The Eccentricities of Darwin

From time to time we will present samples of student writing, in this first case from Professor James Morris‘s first-year seminar on The Origin of Species. Gabriella Feingold, a first-year student intending to major in Theater, kept track of her thoughts on the book over the semester in free flowing form of a blog, entitled The Eccentricities of Darwin. She hopes the blog will both educate readers on intricacies of Darwin’s writing, and allow for humorous discussion of this dense but readable text.

Here’s a sample from Gabriella’s blog:

On to Chapter 1 – Variation Under Domestication! In Chapter 1, Darwin makes an effective comparison between domestic variation and natural variation. In order for Darwin’s theory to work, variations must naturally occur and then certain ones must be naturally selected, causing evolution of species. Here, Darwin argues that people witness variation among their domestic animals, so why can’t variations occur in nature? Sure, domestic animals are actively bred, and there is a “selector” deciding which variations stay and which go, but Darwin is always a proponent of the power of nature. Humans are nothing compared to its forces. (That’s a slight paraphrase.)

My favorite part of Chapter 1 is the pigeons! Yes, Darwin goes on and on about pigeons. He has good reason though – everybody loves pigeons. In Victorian England, pigeons were bred by commoners. The idea of breeding pigeons was a familiar one and a hobby to many. Darwin also appeals to the lower class, and thereby a broad audience, by mentioning the significance of pigeons. Now all of the pigeon breeders feel important and start listening to Darwin’s ideas. At least, that’s one way to look at it.

Darwin is kind to all fellow men as he writes, but he is not afraid to put down the classic Greek philosophers. Part of Aristotle’s view on nature was that every creation has a final cause, or a purpose. Darwin, however, disagrees. On page 37, still comparing natural selection to domestic selection, Darwin writes that gardeners never plan for the final plant they end up with. Along the way, they choose variations that they like, and continually improve the plant. Natural selection works the same way. The creation does not have a final purpose, as the great Aristotle might say, rather, according to Darwin, each variation is selected by nature because it is beneficial to the organism (not because the organism is striving for a goal).

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