Archive for September, 2010
The essence of Charles Darwin’s theory, natural selection, is reflected in the title of his book—The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Natural selection, Darwin argued, is the architect of evolution, “As square stone, or bricks, or timber, are the indispensable materials for a building, and influence its character, so is variability not only indispensible but influential. Yet in the same manner as the architect is all important person in a building, so is [natural] selection with organic bodies.”
Charles Lyell and Asa Gray, Darwin’s closest confidants, solidly disagreed. Lyell argued that natural selection can only preserve or eliminate; natural selection cannot create: “The destroy[ing] force is selection, the sustaining [force] preserves things … but in order that life shd. Exist where there was none before… this is not [natural] selection, but creation.”
Even Darwin knew that the arguments in The Origin of Species would not stand the test of time. Critical of his own work, in a letter to H. Falconer in October 1862, Darwin wrote,
I look at it as absolutely certain that very much in the Origin will be proved to be rubbish; but I expect and hope that the framework will stand.
By the end of the nineteenth century following the failure of the HMS Challenger mission to discover the theoretical “innumerable” missing links and evidence in The Origin of Species was acknowledged as fraudulent, Darwin’s theory was emerging as scrap yard re-cycling material.
“Things did not look any better for the Darwinian view of evolution at the onset of the twentieth century, when the re-discovery of Gregor Mendel’s work and the beginnings of genetics appeared to deal a blow the theory,” writes Massimo Pigliucci in his new book entitled Evolution-The Extended Synthesis published by MIT Press.
Not only was the fossil record not cooperating, Mendel’s work patently contradicted Darwin’s central premise of inheritance through “gemmules”, “blending”, and Lamarckism. Mendel demonstrated that inheritance occurs through discrete units; evidence that excludes Darwin’s “slight, successive” changes. The evidence signaled the end of the First Wave of evolutionary thought. Continue reading
Within On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of the Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life are actually two titles—separated by “or”.
In the text of the book, “species” is the most commonly word used from the title—1,926 times. From the words in the title, the next most commonly used word from the title is “natural”, appearing just 764 times.
Therefore, in the 3,878 sentences of first edition, nearly 50% of the sentences include the term “species.” The concept of “species” is central. Ironically, however, Charles Darwin never defines the term “species”. In fact, Darwin explains that “species” defies definition:
No certain criterion can possibly be given by which variable forms, local forms, sub species, and representative species can be recognized.
After 150 years of unprecedented research, the concept of species continues to defy definition. Technological advances in the mid-twentieth century were expected to discover the molecular basis of species. However, rather than solving the mystery, technology has only re-enforced the mystery.
“If we want to solve the problem underlying every origin of species in molecular terms,” Italian geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti explains in his book entitled Why a Horse is Not a Fly, “we have to admit that for the moment the answer is not forthcoming. And there is no answer.”
A natural explanation for the mystery of species continues to elude a scientific explanation. What we know is what we have always known. A cub is born a cub because its mother was a she-cat that mated with a tom. The fly emerged as a fly larva from a fly egg. Kind follows kind. Who knows why?
Through decades of studying tens of thousands amino acids, nucleic acids, proteins, DNA, RNA, and genetic codes, the deciphering any molecular hieroglyphic evidence to define a species continues to elude scientists. This issue is what is called the “species problem.”
Charles Darwin’s notoriety long preceded the publication of The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in November 1859. The Darwin family legacy has been likened to the Kennedy legacy in the twentieth century.
The Darwin legacy sold the book. No publicity was needed. All 1,250 printed copies were sold on the first day. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was an immediate success, the Harry Potter of the nineteenth century, and sequel to the widely popular Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.
In the afternoons, Prince Albert was known for reading Vestiges aloud to Queen Victoria. The English writer of Vestiges, Robert Chambers (1802–1871) goal was to inspire popular interest in evolution—a Discovery Channel forerunner.
Darwin, however, received wide spread of publicity, with the Westminster Review leading the publicity campaign. In 1851, Chambers aligned with the widely popular Westminster Review journal that had been established in 1823 by British philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham and James Mill as the official arm of the Philosophical Radicals. The Westminster Review was a the New Yorker prototype. Continue reading more