Tuesday, November 24, 2009

"The Origin of Species" at 150!

To celebrate 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species (it was first published on Nov 24, 1859), check out this fantastic interactive website at NSF: Evolution of Evolution (tip from Laura Wenk). It is surprisingly broad and features some excellent essays and audio interviews. Also, check out this lecture by E.O. Wilson (via video) and a panel discussion that took place earlier today in the same room where natural selection was first debated. Also, see the response to the first question for the panel: What would have happened had The Origin of Species never been published?

The last paragraph of the Origins is beautifully written and nicely captures the scale of his book. Here is the now famous paragraph:

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers,
having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

As it turns out Darwin had been thinking along these lines for a long time (well, at least since 1837). Here is a fascinating look at the Evolution of the End of Origin by R.W.D. Nickalls in Science, a few weeks ago (Nov 6, 2009):

NOTE BOOK OF 1837

Astronomers might formerly have said that God foreordered each planet to move in its particular destiny. In the same manner God orders each animal created with certain forms in certain countries; but how much more simple and sublime [a]powerlet attraction act according to certain law, such are inevitable consequences—let animals be created, then by the fixed laws of generation, such will be their successors. (1)

SKETCH OF 1842

There is a simple grandeur in the view of life with powers of growth, assimilation and reproduction, being originally breathed into matter under one or a few forms, and that whilst this our planet has gone circling on according to fixed laws, and land and water, in a cycle of change, have gone on replacing each other, that from so simple an origin, through the process of gradual selection of infinitesimal changes, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved. (2)

ESSAY OF 1844

There is a simple grandeur in this view of life with its several powers of growth, reproduction and of sensation, having been originally breathed intomatter under a few forms, perhaps into only one, and that whilst this planet has gone cycling onwards according to the fixed laws of gravity and whilst land and water have gone on replacing each other—that from so simple an origin, through the selection of infinitesimal varieties, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been evolved. (2)

ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES, 1859

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved. (3)

References

  • 1. F. Darwin, Ed., The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (John Murray, London, 1887).
  • 2. G. de Beer, Evolution by Natural Selection (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1958).
  • 3. C. Darwin, On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection... (John Murray, London, 1859)

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