Darwin's 'On the Origin of Species' is published
The 24th of November 1859 AD
Darwin had spoken on his theories before, and his rival and colleague Alfred Wallace had produced some formative papers heading in a similar direction, but Darwin's book, published by John Murray for 15 shillings, was still a huge landmark in science.
In a book that is accessible even to the non-scientific, containing a persuasive theory of elegant simplicity, Darwin launched a new era of scientific thought, with great ramifications in the political and philosophical fields too. Previous thinking on the development of species was based around ideas of stability rather than evolution, a creator supposedly having brought about each individually. Such thinking suited the ruling classes, the projection of animal stability onto the political field being an easy leap for those in power.
Charles Darwin had arrived at his theory after his voyages on The Beagle in the 1830s, seeing the differentiation of similar species on the dispersed islands, with in particular the realization that finches had 'evolved' in different fashions according to local environments.
The core of his theory was that natural selection means animals better suited to their environments will thrive and thus survive to breed, leading to the development of some positive traits and eventually species, and that others less suited to survival will indeed die out, revolutionized biological thought. It offended much religious thinking, the timescales involved meaning ideas that the earth had been created a few thousand years ago were thrown into an unflattering spotlight of criticism.
Darwin tried to accommodate the religious in his works, but in spite of this his work undoubtedly boosted atheism, blowing a hole in the creationist concept central to the bible. Since Darwin scientists have linked religious thinking with evolutionary concepts, sometimes in an uneasy marriage. The literal truth of the creation story has, however, for most serious thinkers, been shown as at best a fable.
More famous dates here
6728 views since 28th February 2007
On this day: