On the Origin of Species

One-hundred and fifty years ago, the seminal theory that unified the life sciences was published on this day. The author, Charles Darwin, outlined his basic theory twenty years prior to its formal publication. His deference to the scientific process and the norms of his time stalled the presentation of a remarkable idea that changed the way we now understand life on this planet. While many in history contemplated the connectedness between living organism, nobody but Darwin could provide a mechanism for evolutionary change. It took Darwin two decades to assemble the evidence and refine his original hypothesis. Today, this theory is fundamental to our basic understanding of biology.

What is most remarkable is that Darwin had the forethought to describe an evolutionary mechanism prior to the development of genetic theory and molecular inheritance. To honor this remarkable idea, I offer you a photo essay juxtaposed with the closing paragraph from “On the Origin of Species.”

“It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on bushes, with various insects flitting about and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse;  a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. 

Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of higher animals, directly follows. 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 laws of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”  Charles Darwin, November 24, 1859.

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