One hundred and sixty years ago today, Charles Darwin published his revolutionary text on natural selection, On the Origin of Species, containing his collected evidence in favor of the ideas of common descent and branching evolution. A few months after the book’s initial publication in 1859, a reviewer took to the pages of the North American Review to offer some thoughts on Darwin’s insights. Check this out:
Darwin openly and almost scornfully repudiates the whole doctrine of Final Causes. He finds no indication of design or purpose anywhere in the animate or organic world. Like Geoffroy St. Hilaire, he takes good care “not to attribute any intention to the Almighty.” The nicest and most complex adaptations do not to him prove design. The eye was not made to see with, or the ear to hear. The fact that these organs respectively do see and hear is accounted for, on this theory, by supposing that, through an accidental and purposeless variation, some one zoophyte or other animal very low down in the scale happened to be born with a faint glimmering of vision, with the poor rudiment of an eye, “an optic nerve merely coated with pigment, and without any other mechanism”; that this “slight accidental variation” passed down by inheritance, giving to the possessors of it a great advantage over their fellows, even so great that the former were preserved, while the latter died out; that in the lapse of years, another and yet another “slight accidental variation” successively supervened, and, if an improvement, was retained, while those not having it, and those variations which were not improvements, perished.
Read the full review of this classic text in evolutionary biology for some perspective on Darwin’s initial reception.