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The Origin of Species… (Charles Darwin)
In 1837 it was very much the case that most people in the westernised world would have thought that each species existed as a result of its being Created by God.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth and the 150th of the publication of his On the Origin of Species. For some, such as Richard Dawkins, Darwinism has been elevated from a provisional scientific theory to a worldview—an outlook on reality that excludes God, firmly and permanently. Others have reacted strongly against the high priests of secularism. Atheism, they argue, simply uses such scientific theories as weapons in its protracted war against religion.
This is how charles darwin includes The Origin of Species (1859):
In the traditional view, species were considered to be independently created and immutable. As Darwin saw it, species arose from closely related but earlier species. During the past 150 years, biology has confirmed Darwin’s argument. Case after case has been reported of variations of plants and animals that are transformed into species. A famous example is the case of the leopard frog, Rana pipiens, which lives throughout the lower 48 states. If we divide the U.S. into nine zones from west to east, and label them zones A through I, we find that when we mate frogs from adjacent zones, for example, A and B, or G and F, they produce fertile offspring. However, if we attempt to mate a frog from zone A to one from zone I, the offspring are not fertile. What we are seeing is differentiation of Rana pipiens into two separate species. A great number of examples of this type have been observed in a wide range of plants and animals. There is little doubt that Darwin is correct in his argument here.
If Darwin would have ended his argument at this point, he would have accomplished all that he set out to do in his introduction. He would have shown that species are not fixed and immutable, rather they result from natural selection of earlier existing varieties and species. However, in later chapters he argued that the same mechanism functions over greater time scales and is the driving force for the development of higher biological groupings such as Classes (Darwin, p. 320, p. 398). Darwin claims his theory is analogous to Lyell’s Uniformitarianism in geology: species slowly develop from variations by natural selection in the same way that the coast waves slowly cut the valleys and cliffs (Darwin, p. 142).
On the Origin of Species - Wikipedia
Rejection of the presupposition that nature is a continuum has several implications for Darwin’s argument. Biological classification is not just arbitrary groupings along a continuum. Instead, discontinuities exist, which are real boundaries between biological groupings. At least some definitions within the hierarchy are not arbitrary. However, within a particular level of the hierarchy, the biological groupings can be random. As mentioned previously, it also does not necessarily follow logically from his proof of the origin of species that the same mechanism is operative for the origin of Classes. At each level of the hierarchy, Darwin needs to establish natural selection as the dominant process forming the groups at higher levels of classification.
While Darwin has shown empirically that species have developed from pre-existing species, when we move to higher levels of classification (different levels of the hierarchy), like Order and Class, problems begin to develop. First, how can you show empirically that processes operating today at the species level are causing changes at the higher levels of classification over very long periods of time? Second, even if you could show empirically that processes operating today could account for the changes in the organisms over long time periods, the problem of actually showing that this process did in fact cause the changes still remains. Third, Darwin acknowledged that there is an absence of transitional forms in the fossil record, especially at higher levels of classification. If his theory was correct, change in nature occurs gradually. There are no jumps. His explanation for why the fossil record has large gaps in higher level groups was that the fossil record was poor. In fact, he claimed that it must be extremely poor (Darwin, p. 341). If we had a more perfect fossil record, Darwin believed that the gaps between the Classes would diminish. This is not to say that Darwin thought that all transitional forms would ever be accounted for. The intermediate forms would have relatively shorter durations than the more permanent species and they probably would be fewer in number over a smaller geographic area.
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Darwin Online: On the Origin of Species
If we suppose the amount of change between each horizontal line in our diagram to be excessively small, these three forms may still be only well-marked varieties; or they may have arrived at the doubtful category of sub-species; but we have only to suppose the steps in the process of modification to be more numerous or greater in amount, to convert these three forms into well-defined species: thus the diagram illustrates the steps by which the small differences distinguishing varieties are increased into the larger differences distinguishing species.
SparkNotes: Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species
Let A to L represent the species of a genus large in its own country; these species are supposed to resemble each other in unequal degrees, as is so generally the case in nature, and as is represented in the diagram by the letters standing at unequal distances.
Early Theories of Evolution: Darwin and Natural Selection
…If then our diagram be assumed to represent a considerable amount of modification, species (A) and all the earlier varieties will have become extinct, having been replaced by eight new species (a14 to m14); and (I) will have been replaced by six (n14 to z14) new species.
Augustine's Origin of Species | Christianity Today
The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during former years may represent the long succession of extinct species.
SparkNotes: The Origin of Species: Overview
In the next three chapters, Darwin developed his notion of variation under nature. It paralleled his discussion of domestic variation. Darwin began by claiming that he would not define a species, although he believed that every naturalist knew vaguely what one was (for a listing of the classification scheme, see the chart on page 4). For Darwin, the distinction between species and variations is vague and arbitrary. Species are simply strongly marked and permanent varieties (Darwin, p. 108). Variations occur within species, and some variations have a better chance of surviving than other variations. Natural selection, commonly termed ‘survival of the fittest’, is seen as a mechanism preserving the favorable variations and destroying the injurious variations. Therefore, varieties slowly develop into independent and permanent species. Nature makes no big leaps. Darwin saw this as a physiological division of labor. More specialized species were better “adapted” than earlier species.
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