This is a picture of Charles Darwin with the cover page of ‘On the Origin of Species By Natural Selection’ published in 1859
[caption id=“attachment_190” align=“aligncenter” width=“300”] ](./images/663.jpg) The first edition of Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Source: Vusiem for Natural History Museum[/caption]
Are you intrigued as to why scientists consider this 19th century publication as one of the most valuable among the millions of books, fossils and findings in all of natural history?
Here is the story..
Charles Darwin studied theology in order to become a clergyman. It is one of life’s ironies that by writing this book, he gave us one of the most revolutionary ideas of our lives, so revolutionary in fact, that he was accused of blasphemy by the church he once sought to work for. Yes, this book changed everything.
In his book, Darwin proposes the idea of natural selection as an alternative to the Christian philosophy of divine creation (More specifically the chapter in Genesis, that describes how God created the world in 7 days). Simple yet powerful, it was the first scientific explanation that could comprehend life’s complex variations. By transmutation, Darwin suggested, every offspring tends to be slightly different from each other and their parents. If the difference resulted in favourable attributes to survive in the environment, it would flourish and these attributes would become dominant in the environment. The unsuccessful attributes will fade away. If after many generations of breeding, the differences between the original and resulting species were to become so great, it would result in new species. This, he called ‘Natural Selection’ by ‘Survival of the fittest’ and made it the very basis for our evolution.
In many ways, Darwin was probably destined to do this. Even as a child, he was scholarly and meticulous, and very interested in collecting specimens of birds, beetles and insects. A childhood operation would result in persistent trauma because of which he had to abandon a fine opportunity to become a physician. Darwin later studied theology for four years but instead of giving sermons, he boarded the Beagle on a five year odyssey to the Galapagos that would change his life, and ultimately our lives for ever.
Galapagos, as we know, is a group of islands on the Pacific coast off South America. It was here that Darwin found the strongest evidence for natural selection. Here he noticed slight variations among the same species that have colonized different islands. The variation was highly localized and helped the species to survive in the new environment. A thorough man, he was not fully convinced with the detailed information of barnacles and finches during his Beagle journey. He would come back to England and continue his research in cattle and pigeons for another twenty years to collect a mountain of evidence he thought was absolutely necessary for his book.
The full title of the book was “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of favoured Races in the Struggle for Life” and it was 500 pages long. It was published in Novemeber 1859. Darwin realized how revolutionary his idea was and that is why he wanted a mountain of evidence to back it. Page after page, he filled his book with detailed drawings, meticulous findings and well researched notes. The sheer volume of evidence and the quantity and quality of his scientific research was so baffling that it would mute even the strongest the theory’s critics.
Darwin’s theory is considered too simplistic to explain the complex evolution, for example that of a highly sophisticated organ such as the human brain. However while the quest for a strong alternative contender continues, for now, we have to be content with Darwin’s brilliance.