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Darwin’s Origin of Species

Darwin’s book On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life published in late 19th century was one of the most monumental works of that time. Darwin’s theory created a ripple of scientific and cultural feedback that would result in a discussion that remains a topic of interest even now. However, the initial reception of this work had been mostly controversial meaning that the evolution theory opposed the then-dominating creation theory. Many scholars across the globe perceived evolution as something very unorthodox and extraordinary. Scientists and theologians alike argued that the theory holds no value and its concepts are false. Nevertheless, the theory became one of the most recognized and well-known theories up to date. Therefore, a question arises – why did Darwin’s contemporaries deny the theory of evolution? To understand why the theory had been criticized, one has to understand the context in which it developed, Darwin’s primary arguments, and the ways he delivered those arguments.

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Darwin’s Theory Reception

Since the most important thing to understand is the cultural and intellectual context in which Darwin’s theory was created, it is necessary to determine what views dominated public and scientific communities at that time. It took Darwin a long time to summarize his ideas and unite them in one manuscript. The reason behind that was the fact that Darwin feared that his work would receive a lot of criticism and, therefore, would not be recognized or even given attention. Thus, Darwin took a time of almost twenty years to complete his manuscript.

It is easy to see why Darwin was so hesitant to publish his work since the prevailing theories of his time were based on creationism. However, Darwin himself acknowledged that, even though the idea of evolution may contradict the concept of God, it does not immediately deny his existence. On the contrary, Darwin suggested that there was indeed a Creator, the one that shaped all things alive and inanimate alike. The life, in turn, made use of the environments that surrounded it, adapted to it and became developing itself in various forms to cope with the hazards that surrounded it. Although it may seem that there is no contradiction between evolution and creation, Darwin knew that Bible denies forms of kinds. In other words, there are kinds (human, cat, dog, etc.) which may be somewhat different but remain just this – one kind. The article by Cosans (2005) specifically focuses on this side of the theory’s nature.

Therefore, Darwin’s theory disturbed the minds of theologians mainly because it suggested that there was a common predecessor, which then turned in various forms of different kinds. This denied the basic ideas of Christian teachings. However, since the argumentation for the theory had been gathered, analyzed, and improved for almost half a century, the basis was indeed firm. Darwin’s argument could not be immediately dismissed as irrelevant and meaningless. If that had been the case, the evolution theory would not hold on for such a long time. Thus, the great discussion began.

Darwin himself considered his theory to be more of a consideration than vera causa. He stated that regarding these general considerations, when the researchers dwell on particular details, they cannot confirm that any species has changed or that the supposed changes are beneficial. Some species have changed, while others have not was also a problematic issue. Thus, the theory that Darwin came up with was merely an assumption. Yes, it was based on facts, observations empirically gained knowledge but it had a major flaw of inability to be tested. This means that the theory may have been relevant in the Earth’s earliest millennia, but the process could have shrunk to the point where it is not visible anymore. There are a number of reasons to suppose so.

Firstly, if the prevailing theory of Earth’s formation is correct, and the planet was indeed once a formless rock dominated by acid rains and extreme temperatures, the species that began to emerge had to deal with a high number of hazards. Such environment pushed them to adapt, to become different, to shape shift to survive – to evolve. However, as the surroundings began to cool down and become more stable, the species had far fewer problems surviving and, therefore, required less adaptation. To put it simply, there were no more reasons for species to change. Furthermore, the variations may have been negated even more by the humankind. Human’s influence on the world around cannot be denied. As soon as the first Homo sapiens started using nature to their advantage, they began to create the circumstances, in which the species that they used required no adaptation.

Finally – and this is one of the most important counter-arguments to Darwin’s theory – there is no way a single man could watch the evolution unfold. Even humankind as species may be unable to do so. The reason behind this inability is the fact that the evolutionary processes take a great deal of time to happen. Basically, it requires up to thousands of years for species to change in that way or another. With human’s influence affecting the adaptation processes now more than ever, it would take even more time.

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Thus, the evolution as Darwin understood it has now become something different. To speed up the process of adaptation, Earth’s species would require experiencing some kind of global disaster or at least very rapid change of environment. Unfortunately, that would need some outside source of change (like a giant asteroid or sudden burst of Sun’s radiation or heat that would melt down polar icebergs, etc.). Therefore, over the course of last million years or so, the evolution may have slowed down to the point of almost complete invisibility. Without any kind of disastrous events, it would be impossible to notice differences, not even for future generations. Thus, the reception that Darwin first received probably held some weight due to the fact that the theory may have become irrelevant over the course of years. Of course, it contributes much to how people should understand the beginning of life and how it changes, but it does not describe anything crucial beyond that.

The theory of creation, on the other hand, is almost universal and can explain everything. However, there is no denying that Darwin contributed a lot to pushing science and understanding of nature further by developing his theory, which, if proven, may be one of the most important discoveries human made so far.

Theory’s Innovative Nature

When talking about Darwin’s theory, it is impossible to create a thorough discussion without knowing upon what facts the theory is based. To understand what the evolution theory suggests, one would have to understand four main concepts that the theory proposed. Those concepts are variation, heritability, competition, and differential survival.

Variation stands for the variability that every species have. Even the organisms that are closely related have variability that is apparent. One may perceive this by looking at his or her siblings or any other person, for that matter. There are different hair color, eye color, height, weight, and so on, and so forth. However, there are also somewhat constant variables that do not vary between similar species unless a mutation occurs. Such constants are the number of limbs or perception organs (eyes, ears, nose, etc.), basic functionality of organs, and the overall structure of the organism. Furthermore, some species may show a greater amount of changing components, while others remain in relatively small numbers.

Heritability is required in order for evolution to progress. It is an ability that every species has that is provided by the DNA that every generation passes to the next one. Certain changes that occur due to the environmental shifts or spontaneous mutations are encrypted in the DNA and then passed on to the next generation of species. With this process repeating infinitely (unless species become extinct), the evolution never stops. The heritable traits are continuously researched by geneticists to determine whether they are inherited or newly formed. The problematic nature of heritability lays in the fact that every mutation – good or bad – is passed from parents to their offspring. This creates a number of possibilities for diseases to spread and mutate becoming more complex and hard to eliminate.

Competition is another factor that is directly connected to the processes of evolution. Competition arises because every species (given best environment) have the ability to reproduce infinitely. This results in overpopulation, which leaves future generation less food and territory to exist. Thus, it boils down to “survival of the fittest,” which means that the species or generations that adapted best are able to take better territory and supply themselves with more food. Because of the competition, the mutations generated in species are tested from the standpoint of their being advantageous or useless. The species that have better set of variations, therefore, have better chances to survive and provide their offspring with better possibilities.

Differential survival is a direct result of competition between species. Some species survive and gain more resources, while others cease to exist and, thus, take their DNA samples out of the shared pool. Thus, the most advantageous mutations and adaptive mechanisms remain, while less useful ones are cast aside. In other words, nature selects the genes that will be passed on, which is described by the phrase “natural selection.”

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All in all, these four factors are the driving force behind the evolution. With each component combined, the species are compelled to adapt, survive, and struggle for resources. By the end of this evolutionary race, only the most adapted organisms that are best suited for surviving in their environment remain and reproduce. Thus, the evolution always moves forward and can only be put on hold when certain species adapt so well that they are able to change nature to their advantage. This is exactly what happened to the human race. Ever since human became the dominant species spreading in every territory of Earth, the evolution of humankind shifted towards more social aspects. Nevertheless, the evolutionary processes remain, they just become less apparent.

How Darwin Made his Theory Competitive

As stated by Campbell (2003), “anyone advancing a novel idea must face the “Catch 22” of intellectual change. If an idea is truly radical, how can it be understood, let alone believed?” (p. 203). However, any new scientific discussion is made easier by taking advantage of the limitations and the weak points of the previously dominant positions. This is what Darwin used as a starting point for his work. In order to provide better argumentation for his theory, he first needed to debilitate the arguments that creationists already had or that they would probably develop to refute his argument. This was a very thoughtful strategic approach both to structuring his work and building up his perspective. By methodically dismissing main positions of creationists, Darwin was able to give way to his theory, while at the same time giving creationism a new perspective, which made some of its fundamental theses arguable and less confident.

The creationism considered to be redundant and obsolete and was discredited and dismissed by two shortages: its inability to explain some facts and failure to make other significant. This statement perfectly represents how Darwin used rhetoric means to support his cause, while at the same time dismissing the previously dominant theory. Some may argue that Darwin’s theory evolved enough to dislodge creation theory, which had fewer tools to remain viable.

Logical assumptions made by Darwin are structured so well, that the mere possibility of their truthful nature presents a grave threat to creationists’ standpoint. This is achieved by a number of means, most important of which is the simplistic nature of Darwin’s discovery. Basically, his theory explained life’s progression through the most simple and observable trait that every organism has – an ability to copy itself by reproductive means. This made Darwin’s argumentation even more robust and easy to understand, therefore requiring less explanation and resulting in much fewer assumptions, which, again, was a very thoughtful strategy and rhetoric mean. However, this may not be directly planned by Darwin. This argument is a direct result of his theory.

Finally, if the argumentation provided by Darwin would have been weak and irrelevant, there would be no need for individual creationists to try so hard to dismiss his theory, often refuting to use informal fallacies in their attempts at compromising the evolution theory and Darwin himself. There were a great number of informal fallacies that Darwin’s opponents took advantage of to put Darwin’s theory and its author into perilous position.

Conclusion

Simply put, Darwin’s theory was a huge success for both himself and science. Even considering that the theory is yet to be completely proven, an attempt to revision the prevailing and stagnant creation theory was well worth trying. Darwin is now commonly recognized as one of the most influential scientists that ever lived for an important reason: Darwin was a revolutionary thinker that reinvented the model of humanity’s origin. Moreover, he successfully used a significant amount of argumentation to debilitate previously dominant theory, while at the same time supporting his own perspective. All of this effort and the amount of time spent on writing the manuscript resulted in a monumental work that brought a discussion that would live for centuries. All in all, it is safe to assume that Darwin contributed significantly to scientific progress as well as the development of human society in general.

References

Campbell, J. A. (2003). Why was Darwin believed? Darwin’s origin and the problem of intellectual revolution. Configurations, 11(2), 203-237.

Cosans, C. (2005). Was Darwin a creationist? Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 48(3), 362-371.

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StudyCorgi. (2021, December 28). Darwin’s Origin of Species. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/darwins-origin-of-species/

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