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Darwin and the theory of evolution



Of all the new ideas that arose in the victorian period none had more for-reaching consequences than Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection. In reality, the first part of Darwin’s theory was not new: this was the idea that all forms of life on the planet had gradually derived over hundreds of mill’ions of years from a common ancestry.  However, Darwin was the first to give this theory full scientific weight and to introduce it to the wider public in his book The origin of species, first published in 1859.

The second part of Darwin’s theory concerned the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest.  Before Darwin, biology and natural history had been the last refuge for the belief in a creation order by divine providence.  However, Darwin showed that all existing species had undergone considerable mutation, and that their adaptive characteristics had evolved through an extremely long process of natural selection.  His insight is remarkably simple.


In a given environment, members of the some species compete for survival, and it is those best adapted to the environment who will survive.  The characteristics which help them to survive ore biologically selected and copied so that they are inherited by their descendents, who by this measure become even better adapted. 

In this way species can be said to gradual evolve, or improve their chances f or survival.


In Darwin’s mind, his theory applied strictly to the domain of biology and natural history, but unfortunately it was soon being used for social and political ends.  The various school of social Darwinism which began to appear at the end of the century employed crude and often distorted version of Darwin’s arguments to justify everything from the superiority of the white races to the idea, proposed in US, that mill’ionaires were a produce of natural selection”.

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