Blogging the Origin

John Whitfield

Epilogue

After careful reflection, I’d say it is worth reading The Origin of Species. Biology doesn’t erase it’s past, as I thought. It just forgets to cite it. The Origin is biology’s hub — all the routes that the science has taken since seem to pass through it. This, I think, is partly because Darwin had…

So, what is there left to say? Not much. As its title suggests, the fourteenth and final chapter of the origin, ‘Recapitulation and Conclusion’, mostly restates things that Darwin has already said, often several times. This relentless piling, sorting and re-arranging of evidence can make Darwin seem a little OCD, like an intellectual version of…

From the first dawn of life, all organic beings are found to resemble each other in descending degrees, so that they can be classed in groups under groups. Isn’t that a good sentence? It’s the first of this chapter. There’s music in the way the Biblical ring of “From the first dawn of life”, falls…

Back when I started this, I remarked that one of the reasons I hadn’t read the Origin was that I couldn’t imagine it being essential to a grasp of contemporary science. Regarding evolution, I think you could still make a case for this. But in other ways, that statement shows that you really shouldn’t opine…

When the Origin was published, the idea that species were not fixed entities had been in the air for some time, thanks to Lamarck, Robert Chambers, anonymous author of the best-selling Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, and Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus. But unlike those men, Darwin put all the different pieces together into…

We left Darwin in a troubled frame of mind. The fossil record seemed to offer little support to his theory (then again, it offered little support to any other theory). By the time we reach the end of chapter 10, ‘On the geological succession of organic beings’, he’s feeling far more chipper:

Thomas Kuhn — the one philosopher of science that even ignorami like me have heard of — said that during periods of ‘normal science’, researchers only take on problems that they know they can solve. ‘Paradigm’ is an overused word, but it’s a measure of the paradigm-shifting nature of the Origin that in much of…

Chapter 8: Hybridism

George Bernard Shaw, according to a comment left on a previous post, thought that many people gave up on reading the Origin because, convinced of Darwin’s argument, they wearied of him making his points over and over again. But I disagree. It’s not seeing Darwin restate his case that’s tiring. It’s seeing him return, like…

Chapter 7: Instinct

Science is fun. Now, I know that someone telling you a thing is fun is usually a guarantee that it isn’t. And I know that people who tell you science is fun usually do so in strained and pleading tones, and expect you to believe them because they have spiky hair and can play the…

Chapter 6: Difficulties with Theory

Up until now, our route into the theory of evolution by natural selection has been all downhill. One thing has led effortlessly to another, with Darwin giving the occasional nudge to steer things in the right direction. Not any more. If it’s human interest you’re after — doubt, sweat, anxiety — then chapter 6 of…