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Thread: 150th anniversary of the theory of evolution

  1. #1

    150th anniversary of the theory of evolution

    July 1, 1858: Darwin and Wallace Shift the Paradigm

    1858: The Linnaean Society of London listens to the reading of a composite paper on how natural selection accounts for the evolution and variety of species. The authors are Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. Modern biology is born.

    Scientists of the time knew that evolution occurred. The fossil record showed evidence of life forms that no longer existed. The question was, how did it occur?

    Darwin had been working on his theory since 1837, soon after his epic voyage on the HMS Beagle. The hypermethodical naturalist wanted not only to classify the prodigious variation he had observed, but also to explain how it came to be.

    He felt he would need to publish extensive documentation of natural selection to overcome popular resistance to so radical a notion. So he planned a comprehensive, multivolume work to convince scientists and the world.

    Darwin was still working on his magnum opus when in June 1858 he received a letter from an English naturalist working in Malaysia. Alfred Russel Wallace was young and brash. When he conceived of natural selection, he didn't plan a 10-volume lifework. He just dashed off a quick paper on the subject and mailed it to the author of The Voyage of the Beagle, asking him to refer it for publication if it seemed good enough.

    Darwin was crestfallen. Was he about to lose credit for two decades of work? Wallace had suggested that Darwin forward the paper to Scottish geologist Charles Lyell. Along with English botanist Joseph Hooker, Lyell was one of a small handful of people Darwin had shown early drafts of his own work on natural selection.

    Darwin wrote to Lyell and Hooker, and they arranged for a joint paper to be read at the forthcoming meeting of the Linnaean Society of London. (Founded in 1788 and named for Carl Linnaeus, the Swedish scientist who devised the binomial system of taxonomy, it is the world’s oldest active biological society.)

    Neither Darwin nor Wallace attended the meeting. Wallace was still in Malaysia. Darwin was at home with his wife mourning the death of their 19-month-old son just three days earlier.

    The secretary of the society read the 18-page paper, comprising four parts:

    1. The readers' own letter of introduction explaining the extraordinary circumstances;
    2. An excerpt from Darwin's unpublished draft, part of a chapter titled, "On the Variation of Organic Beings in a State of Nature; on the Natural Means of Selection; on the Comparison of Domestic Races and True Species";
    3. An abstract of Darwin's 1857 letter on the subject to Harvard University botanist Asa Gray;
    4. Wallace's manuscript, "On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type."

    The paper and the meeting did not cause an immediate sensation. Other papers were read the same day. The society had routine business to transact. The meeting was long (.pdf). But the paper was accepted for publication in the society's Proceedings later that year.
    Click here for the rest
    C-5/6, 7-9-2000
    Scottsdale, AZ

    Make the best out of today because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come. Nobody knows that better than those of us that have almost died from spinal cord injury.

  2. #2
    great. thanks.

    As the text of the article says, there was no argument about the existence of evolution, just the explanation for it, especially since the dominant theories at the time were the acquired traits approach proposed by Erasmus Darwin and advocated by Lamarck. At the time it was read, the paper attracted relatively little attention. Note that this was also the case when the Watson & Crick study on the alpha helical structure of DNA was first published in Nature. Most people didn't even understand the import of what they had discovered. That is the way of true discoveries.


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