Monday, May 28, 2007

"An Historical Sketch"

I should first mention that I'm reading through the second edition of the Origin.

Well, here goes the first section:

First impressions:

I had no idea that the subtitle to The Origin of Species is actually "By means of natural selection or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life". I assume here that Darwin means "races" in terms of the natural world, and not humans in particular. But then again, it was a different time...

This very first section deals with the "progress of opinion on The Origin on Species". Here Darwin lists all of the recent scientific literature published about mutability of species--a total of 34 authors who all support this concept.

Surprisingly, it's revealed that Aristotle has figured out the problem of teleology in biological systems.

Aristotle...after remarking that rain does not fall in order to make the corn grow, any more than it falls to spoil the farmer's corn when threshed out of doors, applies the same argument to organisation; and adds..."So what hinders the differents parts [of the body] from having this merely accidental relaion in nature?"

Lamarck is lavishly praised, and while we all know his particular system didn't work out, it is worth noting that he brought attention to the whole evolution issue. There's also an interesting discussion of the evolution of human races by a certain Dr. W. C. Wells. Rather than the usual turn of the century British superior attitude towards other races, human diversity is explored in terms of evolutionary advantages in particular environments:

Of the accidental varieties of man, which would occur among the first few and scattered inhabitants of the middle regions of Africa, some one would be better fitted than the others to bear the diseases of the country. This race would consequently multiply, while the others would decrease...

My favourite line of the whole chapter? "Always, also, it may be well to bear in mind that by the word 'creation' the zoologist means 'a process he knows not what.'".

Ha! Take that creationists!

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