (and still is) eminently readable, even by the non-specialist (although it is very wordy and being intelligent is a prerequisite for comprehending the arguments and subtle nuances put forth by Darwin).

Publication of "The Origin of Species" happened before Darwin had intended because of the independent development of a similar theory by Alfred Russel Wallace who sent Darwin his manuscript in 1858. A joint publication of Darwin/Wallace's theory of evolution was put forth the following year. Unfortunately, history has more or less erased Wallace from the original theory of evolution, much as it has erased socially less prominent scientists from their discoveries. Darwin descended from many generations of eminent naturalists in England while Wallace was relatively unknown.

Although Darwin himself was a fervent Victorian, he was forced to conclude, because of the accumulated evidence, that species did evolve over time. As such, he was well aware of the implications such a work would have on the study of the origins of humanity (see On the Descent of Man[?]).

References:

  • Charles Darwin. On the Origin of Species. John Murray, London, 1859.
  • A modern facsimile edition can be purchased: ISBN 0674637526

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