Of the revolutionary thinkers who have shaped the history of the past century, Charles Darwin certainly stands as one of the most provocative and influential. USA Today, in a leading story in January 4, 1999, recognized Darwin as one of the top ten most infl uential persons of the twentieth century.
Armed with the prestige of the Darwin family legacy, Charles Darwin was positioned for fame long before the HMS Beagle voyage even set sail in 1832. What has unfolded since has certainly become one of the most amazing stories in the history of science. The Wall Street Journal stated in an editorial in May 1999, “Whatever the controversies that surround him, Charles Darwin was certainly the most important natural scientist of the past century; he may become the most important social scientist of the next.”
The publication of Th e Origin of Species established Darwin as a cornerstone in emerging modern thought, which has clearly extended beyond the realm of atural sciences. In 1883, Friedrich Engels wrote, “As Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so [Karl] Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history.”
Weighing in on the impact of Darwin, the eminent American philosopher John Dewey wrote in 1909, “Th e greatest dissolvent in contemporary thought of old questions, the greatest precipitant of new methods, new intentions, new problems, is the one aff ected by the scientifi c revolution that found its climax in The Origin of Species.”
At the turn of the century, the leading steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie commented on the validity of Darwin’s theory, declaring, “There is no more possibility of defeating the operation of these laws (natural selection) than there is of thwarting the laws of nature which determine the humidity of the atmosphere or the revolution of the Earth upon its axis.”
Embracing Darwin’s theory even changed Carnegie’s perspective on life confiding, “Not only had I gotten rid of theology and the supernatural, but I had found the truth of evolution. ‘All is well since all grows better,’ became my motto, my source of comfort.”
Darwin’s influence extends beyond the academic intellectual and industrial elite circles, even into the church. In speaking to his Sunday school class, American petroleum industrialist John D. Rockefeller said, “The growth of a large business is merely a survival of the fittest.” What is not widely recognized is that evolution had been widely popular even in the Church of England during the nineteenth century. After British Parliamentary deliberations, Darwin was eventually buried adjacent to Isaac Newton in the Westminster Abbey Nave. Darwin has essentially become synonymous with the theory of evolution. Ironically, while Darwin’s influence and popularity continues,
Darwin’s life and words have become largely a distant enigma. As pivotal as The Origin of Species has been, it is rarely studied, and almost never quoted. The question is why?
Evolution is intuitively intriguing. Ever since earning a bachelor of science degree from the University of California, followed by a doctor of pharmacy degree from the University of Southern California, studying the fascinating life and writings of Darwin has been a continued passion of mine. Since 2000, as a professional clinical pharmacologist, I have had the privilege to present excerpts of this material to thousands of people in the settings of junior and senior high schools, colleges and universities, and community centers.
Through a biographical and historical approach, this most amazing story in the history of science unfolds. Th is book highlights Darwin’s life, the origins of evolutionary thought, Darwin’s writings, and what scientists have discovered during the past 150 years.
To this end, the book includes over one thousand quotations and encompasses evidence from the fossil record, molecular biology, embryology, and genetics in the context of Darwin’s theory of evolution. Most of the references attributable to Darwin are from The Voyage of the Beagle, Th e Autobiography of Charles Darwin, 1809–1882, Darwin’s letters, and especially The Origin of Species, which is the focus of this book.
The first three chapters cover the motivational events of Darwin’s life, followed by chapter four, which demonstrates how the stage was set for Darwin to gain an audience for Th e Origin of Species. Abandoning the scientifi c method for a subjective point of view is presented in chapter five. Chapter six addresses how Darwin handled the “species problem.” Chapter seven is an expose on natural selection following the VISTA format developed by Niles Eldredge for the touring Darwin exhibit produced by the American Museum of Natural History. Eldredge was a key player in the theory of natural selection, but even Darwin explained the theory is inconsistent. The chapter concludes with Darwin’s top fifteen contradictions.
How the initial excitement over Th e Origin of Species culminated in the commission of the HMS Challenger by the British Parliament is incorporated in chapter eight. The last five chapters take a scientific method evidence approach to the history of evidence discovered in the fossil record, molecular biology, embryology, and genetics. Though Darwin’s theory was challenged and certainly abandoned by the mid-twentieth century, leading biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky of the California Institute of Technology captured the new emerging role of neo-Darwinian evolution, stating, “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”
Two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling stated, “Science is the search for truth.” As the 1998 booklet published by the U.S. Academy of Science explains, “It is the nature of science to test and retest explanations against the natural world.” The booklet continues, “All scientific knowledge is, in principle, subject to change as new evidence becomes available.”
In 2002, Nobel Foundation Board Chairman Bengt Samuelsson, quoting Israeli statesman Shimon Peres at the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, stated, “Science and lies cannot coexist.” Truth reigns sovereign, even if unpopular. The history of science is replete with examples. Copernicus and Galileo debunked the idea that the Earth was the center of the universe—and paid the price.
Eighteenth century British medical doctor Edward Jenner was scorned for suggesting that an attenuated form of live smallpox should be injected into healthy people to ward off the deadly disease. It was not until 1980 that the World Health Organization finally announced the eradication of smallpox worldwide.
Nineteenth century Austrian physician Ignaz Semmelweis was ridiculed for suggesting that deaths among surgical patients resulted from the surgeon’s hands. Today, infection control by washing hands is an essential component in every surgery. The history of biology follows successive waves of knowledge.
In 1880, Darwin’s nineteenth century bulldog, Thomas Henry Huxley wrote, “History warns us … that it is the customary fate of new truths to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.” Darwin’s goal was to find the evolutionary laws of nature as Isaac Newton had previously discovered the laws of gravity. This is an expose on the life and works of Darwin and scientific discoveries during the 150 years of investigation.
As a challenge to embracing change, Darwin wrote, “Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” In arising to Darwin’s challenge, now is the time to take the journey through the most amazing story in the whole history of science.