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Charles Darwin And The Theory Of Evolution

3324 words - 13 pages

It is commonly thought today that the theory of evolution originated from Darwin in thenineteenth century. However, the idea that species mutate over time has been around for a longtime in one form or another. Therefore, by Darwin's time the idea that species change from onetype into another was by no means new, but was rejected by most because the proponents ofevolution could not come up with a satisfactory mechanism that would explain this change.The most influential evolutionary theories prior to Darwin were those of Lamarck andGeoffroy St. Hilaire, developed between 1794 and 1830. Lamarck suggested that species evolvethrough the use or disuse of particular organs. In the classic example a giraffe that stretches itsneck slightly to reach higher leaves will gain in neck length, and this small gain would be passedon to its offspring. Geoffroy, on the other hand suggested that the change was discontinuous,large in magnitude, and occurred at the production of offspring. However, these theories ofevolution were based on a priori explanations that offered no demonstrated mechanism.Darwin's theory of evolution differs in that it is based on three easily verified observations.First, individuals within a species vary from one another in morphology, physiology, andbehavior. Second, variation is in some part heritable so that variant forms have offspring thatresemble them. Third, different variants leave different number of offspring. Darwin thanproceeded to elaborate on the mechanism of evolution by suggesting that in the universal strugglefor life, nature selects those individuals who are best suited (fittest) for the struggle, and theseindividuals in turn reproduce more than those who are less fit, thus changing the composition ofthe population. In addition to natural selection, Darwin also suggested that species also evolvethrough the complementary process of sexual selection. According to Darwin, in sexual selection,one gender of a species develops a preference for individuals of the other gender who possesscertain features. The individuals who possess these features will than have a reproductiveadvantage over others, resulting in a greater number of offspring, and thus, again, a change in thecomposition of the population. Therefore, it was Darwin who made the theory of evolutionfeasible by providing the mechanisms of natural and sexual selection.Darwin's Formative YearsCharles Darwin was born in England in 1809 and belonged to a wealthy and respectablefamily. His grandfather, Erasamus Darwin, was a noted botanical expert in his day who publishedtwo important books, Zoonomia, and the Botanic Garden. In these books, Erasamus speculatedabout various evolutionary ideas that were dismissed as too radical (i.e., the nose of the swine hasbecome hard for the purpose of turning up the soil in search of insects and roots). Darwin who inhis youth read his grandfather's books with admiration, later commented that his grandfatheranticipated the views and...

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