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The Origin of Species

The Origin of Species (full title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) by British naturalist Charles Darwin is one of the hallmark works of biology. In it, Darwin details his theory that organisms gradually evolve through natural selection. It was first published on November 24, 1859 and immediately sold out its initial print run. The book was highly controversial when first published, as it negated the need for a biblical creation.

Darwin presents a theory of evolution that is, except concerning the inheritance of traits acquired by education in which he still believes (see discussion page), almost identical to the theories now accepted by scientists. He carefully argues out this theory of evolution of species by natural selection by presenting all the accumulated scientific evidence from his voyage on the HMS Beagle in the 1830s. His theories were opposed to the then-accepted viewpoint of creationism. It is arguably one of the pivotal works in scientific history. Moreover, it was (and still is) eminently readable, even by the non-specialist.

Darwin, as evidenced by his later work, The Descent of Man, was well aware of the implications such a theory would have on the study of the origins of humanity; consequently, he withheld publication of his accumulated evidence in favour of natural selection for more than a decade. He was eventually forced into publication because of the independent development of a similar theory by Alfred Russel Wallace, who sent Darwin his manuscript in 1858. A joint publication of Darwin/Wallace's theory of evolution was put forth the following year. It is felt by some that Wallace deserves as much credit as Darwin for the theory of natural selection, and that he has been rather unfairly marginalised from the history of its development.

The exact mechanism of inheritance was not known to Darwin. This caused some serious problems for the theory; Darwin even speculated on Lamarckian inheritance. The successful combination of Darwin's natural selection with Gregor Mendel's genetics was achieved only later in the Modern evolutionary synthesis.

Although the theory is widely accepted by scientists today, it is still highly controversial in many countries, and particularly in certain southern states of the United Statessee Scopes Monkey Trial, creationism.


  • Charles Darwin On the Origin of Species John Murray, London, 1859.
  • Darwin, Charles & Huxley, Julian (2003). The Origin of Species. Signet Classics. ISBN 0-45-152906-5.
  • Jones, Steves (1999). Almost Like a Whale. Doubleday. ISBN 0-38-540985-0. (contemporary introduction to The Origins of Species)

External links

Basic topics in evolutionary biology
Processes of evolution: macroevolution - microevolution - speciation
Mechanisms: selection - genetic drift - gene flow - mutation
History: Charles Darwin - The Origin of Species - modern evolutionary synthesis
Subfields: population genetics - ecological genetics - molecular evolution - phylogenetics - systematics - evo-devo
List of evolutionary biology topics | Timeline of evolution

Charles Darwin Topics relating to Charles Darwin
Family: Erasmus Darwin (grandfather) - Josiah Wedgwood (maternal grandfather) - Emma Darwin (wife) - William Darwin; Anne Darwin; Etty Darwin; George Darwin; Elizabeth Darwin;

Francis Darwin; Leonard Darwin; Horace Darwin; Charles Waring Darwin (children) - Francis Galton (cousin)

Contributions to evolutionary biology: Evolution by means of natural and sexual selection.
Books: The Voyage of the Beagle - The Origin of Species - The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex
Named in honour of Darwin: Darwin Medal - Darwin, Australia - Charles Darwin University, Darwin College, Cambridge

Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45