Darwiniana

History, Evolution, and The Darwin Debate

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Wrong title for Darwin’s tome

January 21st, 2009 · No Comments

A Letter to Charles Darwin

All told, the resilience of your ideas is remarkable. But that is not to say that you got everything right. On The Origin of Species was, admit it, a misnomer. You described correctly how a single species changes through time, but you came a cropper trying to explain how one species splits into two. Speciation is a significant problem, because it underpins the branching process that has yielded the tree of life – that extraordinary vision you bequeathed us of the natural world as one vast genealogy. Speciation is the key to understanding how, starting with the very first species on earth, evolution has resulted in the 50 million species that are thought to inhabit our planet today.

You once called speciation the “mystery of mysteries,” but it’s a lot less mysterious these days. We recognize now that species are separated one from another by barriers to reproduction. That is, we recognize different species, like humans and chimpanzees, because they cannot successfully interbreed. To modern evolutionary biologists, studying “the origin of species” means studying how these barriers to reproduction arise. And now that we have a concrete phenomenon to investigate, we are making remarkable progress in understanding the genetic details of how one species splits into two. This is in fact the problem to which I’ve devoted my entire career

Tags: Evolution

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