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Human Evolution theoryCharles Darwin, (pictured - left - as a young man), whom many people consider to have been the originator of Evolutionary Theory as applicable both to animal life generally and to Humanity in particular, actually shares with Alfred Russel Wallace the attribution for independent development of Modern Evolutionary Theory. Neither of them were to be the first to go so far as to explicitly take the step of subjecting Mankind to Evolutionary Theory speculations.
Darwin, born in 1809 into quite a comfortable background as the son of a well-regarded and prosperous doctor based in Shrewsbury, England, was an avid beetle collector in his teenage-years who abandoned medical studies after being appalled by the sufferings of patients undergoing the surgical techniques of the day, (without relief from anaesthetics), and then entered Christ's College, Cambridge, with the view of becoming a country parson. In those times it was quite accepted for clergymen to interest themselves in Natural History as part of God's creation.
Whilst at Cambridge his interest in Natural History led to informal contacts with professors of Botany and Geology and, through these contacts, to an invitation to join HMS Beagle on an exploratory voyage to South America and beyond as a geologist.
This invitation arrived just as Darwin had completed his university degree course and effectively postponed his actually becoming ordained as a clergyman.
During this voyaging on HMS Beagle (1831-1836), however, Darwin lost his faith and also emerged from it as a recognised man of science due to the wider publication of certain learned papers he had sent home to friends and acquaintances. The Beagle voyage gave Darwin a wide background in Natural History.
As early as July 1837 Darwin opened a notebook to record his thoughts on "that mystery of mysteries - the origin of species" as this entry from his diary relates:-
In July I opened my first note-book for facts in relation to the Origin of Species, about which I had long reflected, and never ceased working on it for the next twenty years.The direction of the development of Darwin's thoughts can perhaps be illustrated by this famous Tree of Life sketch from his Notebook B dating from 1837-8:-
Charles Darwin's early evolutionary theory insight of how a branching tree-like genus of related species might originate by divergence from a starting point (1) to effectively establish related species at such notional points as A, B, C and D.
There is an accompanying text annotation that reads:-
Case must be that one generation then should be as many living as now. To do this & to have many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction.
Thus between A & B immense gap of relation. C & B the finest gradation, B & D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed. — bearing relation (page 36 ends - page 37 begins) to ancient types with several extinct forms.
From Darwin's notebook B now stored in Cambridge University library.
Darwin had grown up in and, despite his own skepticism after returning from his voyages, continued to live in a society that generally accepted biblical explanations of creation whereby the Earth and all of its unchanging, immutable, life forms - including Human Beings - were, as they were and as they ever had been, as a result of Original Acts of Divine Creation.
Against this pervasive cultural background, in a confidential letter of 11 January 1844 to a fellow scientist named Joseph Hooker, Darwin wrote that:-
I have been now ever since my return engaged in a very presumptuous work & which I know no one individual who wd not say a very foolish one.— I was so struck with distribution of Galapagos organisms &c &c & with the character of the American fossil mammifers, &c &c that I determined to collect blindly every sort of fact, which cd bear any way on what are species.— I have read heaps of agricultural & horticultural books, & have never ceased collecting facts— At last gleams of light have come, & I am almost convinced (quite contrary to opinion I started with) that species are not (it is like confessing a murder) immutable. Heaven forfend me from Lamarck nonsense of a “tendency to progression” “adaptations from the slow willing of animals” &c,—but the conclusions I am led to are not widely different from his— though the means of change are wholly so— I think I have found out (here's presumption!) the simple way by which species become exquisitely adapted to various ends.— You will now groan, & think to yourself ‘on what a man have I been wasting my time in writing to.’— I shd, five years ago, have thought so.—A professional collector of biological specimens named Alfred Russel Wallace, (pictured right), was acquainted with Charles Darwin and had forwarded specimens he had collected to Darwin. Darwin was a great writer of letters and had corresponded intermittently with Wallace.
And so it was that Wallace, who had independently arrived at an evolutionary theory in 1858 whilst he was laid up with a malarial fever at Ternate, in the Celebes Islands where he had been collecting biological specimens, sent a twenty page long memoir about this evolutionary theory he had devised to the influential expert amateur naturalist Charles Darwin, which arrived at Darwin's house in Kent in June 1858.
In a covering letter Wallace asked that Darwin forward the memoir to a famous scientist named Sir Charles Lyell, if Darwin thought the content merited Lyell's attention.
Wallace had concluded that species throw up occasional variations in form which may decisively benefit the individuals who carry that variation. He, like Darwin years earlier, had been struck by a viewpoint attributable to Thomas Malthus, which held that populations will tend to outstrip the food supply naturally available to them. Again, like Darwin, Wallace envisaged a relentless favouring in terms of short term survival and longer term breeding opportunities being naturally bestowed on those individuals that bore variant traits that favoured the winning of scarce food for their day-to-day sustenance.
Darwin subsequently sent Wallace's manuscript to Lyell; with his own covering letter of 18th June 1858 that included the following sentences:-
My dear LyellAlthough Darwin had shown himself reluctant to publish his theorising in the past he was now faced with the possibility that his own labours and insights might be overshadowed with much of any associated credit being won by Alfred Russel Wallace upon the publication of his sketch in some scientific journal or other - how was he now to act - he would doubtless have felt it strictly necessary to behave in a gentlemanly fashion and, as such, would have been conscious of the necessity of giving Wallace due credit.
Several days later Darwin again wrote to Sir Charles Lyell:-
As I had not intended to publish my sketch, can I do so honourably, because Wallace has sent me an outline of his doctrine? I would far rather burn my whole book than that he or any other man should think that I behaved in a paltry spirit. Do you not think that that his having sent me this sketch ties my hands? I do not in least believe that that he originated his views from anything which I wrote to him.Sir Charles Lyell was actually one of Darwin's personal friends and knew that Darwin had long been working in the same area of study. In the event Lyell and other scientific friends of Darwin's agreed a compromise where both Darwin and Wallace would be enabled to share in the release of the Theory of Evolution for public consideration and thus put both of them on academic record as being responsible for its development.
Neither Wallace nor Charles Darwin were present at the meeting of the Linnaean Society in July 1858 when papers attributable to each were brought to the attention of the wider scientific community.
Following on from Wallace's approach of 1858 Darwin made efforts to draw his notes together into a work intended for publication. That work was prepared and published under the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was first published on 24 November 1859.
There were only 1,250 copies prepared in this first edition, and Darwin had suggested to his publisher that even this would be too many for what he presumed to be a limited and specialised scientific market.
Although the book was priced at fourteen shillings - more than a week's wages for a labouring man and hence beyond most persons convenient means - and its content was slightly technical this edition sold out to the book trade on the day of publication.
A second edition of 3,000 copies was issued some two months later.
Few books have had such a profound and far-reaching impact on Human Society across the world.
In this work Darwin concentrated on "Descent with modification" as having been extremely influential in giving rise to new species of animal life generally and with no particular focus on Humanity. Darwin work suggested that there had been an initial creation but with many subsequent evolutionary modifications over vast periods of time. Perhaps the most explicit mention of humans as being themselves subject to evolutionary processes occurs in this passage from one of the closing paragraphs of Origin of Species.
"The whole history of the world, as at present known, although of a length quite incomprehensible by us, will hereafter be recognised as a mere fragment of time, compared with the ages which have elapsed since the first creature, the progenitor of innumerable extinct and living descendants, was created.The publication of Darwin's evolutionary theory, as set out in the Origin of Species, was followed by intense public debate where fully Creationist Faith went head to head with Science's newly proposed Evolution Theory.
Gradually mankind became the explicit focus of evolutionary theory speculation.
Sir Charles Lyell's The Antiquity of Man was published in early February 1863 and detailed the discoveries of traces of early man dating from the palaeolithic era. In this work which sold well and, "shattered the tacit agreement that mankind should be the sole preserve of theologians and historians". In this work Lyell avoided any definitive statement on human evolution.
Later that year a work entitled Evidence as to Man's Place in Nature by Thomas Henry Huxley was the first book devoted to the topic of human evolution, and discussed much of the anatomical and other evidence for the evolution of man and apes from a common ancestor.
Something of the nature and direction of Huxley's work can prehaps be gauged from the fact that its three chapters were entitled:-
On the Natural History of the Man-Like Apes
"...man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots,
whose flower and fruitage is the world..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View
Or to quote Emerson, from his famous Essay ~ History more fully:-
"In old Rome the public roads beginning at the Forum proceeded north, south, east, west, to the centre of every province of the empire, making each market-town of Persia, Spain, and Britain pervious to the soldiers of the capital: so out of the human heart go, as it were, highways to the heart of every object in nature, to reduce it under the dominion of man. A man is a bundle of relations, a knot of roots, whose flower and fruitage is the world. His faculties refer to natures out of him, and predict the world he is to inhabit, as the fins of the fish foreshow that water exists, or the wings of an eagle in the egg presuppose air. He cannot live without a world."
"There is one mind common to all individual men....
....Of the works of this mind history is the record. Man is explicable by nothing less than all his history. All the facts of history pre-exist as laws. Each law in turn is made by circumstances predominant. The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn, and Egypt, Greece, Rome, Gaul, Britain, America, lie folded already in the first man. Epoch after epoch, camp, kingdom, empire, republic, democracy, are merely the application of this manifold spirit to the manifold world."
From Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay ~ History
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