Darwin's remarkable Revolution

"MAN was certainly not the goal of evolution, which evidently had no goal. He was not planned, in an operation wholly planless. He is not the ultimate in a single constant trend toward higher things, in the history of life with innumerable trends, none of them constant, and some toward the lower, rather than the higher. Is his place in nature then, that of a mere accident without significance?"

George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution.


Charles Darwin from 1859 until 1872 completely altered the biological understanding of life on earth.
Can the Origin of Species and Genesis be reconciled together in a new rendition of humanity's place in nature?
Darwin the caricature of his ideas. Perhaps, maybe, yes, or no, the inquiry must start with two related questions that are asked by the author: Charles Robert Darwin
• In what kind of world do we live?

What is the evidence for evolution on Earth?


Our natural place | Evidence | deep time | What does evolve? | Conclusions



Layers of sedimentary rock are indeed a text.


The Text

What Evolution Is, Ernst Mayr, 2001.

see: Understanding Evolution's web site at U. C. Berkeley.

Where Darwin worked for his prolific career.


Our natural place | Evidence | What does evolve? | Conclusions


i. What describes and defines humanity’s place in nature?

Human origins

Creation | La Scala -–ladder of nature– Natura | Variety | Common ancestry | fossil record | deep time | transitions | comprehending change

Our natural place | Evidence | What does evolve? | Conclusions



Creation -- occurred in stages: an innate generative capacity or a deliberate design?

human origins

La Scala natura, or the great chain of being -- a sort of ladder of bodily forms.


Variety within the same breeds of domesticated animals and plants.

Horse evolved
Common ancestry there are similar cellular structures shared by all life.

Fossils the remains of similar to and very divergent forms from current life.
Antiquity of the geological past is revealed in pollen, tree rings, chemistry.

Human ancestry was already questioned in the decade when Darwin's Origin of Species was published in November of 1859 with the discovery of the skull of Neanderthal in a German valley.

tree rings

See the tree rings on this photograph? This is dendrochronology is the study of tree rings as clues to past conditions where the tree thrived.

Ian Tattersal

Biological differentiation due to geographical isolation leads to speciation, and thus change in a population over generations.

human family tree

The human family tree that grew out of Africa.


The ways to understand change in the world.

Geological changes are for example induced by volcanoes as depicted here of Mount Etna, Sicily, by Thomas Cole.

A matrix of possibilities emerge from these two possible ways to understand the the process of geological and biological changes in the world:

  A) fixed kinds (ideas) B) change (flux)

1) Infinite duration


Fossils that resemble living creatures. Fossils that show no current forms.
2) Constant world of short duration
Like species produce like offspring. Volcanic explosions, fire & floods.
Type or essence
Existence & probability

“Already in the 1860s knowledgeable biologists and geologists accepted that evolution was a fact, but Darwin’s explanations of the how and why of evolution faced protracted opposition, as we shall show in later chapters…. some of the evidence for the actual occurrence of evolution that has been gathered since 1859.”

p. 11

Our natural place | Evidence | What does evolve? | Conclusions




“the findings would make no sense in any other explanation."

A. Fossils

B. lineage and variability (15)

    2. WHALES
    3. HORSESGorilla

C. Common descent



D. Morphological similarity

E. Embryology -- there are certain developmental stages common to vertebrate embryos

F. Vestigial structures -- the appendix, coccyx,

G. Biogeography or global distribution --

finches Garwin collected

1. the existence of rhinoceros, camels, monkeys, and elephants in Asia and Africa.

2. Rheas, Ostriches, and Emus are birds of similar shape on different continents.

H. Molecular evidence or molecular biology --

The importance of molecular (DNA comparisons) analysis

The molecular clock

monkeyEvolution of the genotype as a whole

“the essentially complete DNA sequence of the entire genome”

p. 37.

genesgenes are defined "as base pair sequences" that are capable of being used to form amino acid chains that comprise proteins [enzymes and hormones].

Origins of new genes
Orthologous and paralogous genes

p. 38.

Our natural place | Evidence | What does evolve? | Conclusions



iii. What does and what does not "evolve" over time?

Offspring vary


Variations accumulate at a deferential rate among many more offspring than can survive

Over time, the surviving reproductive populations vary too greatly to breed successfully


Our natural place | Evidence | What does evolve? | Conclusions


iv. Conclusion:


The argument over Darwin's findings has removed some of the most imaginative and wonderfully bizarre qualities of nature from the focus of our attention, in my perspective.

Instead, we dwell on the exceptions to the rule, the dry to bland details of acquiring a living, and the hard to answer questions when all around us the exceptions, wonderment, and an enormously deep and certain knowledge calls out for our attention.

Galápagos birds called Finches (or mockingbirds) that Darwin actually collected and that he thought were all one species.

"After his crucial conversation with John Gould about the Galapagos mockingbirds in 1837, Darwin continued to struggle with a problem of how to define a species, . . . "

Mayr, One Long Argument, p. 26.

books The sources:

Homer W. Smith, From Fish to Philosopher: The Story of Our Internal Environment, (Boston: Little Brown, 1953.) p. 182.

Ernst Mayr, What Evolution Is, 2001.

Ian Tattersall, Monkey in the Mirror, 2002.

Neil Shubin, The Universe Within, 2013.

George Gaylord Simpson, The Meaning of Evolution. Hartford, Yale University Press, 1997.

Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species: Or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. 1859.

Index to Darwin related pages on this site.

Cultural evolution.

see: Understanding Evolution's web site at U. C. Berkeley.

Text-based assignments

  1. Short Essay, two pages; What is evolution?
  2. Short Essay, three pages; How was Darwin misunderstood by scientists or social scientists?
  3. Term Essay, five pages; Topic of you choice (with approval) drawn from Mayr, Darwin and Journal sources.

    Our natural place | Evidence | What does evolve? | Conclusions


Popular misconceptions

DarwinismErnst Mayr  | Consequences of Darwin's Revolutions

Class related web pages

The Complete works of Darwin on the Internet

Notes from the Origin of Species.

Related pages Darwin's Revolution | primary sources | plate tectonics

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