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Darwin Notes

History Notes > Intellect and Culture in Victorian Britain Notes

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Victorian
Science

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Darwin Tutorial
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Contents

'The whole doctrine seems to me more a stage in the development of natural
science than the property of an individual' (Von Baer)

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Science Class
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Charles Darwin -- A. Desmond, J. Moore and J. Browne
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The Victorian Period: The Intellectual and Cultural Context of English Literature,
1830--1890 -- R. Gilmour

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Darwin's Metaphor: Nature's place in Victorian Culture -- R. M. Young
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Charles Darwin: The Man and his Influence -- P. J. Bowler
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The Changing Meaning of 'Evolution' -- P. J. Bowler
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Alfred Russel Wallace and the Discovery of Natural Selection -- H. L. McKinney
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Is the theory of natural selection independent of its history? -- G. Radick
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From Darwin to today in evolutionary biology -- J. Gayon
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The Autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809--1882 -- C. Darwin
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The Origin of Species -- C. Darwin
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Evolution and Ethics -- T. H. Huxley
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Essays on the spirit of the inductive philosophy, the unity of worlds and the
philosophy of creation -- Baden Powell

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Presidential address delivered to the British Association meeting at Edinburgh --
William Thomson, Baron Kelvin

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Belfast Address -- John Tyndall
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Darwinism applied to man -- Alfred Russel Wallace
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Male and Female Created He Them -- Julia Frances Wedgwood

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Darwin Tutorial
Externalism -- approach to intellectual history interested in the wider context which can
influence history
Internalism -- focused on the science
~ Looks at what was known before Darwin
~ 'Species Question' -- how could the transmutation of species be explained
Transmutation is not so radical at this time -- yet it needs to be explained
~ Comparative anatomy
Buckland -- could investigate different species
~ Had to explain where and how they came about
18th century natural history -- Bible can be used
By the early 19th century naturalists have a concept of evolution -- yet they lack a
mechanism
~ Problem of how to explain differentiation
Darwin
~ Internalism -- species question
~ Externalism -- Malthus
Beagle -- direct contact with nature
~ Profusion of natural forms --> dynamic view of nature
~ Crucial to Darwin's development
Pastoral England has a very simple and harmonious landscape -- Creation looks feasible
~ America is a lot more dynamic
Natural theology is predicated on catastrophism -- look for evidence
~ Buckland finds discontinuity in the strata
Lyell is careful not to dismiss the divine but pushes the moment of Creation back -- gives
time to naturalists

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Malthus -- the 'Dismal Science'

~ Proved wrong as a diagnostician of human economic behaviour -- Victorians
managed to sustain a growing population --> Malthusian trap seems to have been
broken
! Darwin is taking the concept of competition -- struggle in a situation of resource
constraint

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Difficult idea of arbitrary adaptation -- nature was not moral
Ideology? --> flawed science
~ Uniformitarianism is a theory
Ideology v. theory

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Lack of civilisation -- communality is regressive

~ Fuegians will not develop without individualism and capitalism

~ When they stole some equipment they shared it out equally
! Darwin's ascent to certain fundamental ideas about social evolution

~ Acceptance of conventional view of progress and development of certain
societies

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Long hiatus in his career after he found the theory
~ Hypochondria and lack of focus
Wallace provokes him --> not a multi--volume work -- has to write an elegant summation
of his theory
Darwin may never have had any strong faith
~ Arbitrary death of his daughter -- loses faith in religious 'stories'

'The whole doctrine seems to me more a stage in the development of natural science than
the property of an individual' (Von Baer)
Does this view underestimate Darwin's contribution to evolutionary thinking?

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Darwinian revolution falls into 2 distinct stages
~ Conversion of the Victorian world to evolutionism
~ Revival of the selection theory in the 20th century

Darwin's Precursors

Von Baer
! Russian biologist who was opposed to the transmutation of species
! Provides the most thorough synthesis of early anti--Darwinian arguments
! Was critical of Darwin as he believed in the non--simian origins of man and believed nature to
function teleologically

~ Particularly disturbed about the Darwinian view of evolution as a 'blind force'
Methodologically, he saw Darwin's theory to be unscientific and insufficient in its use of
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uniformitarianism

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Lamarck
! Important contributor to evolutionary thinking as he was one of the first to discover and
publicise the transmutation of species whereby species are not static but change over time

~ Before the 1850s, evolution was chiefly associated with Lamarck

~ Indeed, the idea of transmutation was generally widely accepted by the time that

Darwin wrote
! Wrote about environmental determinism where species adapt to the environment around them
! This led to his theory of use--inheritance where species can pass on acquired characteristics to
their offspring

~ e.g. The necks of giraffes
! Saw nature as progressive in evolving higher animals as time went on
! Although these ideas were not correct, they were very important in the
creation of evolutionary science as a long--term process
! Lamarck's most enduring idea is that of the branching development of
species

~ This idea was so important that it formed the only illustration in

Darwin's Origin of Species; the tree diagram

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Lyell
! Lyell's 3 volumes of Principles of Geology (1830--3) were deeply influential to evolutionary
thought in their creation of the idea of Uniformitarianism
! Lyell argued that the same processes were at work in the past as they are in the present and
that geology does not show great catastrophes but rather the great length of time that it has
taken for such great physical changes to occur
! Lyell analysed biological change through his study of fossils
! He used the concept of struggle to explain many of the facts of geographical distribution and of
extinction but never went as far as to apply this to the origin of new species

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Chambers and Owen
! Robert Chambers wrote the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844)
! Controversial and amateurish work -- revisited Lamarck's views and made explicit the link
between geology and evolutionary biology implicit in Lyell's work

~ Thought that Lyell's uniform laws of development should be applied to biology

~ Even man and his mind are regulated by such evolutionary laws

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The criticism of the mechanisms he attributed transmutation to and his lack of evidence serve
to obscure the fact that Chambers' crude idea of evolution was an important basis for Darwin's
theory
~ Chambers' theory was developed by Darwin much as Darwin's incomplete theory
would be developed by later thinkers in the context of new genetic knowledge -- in
this respect Darwin can be seen as part of a continuous line of thinkers
Richard Owen was also an important thinker in this line
Owen argued for group archetypes of species -- the picture shows Owen's idea of the
development of the archetype of this group of vertebrates
~ Yet he was vague about ancestry and what the mechanism for the generation of
new species was
~ Darwin in fact postulated one prototype for all species

Darwin's Contribution

Darwin's achievements
! Darwin's Origin of Species was published in 1859 -- yet he shared many of his ideas with Alfred
Russel Wallace

~ Indeed, Eiseley has argued that the 2 writers had a reciprocal influence upon one

another -- 'without the stimulus of Darwin, there might have been no Wallace, just

as without the stimulus of Wallace, Darwin might never have got around to formal

publication'

~ In this respect, the doctrine of evolution was not the property of an individual but

of 2 individuals -- yet Darwin still differs from Wallace on some essential points
! Ideas of Lamarckian transmutation were already prevalent in society, as were ideas of the
struggle for existence as espoused by writers such as Tennyson
! Darwin was important in synthesising ideas of transmutation with the Malthusian doctrine of
struggle for resources in conjunction with his idea of biogeography
! 'If variations useful to any organic being do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterised will
have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life; and from the strong principle of
inheritance they will tend to produce offspring similarly characterised. This principle of
preservation, I have called, for the sake of brevity, Natural Selection'.
! Natural selection, therefore, was based on 3 propositions: that organisms vary, that their
offspring can inherit these variations and that such variations may operate to the benefit of
individuals in a world where many more organisms are born than can hope to survive
! Darwin differed from other theorists in his eschewal of the idea of progress, his view of sexual
selection and in partially accepting the radical notion that humanity could be subject to these
laws

~ Wallace's belief in the perfectibility of man meant that he refused to apply notions of

'survival of the fittest' to man's brain and his morality and he increasingly promoted

ideas of progress and a directing transcendent force over nature

~ Wallace denied the existence of Darwin's theory of sexual selection
Darwin's major contribution, therefore, was providing a more plausible theory than anything
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that had gone before

~ Immense amount of evidence to support his theory

~ His tree--of--life diagram was the only illustration in the Origin -- summarised his

proposal that the entire history of life can be represented as a general
phenomenon of gradual modification, splitting divergence and extinction of species


~ Soon after 1859, biologists and palaeontologists began constructing specific


genetic evolutionary tree diagrams and this is still one of the major

dimensions of evolutionary biology -- represent Darwin's entire theory

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