01A: Variation Under Domestication – Part 1
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Considered to be one of the books that changed the world and how we view ourselves, On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin was met with incredulous horror when it was first published in 1859. The revolutionary, almost blasphemous ideas it described were seen as antithetical to the existing ideas of Creation contained in the Bible and other religious texts. It was mocked, reviled and the author was personally subjected to vicious persecution by the establishment and theologians.
In the years that followed its publication, the book became the subject of furious intellectual and social debate. For modern day readers, On The Origin of Species or The Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life to give it its full title, represents not just a turning point in scientific discovery, but also the keystone of research and further inquiries into the field of human origin and an emergence from the Dark Ages of mere belief.
Charles Darwin was a typical product of upper class Victorian society. His privileged family background included teachers, doctors, clergymen and businessmen. A desultory career in school and college was followed by vague ambitions to join the Church. Later, he embarked on a course in medicine at Edinburgh, but gave it up after two years to join Robert Grant, a famous biologist and proponent of evolutionary theories propounded by French naturalists. In 1831, Darwin was invited to join the expedition on board the now famous HMS Beagle which was to conduct explorations in South America. Darwin was employed as naturalist/companion of Captain Fitzroy and the expedition lasted for five years. The ship traveled to various South American countries and returned via Australia and Mauritius to England.
Contrary to popular opinion, Darwin was certainly not the first to come up with the idea of Evolution. In fact, his own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin had proposed the idea in 1794. However Charles' contribution was to provide the mechanism via which evolutionary theory worked which he called “natural selection.” In On The Origin of Species he provides a wealth of observations on different species and how they adapt to their natural environment. His further work on pigeon breeding and studies in geology began to crystallize in the famous theory which says that species are not “created” but they “evolve.”
As a radical and profoundly original work which shook contemporary ideas to their foundation, On The Origin of Species is indeed a historically important and an informative read.