Reflections on the Origin of Species is a series of essays I wrote. Each focuses on a chapter of The Origin of Species as well as the corresponding chapter of Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated by Steve Jones. They are noded chapter for chapter as follows:

  • Introduction (See below)
  1. "Variation Under Domestication"
  2. "Variation Under Nature"
  3. "Struggle for Existence"
  4. "Natural Selection"
  5. "Laws of Variation"
  6. "Difficulties on Theory"
  7. "Instinct"
  8. "Hybridism"
  9. "On the Imperfection of the Geological Record"
  10. "On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings"
  11. "Geographical Distribution"
  12. "Geographical Distribution—continued"
  13. "Mutual Affinities of Organic Beings; Morphology; Embryology; Rudimentary Organs"
    "Almost Like a Whale?" (about Darwin's Ghost only)
  14. "Recapitulation and Conclusion" (about The Origin of Species only)
  15. Introduction

    On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin and Darwin’s Ghost by Steve Jones both attempt to explain the ideas behind Darwin’s theories of evolution and natural selection. These ideas are arguments for evolution and against Young Earth Creationists who claim that modern species were created by God within the last 6500 years. In this series of essays, I will go through the chapters of each of these books, which parallel each other, and see what arguments are made.

    I will begin at the beginning. Starting with the second edition of The Origin of Species, the book began with a chapter titled "An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species, Previously to the Publication of the First Edition of This Work." It appears that this chapter is not always included in current publications of the book, which is understandable, considering that it is quite dense and consists of a series of references, comments, and quotes. In one place Darwin quotes a biologist in French without translation. Clearly he was not writing for a modern audience.

    Darwin’s Ghost also starts with a chapter called "An Historical Sketch of the Progress of Opinion on the Origin of Species," but this one is quite different. In Jones' Historical Sketch, he gives some basic explanations for Darwin’s theory. He also explains the goal of his book: it "tries to read Charles Darwin’s mind with the benefit of scientific hindsight." He expresses his opinion that evolutionary theories have become so important to science, economics, politics, history, and art that "no educated person can afford to ignore them." And he notes that, like The Origin of Species, Darwin’s Ghost is an argument. It is not meant to be a biography or textbook, and is not exhaustive in the way these types of books are.

    Following the Historical Sketch in each of these books is an introduction. In Darwin’s introduction, he apologizes for his failure to write a long book with many references. As he writes, some things "can be treated properly only by giving long catalogues of facts." Darwin did not, however, write such a book. He has two reasons for this. First, he estimated that it would take him two or three more years to finish his research, and he was not in good health. Second, in 1858 he received a letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, another naturalist, who had independently come up with a theory almost identical to Darwin’s. Because of these two factors, Darwin decided to publish The Origin of Species as an abstract to his larger book, which he never completed.

    Darwin also used his introduction to lay out a plan for the book, explaining what each chapter will cover. Even with his profuse apologies for not writing a longer, more boring book, his introduction is only five pages long. Jones, on the other hand, follows his Historical Sketch with a twenty-page introduction, which covers three main topics. The first of these, covered only briefly, is Young-Earth Creationism. On this topic Jones writes, "Such intolerance is new. At the end of the last century few clerics opposed the idea of evolution." He also writes that "most were willing to accept a compromise between The Origin and the Bible. A Day of Creation might be millions of years long, or might represent six real days that marked the origin of a spiritual Man after the long ages it took all else to evolve. Real bigotry had to wait for modern times."

    He then argues that, since Darwin, an extremely strong piece of evidence for Darwin’s theories has emerged. This evidence is his second topic, the AIDS virus. Jones describes the history and biology of HIV and AIDS, and how various forms of HIV have diverged over time. He explains that HIV now exists in two entirely separate species, HIV-1 and HIV-2. If different strains of HIV-1 come together in one person, they may combine to make a new strain. The same is true for HIV-2. However, the two forms of HIV cannot breed with each other. Although, as we will soon see in our chapter on "Variation Under Nature," there is still some controversy among biologists about how to define the word species, the main criterion for separation of species is whether or not they interbreed. Hence, HIV-1 and HIV-2 are separate species, and are a prime piece of evidence for what is sometimes called speciation, since we know that they have diverged within recent history.

    After making these points about HIV, Jones moves on. Jones’ third topic for his introduction is the evolution of the whale. The whale is an animal that critics of Darwin’s have claimed as evidence against his theory, because it appears so unrelated to other mammals. Jones traces the genealogy of the whale, describing how it evolved in the part of the world that is now India and Pakistan. At one time, this area was an ocean, the Tethys Sea. Interestingly, the closest modern land-dwelling relative of the whale is the hippopotamus.

    Throughout Jones’ introduction, he uses analogies and connections between his topics, explaining how AIDS offers us a proof of evolution and speciation, thus weakening the arguments of creationists, and how the evolution of the whale and the HIV virus parallel each other. He ends the chapter with a quote by Galileo, originally about his own theories, but equally relevant to the debate about evolution. Galileo said that it would be "a terrible detriment for the souls if people found themselves convinced by proof of something which it was made a sin to believe."

    | Variation Under Domestication >

    Works Cited