Friday, November 25, 2016

The Origin of Mankind

Man is descended from a hairy, tailed quadruped, 
probably arboreal in its habits.
- Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

On November 24, 1839, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, a ground-breaking scientific work by British naturalist Charles Darwin, was published in England. Darwin’s theory argued that organisms gradually evolve through a process he called “natural selection.” In natural selection, organisms with genetic variations that suit their environment tend to propagate more descendants than organisms of the same species that lack the variation, thus influencing the overall genetic makeup of the species.

Darwin, who was influenced by the work of French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and the English economist Thomas Robert Malthus, acquired most of the evidence for his theory during a five-year surveying expedition aboard the HMS Beagle in the 1830s. Visiting such diverse places as the Galapagos Islands and New Zealand, Darwin acquired an intimate knowledge of the flora, fauna, and geology of many lands. This information, along with his studies in variation and interbreeding after returning to England, proved invaluable in the development of his theory of organic evolution.

Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck

Thomas Robert Malthus

Some of the Galapagos Islands 

The idea of organic evolution was not new. It had been suggested earlier by, among others, Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus Darwin, a distinguished English scientist, and Lamarck, who in the early 19th century drew the first evolutionary diagram, a ladder leading from one-celled organisms to man. However, it was not until Darwin that science presented a practical explanation for the phenomenon of evolution.
Erasmus Darwin

Darwin had formulated his theory of natural selection by 1844, but he was wary to reveal his thesis to the public because it so obviously contradicted the biblical account of creation. In 1858, with Darwin still remaining silent about his findings, the British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace independently published a paper that essentially summarized his theory. Darwin and Wallace gave a joint lecture on evolution before the Linnean Society of London in July, 1858, and Darwin prepared On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection for publication.

Alfred Russel Wallace 

Published on November 24, 1859, Origin of Species sold out immediately. Most scientists quickly embraced the theory that solved so many puzzles of biological science, but orthodox Christians condemned the work as heresy. Controversy over Darwin’s ideas deepened with the publication of The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), in which he presented evidence of man’s evolution from apes.

By the time of Darwin’s death in 1882, his theory of evolution was generally accepted. In honor of his scientific work, he was buried in Westminster Abbey beside kings, queens, and other illustrious figures from British history. Subsequent developments in genetics and molecular biology led to modifications in accepted evolutionary theory, but Darwin’s ideas remain central to the field.

Westminster Abbey

Charles Darwin's Grave

The immediate reaction to On the Origin of Species included international debate, though the heat of controversy was less than that over earlier works such as Vestiges of Creation. Darwin monitored the debate closely, cheering on Thomas Henry Huxley's battles with Richard Owen to remove clerical domination of the scientific establishment. While Darwin's illness Essays and Reviews  kept him away from the public debates, he read eagerly about them and mustered support through 

Religious views were mixed, with the Church of England's scientific establishment reacting against the book, while liberal Anglicans strongly supported Darwin's natural selection as an instrument of God's design. Religious controversy was soon diverted by the publication of Essays and Reviews and debate over the higher criticism.

The most famous confrontation took place at the public in 1868 during a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, when the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, argued against Darwin's explanation. In the ensuing debate Joseph Dalton Hooker argued strongly in favor of Darwinian evolution. Thomas Huxley's support of evolution was so intense that the media and public nicknamed him "Darwin's bulldog". Huxley became the fiercest defender of the evolutionary theory on the Victorian stage. Both sides came away feeling victorious, but Huxley went on to depict the debate as pivotal in a struggle between religion and science and used Darwinism to campaign against the authority of the clergy in education as well as  advocating the ape as the origin of mankind.
The Symbol of the Anglican Church 

Bishop Samuel Wilberforce

Joseph Dalton Hooker

Thomas Huxley

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