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Extract from Origin Of Species

Updated Thursday, 3rd August 2006

In 1859 Darwin published a book that was to change the way in which we all viewed the world. "On the Origin of Species" was to bring this quiet man a fame that he was to shun for the rest of his days. The theory of natural selection deals with the way in which species are selected to survive by nature. Any advantage, be it the right shaped beak or a long neck, will tend to be developed by the evolutionary process. Hence the giraffe or the kangaroo or even humans have evolved a variety of ways and means that give them an advantage over other species. The following is an extract from a chapter in Darwin’s book entitled: "Natural selection".

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Fit for purpose: a kangaroo Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: BBC

 

"How will the struggle for existence, briefly discussed in the last chapter, act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply under nature? I think we shall see that it can act most efficiently. Let the endless number of slight variations and individual differences occurring in our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, in those under nature, be borne in mind; as well as the strength of the hereditary tendency. Under domestication, it may be truly said that the whole organisation becomes in some degree plastic. But the variability, which we almost universally meet with in our domestic productions, is not directly produced, as Hooker and Asa Gray have well remarked, by man; he can neither originate varieties, nor prevent their occurrence; he can preserve and accumulate such as do occur. Unintentionally he exposes organic beings to new and changing conditions of life, and variability ensues; but similar changes of conditions might and do occur under nature.

"Let it also be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life; and consequently what infinitely varied diversities of structure might be of use to each being under changing conditions of life. Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should occur in the course of many successive generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest."

 

Darwin was not the only scientist involved in the development of the theory of evolution. Alfred Russel Wallace, an English naturalist, who collected animal and plant specimens in South America and the Far East, independently arrived at a theory of evolution by natural selection similar to Darwin.

 

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