The Birth of Darwinism The Problem of The Origin of Life
The Problem of Genetics The Efforts of Neo-Darwinism
A Theory in Crisis

 The Birth of Darwinism

Charles Darwin based his theory on various observations he made as a young naturalist on board the H.M.S Beagle, which sailed in late 1831 on a five-year official voyage around the world. Young Darwin was heavily influenced by the diversity of species he observed, especially of the different Galapagos Island finches. The differences in the beaks of these birds, Darwin thought, were a result of their adaptation to their different environments.

After this voyage, Darwin started to visit animal markets in England. He observed that breeders produced new breeds of cow by mating animals with different characteristics. This experience, together with the different finch species he observed in the Galapagos Islands, contributed to the formulation of his theory. In 1859, he published his views in his book The Origin of Species. In this book, he postulated that all species had descended from a single ancestor, evolving from one another over time by slight variations.

What made Darwin's theory different from Lamarck's was his emphasis on "natural selection." Darwin theorized that there is a struggle for survival in nature, and that natural selection is the survival of strong species, which can adapt to their environment. Darwin adopted the following line of reasoning:

Within a particular species, there are natural and coincidental variations. For instance some cows are bigger than others, while some have darker colors. Natural selection selects the favorable traits. The process of natural selection thus causes an increase of favorable genes within a population, which results in the features of that population being better adapted to local conditions. Over time these changes may be significant enough to cause a new species to arise.

Charles Darwin developed his theory when science was still in a primitive state. Under primitive microscopes like these, life appeared to have a very simple structure. This error formed the basis of Darwinism.

However, this "theory of evolution by natural selection" gave rise to doubts from the very first:

1- What were the "natural and coincidental variations" referred to by Darwin? It was true that some cows were bigger than others, while some had darker colors, yet how could these variations provide an explanation for the diversity in animal and plant species?

2- Darwin asserted that "Living beings evolved gradually." In this case, there should have lived millions of "transitional forms." Yet there was no trace of these theoretical creatures in the fossil record. Darwin gave considerable thought to this problem, and eventually arrived at the conclusion that "further research would provide these fossils."

3- How could natural selection explain complex organs, such as eyes, ears or wings? How can it be advocated that these organs evolved gradually, bearing in mind that they would fail to function if they had even a single part missing?

4- Before considering these questions, consider the following: How did the first organism, the so-called ancestor of all species according to Darwin, come into existence? Could natural processes give life to something which was originally inanimate?

Darwin was, at least, aware of some these questions, as can be seen from the chapter "Difficulties of the Theory." However, the answers he provided had no scientific validity. H.S. Lipson, a British physicist, makes the following comments about these "difficulties" of Darwin's:

On reading The Origin of Species, I found that Darwin was much less sure himself than he is often represented to be; the chapter entitled "Difficulties on Theory" for example, shows considerable self-doubt. As a physicist, I was particularly intrigued by his comments on how the eye would have arisen.1

Darwin invested all his hopes in advanced scientific research, which he expected to dispel the "difficulties of the theory." However, contrary to his expectations, more recent scientific findings have merely increased these difficulties.

1 H. S. Lipson, "A Physicist's View of Darwin's Theory", Evolution Trends in Plants, vol.2, No. 1, 1988, s. 6.