Major Themes In The Theory Of Evolution

2629 words - 11 pages

Major Themes in the Theory of Evolution

The world around us changes. This simple fact is obvious everywhere we look. Streams wash dirt and stones from higher places to lower places. Untended gardens fill with weeds.

Other changes are more gradual but much more dramatic when viewed over long time scales. Powerful telescopes reveal new stars coalescing from galactic dust, just as our sun did more than 4.5 billion years ago. The earth itself formed shortly thereafter, when rock, dust, and gas circling the sun condensed into the planets of our solar system. Fossils of primitive microorganisms show that life had emerged on earth by about 3.8 billion years ago.

Similarly, the fossil ...view middle of the document...

More than 2,500 years ago, the Greek philosopher Anaximander thought that a gradual evolution had created the world's organic coherence from a formless condition, and he had a fairly modern view of the transformation of aquatic species into terrestrial ones. Following the rise of Christianity, Westerners generally accepted the explanation provided in Genesis, the first book of the Judeo-Christian-Muslim Bible, that God created everything in its present form over the course of six days. However, other explanations existed even then. Among Christian theologians, for example, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225 to 1274) stated that the earth had received the power to produce organisms and criticized the idea that species had originated in accordance with the timetables in Genesis.1

Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

Charles Darwin, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Gregor Mendel laid the foundations of modern evolutionary theory.
During the early 1800s, many naturalists speculated about changes in organisms, especially as geological investigations revealed the rich story laid out in the fossilized remains of extinct creatures. But although ideas about evolution were proposed, they never gained wide acceptance because no one was able to propose a plausible mechanism for how the form of an organism might change from one generation to another. Then, in 1858, two English naturalists—Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace—simultaneously issued papers proposing such a mechanism. Both men observed that the individual members of a particular species are not identical but can differ in many ways. For example, some will be able to run a little faster, have a different color, or respond to the same circumstance in different ways. (Humans— including any class of high school students—have many such differences.) Both men further observed that many of these differences are inherited and can be passed on to offspring. This conclusion was evident om the experiences of plant and animal breeders.

Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913)
Darwin and Wallace were both deeply influenced by the realization that, even though most species produce an abundance of offspring, the size of the overall population usually remains about the same. Thus, an oak tree might produce many thousands of acorns each year, but few, if any, will survive to become full-grown trees.

Darwin—who conceived of his ideas in the 1830s but did not publish them until Wallace came to similar conclusions—presented the case for evolution in detail in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. Darwin proposed that there will be differences between offspring that survive and reproduce and those that do not. In particular, individuals that have heritable characteristics making them more likely to...

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