Blogging Darwin: Chapter One

As promised, I'm following along with Blogging the Origin and reading Darwin's On the Origins of Species. I'm a few days behind John, and but here are my thoughts on Chapter 1_ Variation Under Domestication

  • The chapter is mainly a huge selection of examples that prove a basic premise_ There are variations between members of a species, and humans, by selecting for desirable traits, can alter the species over time. Sure, it's obvious now (and was sort of obvious then), but the rest of Darwin's case relies strongly on this premise.
  • It's clear what Darwin's strategy is, right off the bat. Club the reader over the head with example after example, to make sure that the concepts are clear and that the assertions are substantiated. Pigeons, Pears, Dogs, Sheep - he covers them all. You can feel that he knows in controversial territory and he wants his story to be bulletproof. He often states the anticipated arguments against his work and pre-emptively addresses them.
  • Though it's a little long-winded at times, I wish science had more of these detailed and comprehensive explanations and less 3-page papers in high-profile journals that omit nearly all the background and methodology.
  • It's fascinating to read Darwin's speculations on the mechanisms of inheritance. Remember, back in 1859, modern genetics was still completely unknown, and there were plenty of half-baked ideas floating around. (I'm talking about you, Lamarck). It's amazing to see how much he got right (inheritance, hints about recessive traits), and amusing to see what he got wrong. Considering that Mendel's work wasn't discovered for a few decades, and that DNA wasn't shown to be the mechanism of inheritance until the next century, it's pretty darn good.

Next up_ Chapter 2_ Variation Under Nature


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