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The "Origin" Then and Now

The "Origin" Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the "Origin of Species"

David N. Reznick
With an Introduction by Michael Ruse
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The "Origin" Then and Now
    Book Description:

    Charles Darwin'sOrigin of Speciesis one of the most widely cited books in modern science. Yet tackling this classic can be daunting for students and general readers alike because of Darwin's Victorian prose and the complexity and scope of his ideas.The "Origin" Then and Nowis a unique guide to Darwin's masterwork, making it accessible to a much wider audience by deconstructing and reorganizing theOriginin a way that allows for a clear explanation of its key concepts. TheOriginis examined within the historical context in which it was written, and modern examples are used to reveal how this work remains a relevant and living document for today.

    In this eye-opening and accessible guide, David Reznick shows how many peculiarities of theOrigincan be explained by the state of science in 1859, helping readers to grasp the true scope of Darwin's departure from the mainstream thinking of his day. He reconciles Darwin's concept of species with our current concept, which has advanced in important ways since Darwin first wrote theOrigin, and he demonstrates why Darwin's theory unifies the biological sciences under a single conceptual framework much as Newton did for physics. Drawing liberally from the facsimile of the first edition of theOrigin, Reznick enables readers to follow along as Darwin develops his ideas.

    The "Origin" Then and Nowis an indispensable primer for anyone seeking to understand Darwin'sOrigin of Speciesand the ways it has shaped the modern study of evolution.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3357-3
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Biological Sciences, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  4. Correspondence between Chapters in the First Edition of the Origin and the Chapters in This Book
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction Charles Darwin and the Origin of Species
    (pp. 3-26)

    Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809, the same day as Abraham Lincoln across the Atlantic. He died on April 19, 1882. Unlike the future president, there was no log-cabin birth for the man who is known as the “father of evolution.” The Darwins were an upper-middle-class family living in the town of Shrewsbury, in the British Midlands. Charles’s father Robert was a physician like his father, Erasmus. In those days, physicians were university-educated men with significant social status. Robert Darwin was also a very canny money man, acting as a link between aristocrats, with money needs and...

  7. Part One Natural Selection

    • Chapter 1 Preamble to Natural Selection
      (pp. 29-37)

      In the opening chapters of theOrigin, Darwin intertwined the processes of natural selection and speciation. You will see why he did so later. His not separating the two has been a source of confusion. Some readers concluded that theOrigin of Speciesis all about natural selection and not really about the origin of species. Others concluded that speciation and evolution are equivalents, so that we only see evolution when we see the origin of new species. Neither of these inferences is true. As a first step in making theOriginaccessible, I have separated Darwin’s proposal of natural...

    • Chapter 2 Variation under Domestication
      (pp. 38-55)

      Darwin begins his argument for natural selection with a discourse about the domestication of plants and animals. Why begin here? One reason is that domestic animals are familiar to all of us. Everyone knows about dogs and the remarkable diversity of dog breeds that range in size from teacup Chihuahuas to giants like the Irish elkhound, Great Dane, or Saint Bernard. Their diversity goes well beyond size. Afghan hounds have an elongated, narrow snout, while pugs have a squashed face with a lower jaw that is often longer than the upper. Dachshunds are shaped like wieners, with their short legs...

    • Chapter 3 Variation under Nature I
      (pp. 56-65)

      The next step in Darwin’s argument is to document that the kind of variation we see in domestic plants and animals is equally observable and of the same kind as seen in nature. This part of theOriginmay be familiar to you, so it may not seem radical; but it defied the prevailing opinions of the day—others had already dismissed variation under domestication as having no relevance to the origin of species. For example, Charles Lyell, Darwin’s geological mentor, had concluded that the variation within breeds was different in character from the differences between species and was not...

    • Chapter 4 The Struggle for Existence
      (pp. 66-76)

      Imagine the English countryside that was familiar to Darwin and his contemporaries. There were meadows, woodlands, and ponds, each filled with plants and animals in abundance. All life was going about its daily task of finding whatever it needed from its surroundings, growing and reproducing. Many animals seemed to have leisure time. Birds sang, turtles sunned themselves on logs, foxes cavorted in meadows at sunrise. It would be easy to think of nature as being benign and bountiful. Darwin’s perspective was quite different from this romantic vision of nature that prevailed at the time. He saw all organisms as constantly...

    • Chapter 5 Natural Selection I
      (pp. 77-101)

      How will the struggle for existence . . . act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply in nature? I think we shall see that it can act most effectually. Let it be borne in mind in what an endless number of strange peculiarities our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, those under nature, vary; and how strong the hereditary tendency is. . . . Let it be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings...

    • Chapter 6 Laws of Variation
      (pp. 102-118)

      Variation among individuals is the fuel for evolution. If there are no differences between individuals in traits that affect their survival and that are inherited by their offspring, then evolution cannot happen. For this reason, Darwin was interested in knowing where variation came from, how it was maintained, and if there were any patterns to be found in the occurrence of variation in nature. It is here that we see him confront some of the greatest difficulties caused by his ignorance of how inheritance works. We can also appreciate how difficult it is to see Mendelian inheritance when manifested in...

    • Chapter 7 Evolution Today: A Modern Perspective on Natural Selection
      (pp. 119-134)

      I close the first and second parts of this book with a brief essay titled “Evolution Today.” Each essay describes the present study of evolution and, by its chosen example, the growth of evolutionary biology into a mature science. Both essays have something in common: I have sought examples of the contemporary study of evolution that demonstrate how quickly evolution can occur. Darwin always emphasized that evolution was so slow as to be essentially invisible unless one could look for it with the benefit of evidence that somehow makes visible the changes that take place over long intervals of time....

  8. Part Two Speciation

    • Chapter 8 Preamble to Speciation
      (pp. 137-151)

      Charles Darwin titled his bookOn the Origin of Species. . . , yet not everyone agrees that Darwin really wrote about the origin of species. Ernst Mayr, who proposed the first modern definition of a species and presented the first well-documented argument for how speciation occurs, said the following in the opening of chapter 7 of his bookSystematics and the Origin of Species(1942):

      Darwin entitled his epoch-making work not “The Principles of Evolution,” or “The Origin and Development of Organisms,” or by some other title which would stress the general problems of evolution. Apparently he considered...

    • Chapter 9 Variation under Nature II
      (pp. 152-163)

      Here I revisit Darwin’s second chapter to discuss it again in the light of speciation. Darwin says little in this chapter about individual variation and its role in natural selection. He deals only briefly with variation as we study it now, so I devoted most of my previous discussion (chap. 3) to addressing the consequences of Darwin’s success in convincing the world that “individual differences” are not noise, but are rather the notes that could comprise a symphony, if properly assembled: “These individual differences are highly important for us, as they afford materials for natural selection to accumulate, in the...

    • Chapter 10 Natural Selection II
      (pp. 164-189)

      As with “Variation under Nature” (Origin, chap. 2), the fourth chapter of theOrigincuts across the topics of natural selection and speciation. I reviewed those components that dealt with natural selection in my chapter 5. Here I deal with those parts that pertain to speciation, using Darwin’s original subheadings.

      Because Darwin constantly emphasizes the continuity between individual differences and the formation of locally adapted races, then varieties, then species, he consistently treats the subjects of natural selection and speciation together. In my chapter 5, I summarized Darwin’s thoughts about the conditions that would best promote the formation of a...

    • Chapter 11 Hybridism
      (pp. 190-204)

      Here I skip to chapter 8 of theOrigin. I do so because this chapter, titled “Hybridism,” is a continuation of Darwin’s argument for the transmutation of species and against the idea that species are products of acts of special creation. This chapter is actually part of a three-chapter sequence in theOrigin(chaps. 6–8) that is a preemptive strike against anticipated challenges to his theory. I review this chapter here because it deals with an integral part of the modern definition of species. “Hybridism” refers to the consequences of making crosses between different species and the quality of...

    • Chapter 12 Evolution Today: The Mosquitoes of the London Underground
      (pp. 205-216)

      Public use of the London Underground began on January 10, 1863. That date, or perhaps some earlier date when the tunnels were being readied for traffic, marks the beginning of the path toward the formation of a new species of mosquito. We often wonder how long it takes to form a new species; Darwin speculated timescales on the order of tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of generations. The mosquitoes of the London Underground show that if conditions are right, the process can be much faster. I chose this example because it happened on Darwin’s home turf and postdates...

  9. Part Three Theory

    • Chapter 13 Preamble: What Is a Theory?
      (pp. 219-226)

      On June 19, 1987, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision onEdwards v. Aguillard. This case pertained to a law titled the Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science Act (Balanced Treatment Act) that had been passed by the Louisiana state legislature. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that the Balanced Treatment Act was unconstitutional. Seven of the nine Supreme Court justices voted to uphold the circuit court decision. The purpose of the act was to forbid a science instructor in a public school classroom from teaching aspects of either “creation-science” or...

    • Chapter 14 Difficulties on Theory
      (pp. 227-249)

      In chapter 6 of theOrigin, Darwin pauses to address possible problems before continuing with the development of his theory: “Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory” (p. 171).

      Darwin’s approach in this chapter adheres to our modern dictum that the best...

    • Chapter 15 Instinct
      (pp. 250-263)

      Orb-weaving spiders spin intricate, circular webs with silken spirals overlying radial threads. The wagon-wheel-shaped webs, suspended from branches or rocks or blades of grass, are custom blends of secretions from different abdominal glands. Each blend is well suited to the particular demands on the specific parts of the web, be it to have high tensile strength to hold up the entire structure or stickiness to ensnare unsuspecting prey. Spiders, with no prior training, are able to expertly weave these complicated structures. Many other organisms display remarkable and complex instinctive behaviors. Caterpillars spin complex cocoons; ants, bees, and termites organize themselves...

    • Chapter 16 Geology I: Background
      (pp. 264-274)

      In his ninth and tenth chapters of theOrigin, Darwin explains the fossil record in light of his theory. This was a challenge because geology and paleontology were well-established disciplines, populated with strong-willed luminaries who had defined the key questions suggested by the fossil record and were debating the answers to those questions. Some of these key questions included how to explain the origin of species, why the species found in the fossil record were different from those alive today, and why there was an apparent succession of species in the record, with some suddenly disappearing and being replaced by...

    • Chapter 17 Geology II: On the Imperfection of the Geological Record
      (pp. 275-287)

      In chapters 9 and 10 of theOrigin, Darwin uses his theory to explain the geological record. He argues that the geological record contains the history of life as it evolved and diversified on a planet that is ancient beyond measure. If this is true, then the fossil record should reveal all the gradual transitions between species that his theory predicts have existed over time. It does not. It is episodic, with one group of organisms abruptly replacing another. This lack of evidence in the fossil record for transitions between species, Darwin concedes, is possibly “the most obvious and gravest...

    • Chapter 18 Geology III: On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings
      (pp. 288-300)

      Darwin’s first chapter on the geological record is his preemptive strike against the way the record can be used to criticize his theory. In his next (tenth) chapter, Darwin takes the offensive. He argues that if we accept the record while keeping in mind that it is extremely imperfect, with more of life’s history obscured by its gaps than revealed by known fossils, then we can find strong evidence there in support of his theory.

      Consider first what Darwin’s theory predicts about how the record should appear if it is indeed a history of the evolution of life. By Darwin’s...

    • Chapter 19 Geology IV: Evolution Today
      (pp. 301-313)

      When the first edition of theOriginwas written, the Silurian was the earliest period of the Paleozoic era. Beneath it lay what were thought to be azoic (lifeless) rocks. By the time of the sixth edition (1872), sufficient diversity had been found within the Silurian to subdivide it into an older Cambrian period, followed by the younger Silurian period. Shortly thereafter a third period, the Ordovician, was inserted between the Cambrian and Silurian periods. Each of these periods was defined by a characteristic fauna. This progressive subdivision of the former Silurian period was a product of the growing knowledge...

    • Chapter 20 Geographical Distribution
      (pp. 314-330)

      Biogeography was an emergent rather than established science at the time of theOrigin. It was a by-product of this age of exploration and the accumulating knowledge of Earth’s flora and fauna. Many foreign outings, be they military adventures such as Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt, cruises with a purpose such as the mapping of the coast of South America by theBeagle, or voyages of discovery such as theEndeavorvoyage to the South Pacific, included official naturalists, often doubling as the ships’ surgeons, who cataloged the plants and animals of the places that they visited. Darwin’s unofficial position as...

    • Chapter 21 Geographical Distribution, Continued
      (pp. 331-345)

      The Galapagos Islands are remarkable for their endemic species, but not all island groups have abundant endemics, so we have to wonder what else is special about the Galapagos. If Darwin’s theory is to have general value, then it must explain why we see the evolution of endemics on some archipelagoes but not others. Also, some types of organisms (birds, reptiles, and insects, for example) are much more likely to be found on islands than others (mammals and amphibians). These patterns must be explained as well. The ever-present alternative, in Darwin’s day, was that each species was the product of...

    • Chapter 22 Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings: Morphology: Embryology: Rudimentary Organs
      (pp. 346-380)

      In my view, Darwin saved the best for last. His chapter 13 is a giant in defining his theory as the unifying concept of the biological sciences. It is in this chapter that Darwin concentrates his arguments for how the process of evolution has left an imprint on all aspects of living organisms. He takes on three well-developed disciplines that together comprised the bulk of the life-science research of his day: the classification of organisms, comparative anatomy, and comparative embryology. Each of them had a long history prior to theOrigin, and each was accompanied by well-established paradigms that Darwin...

    • Chapter 23 Recapitulation and Conclusion
      (pp. 381-400)

      The last chapter of theOriginunfolds as if Darwin is a barrister arguing his case before a jury. Darwin knew that his theory represented a radical departure from established science; here he defends it against his opponents’ objections. He probably envisioned himself facing a jury box filled with Cambridge dons, mentors, role models, and colleagues, including John Herschel, William Whewell, Adam Sedgwick, Richard Owen, Louis Agassiz, Karl von Baer, Asa Gray, Charles Lyell, Joseph Hooker, Thomas Huxley, Robert FitzRoy, and Georges Cuvier (in spirit), all leaning forward, staring at him intently, most shaking their heads in disapproval.

      Darwin opens...

    • Chapter 24 Evolution Today: The Witness Has Been Found, Again and Again
      (pp. 401-416)

      In the imaginary murder investigation presented in the introduction, we argued that, with the right evidence, one can know who committed the crime, and there is no need for an eyewitness. Darwin’s argument in theOriginfulfills this logic. He did not have direct proof that evolution by natural selection happens nor that it causes speciation. He assumed that these processes work on a timescale so much longer than our lives that they cannot be directly observed; we instead have to make inferences from the evidence we can see, in the same way we can infer that footprints in the...

  10. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 417-418)
  11. Index
    (pp. 419-432)