International Society for Science & Religion - Library Project

Darwin on Evolution: The Development of the Theory of Natural Selection

by Charles Darwin

edited by Thomas F. Glick , David Kohn

Introductory Essay by V. V. Raman

Every informed individual in the modern world has heard of Evolution, and a good many of them have also heard of Charles Darwin. Most people think of Evolution as a scientific theory to explain the emergence of man on our planet, according to which we have descended from the apes. Many may also recognize Evolution as a detailed account of the origin and proliferation of biological species, and as a scientific explanation for the same. It is equally well known that Darwin created quite a stir with the publication of his classic On the Origin of the Species in 1859. What may not be as universally known is that Darwin wrote many papers, monographs, letters, and notes related to the subject.

This book is a judiciously selected anthology of Darwin’s numerous writings on Evolution. Here we read about his excitement as he embarked on the hydrographic vessel Beagle on its second voyage during which he already suspected that extant animals are related in extinct ones and also about the now famous Galapagos Archipelago. There are several selections from his Notebooks which are treasure-chests of keen observations on a variety of topics. One chapter reveals some of Darwin’s reactions to Lamarck in the margins of the latter’s work  which he dismissed as “very poor and useless” [83]. We read his 1842 sketch and 1844 essay which were preliminaries to his magnum opus. Then we have Darwin’s technical Monograph on the Sub-Class Cirripedia. His discovery of the principle of divergence is presented, branching diagrams and all. The abstract of his book which he sent to Asa Gray is also included.

Then we come to the cream of it all: selections from the Origin of the Species where he expressed his convictions that “species are not immutable,” and that “Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of modification” [163], the struggle for existence being another. Almost a decade later, Darwin published an elaboration of his hypothesis of pangenesis. Then we read his discussion of “the development of the intellectual and moral faculties during primeval and civilized times” [242], as well as of “sexual selection “ [260] as given in The Descent of Man. Another chapter, with selections from three important studies on reproductive botany, deals with flowers and adaptation. The closing chapter of the book presents “My Several Publications” from Darwin’s autobiography.

Every chapter and selected piece in the book is preceded by a brief introduction. These introductions are informative and clarifying, making the selections easier and more intelligible to those who may not be familiar with the subject. There are two appendices: One consists of pages from Malthus’s essay on population (which inspired Darwin), and the other is a historic paper by Alfred Russell Wallace (in recognition of Wallace’s deep insights on evolution).

There can’t be a better introduction to Darwin than this book. In it may be found the essence of Darwin’s work, stated in his own words.