Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The History of Natural Selection

James Costa writes an article for BioScience in which he traces the history of how Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace made the conclusions necessary to devise the theory of natural selection. While a bit of a long read, the article is quite illuminating. For instance, Costa writes this:
The light shed by evolutionary theory today on even more “classes of facts” than Darwin could have imagined is an excellent starting point in educating students and the general public about this remarkable science. In doing so, we might profitably take a page from Darwin’s playbook and teach Darwin with Darwin himself (Costa 2003). The most readily appreciated argument in support of the reality of species change is the very one that convinced the young Darwin: the expansive explanatory power of the concept, tying together seemingly disparate fields. Most of Darwin’s contemporaries saw how compellingly his theory unified biogeography, paleontology, embryology, instinct, and other fields. Modern students are in a position to appreciate a far more expansive unification, encompassing new disciplines unknown to Darwin—the fruits of more than a century of research since the Origin’s final edition.
Indeed, it is the unification that makes the theory so powerful. It is an excellent article, with much insight into how the theory came to be and why it is so important.

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