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Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution

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It is commonly thought today that the theory of evolution originated from Charles Darwin in the nineteenth century. However, the idea that species mutate over time has been around for a long time in one form or another. Therefore, by Darwin’s time the idea that species change from one type into another was by no means new, but was rejected by most because the proponents of evolution could not come up with a satisfactory mechanism that would explain this change.

But how did Darwin come up with an acceptable theory of evolution, and how did Darwin’s proposal of natural selection impact the theory of evolution? The answer lies in the study of the works of others, and in the works of Darwin himself, through his theories, his travels and his scientific pioneering.

The most influential evolutionary theories prior to Darwin were those of Lamarck and Geoffrey St. Hilaire, developed between 1794 and 1830. Lamarck suggested that species evolve through the use or disuse of particular organs. In the classic example a giraffe that stretches its neck slightly to reach higher leaves will gain in neck length, and this small gain would be passed on to its offspring. (Poirier, McKee, 1999) St. Hilaire, on the other hand suggested that the change was discontinuous, large in magnitude, and occurred at the production of offspring. However, these theories of evolution were based on explanations that offered no demonstrated mechanism. (Bowler, 1990)

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, and behavior. Second, variation is in some part heritable so that variant forms have offspring that ...

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.... What is Intelligent Design? Accessed 15 April 2015.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude. Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. New York: Doubleday & Company Inc., 1959

Lewontin, R. C. Darwin and Mendel-the Materialist Revolution. In: Neyman (ed.) The Heritage of Copernicus. Cambridge: MIT Press. 1974.

Poirier, F.E.; McKee, J.K. Understanding Human Evolution. Forth Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall. 1999

Wilson, E.O. The Diversity of Life. New Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.1999

Vorzimmer, Peter J. Charles Darwin: The years of Controversy; The Origin of Species and its Critics 1859-1882. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 1970

Darwin, Charles Robert. Darwin, Francis, editor. The Autobiography of Charles Darwin and Selected Letters. New York: Dover publications Inc. 1958.

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