24 November 1859: Charles Darwin publishes ‘On the Origin of Species’

Charles Robert Darwin was the son of a wealthy doctor who developed an interest in natural history while studying medicine at Edinburgh University. But it was while studying natural theology at Cambridge that he found his vocation.

His obsession with collecting beetles and the scholarly friends he made at Cambridge eventually led to an invitation to board HMS Beagle for its second survey voyage. A letter from the professor of botany describes his role on the voyage “not as a finished naturalist, but as a gentleman amply qualified for collecting, observing, and noting any thing worth to be noted in Natural History”.

The publication of Darwin’s letters and reports from South America and the Galapagos islands established his reputation as a geologist of real standing. Among his most important findings was that the finches found on different islands were fundamentally similar in shape, but displayed variations in size and claws –  the result, he theorised, of ‘natural selection’.

After returning to England, he married Emma Wedgwood in 1839 and settled with a family in London. He began working in private to develop his ideas on evolution and transmutation while maintaining a career publishing essays and articles.

After nearly 30 years of research, he published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life on this day in 1859. It sold out its initial print run within days. By the time of Darwin’s death, the book had gone through six editions.

It is often thought that the time it took for Darwin to publish his great work was due to his fears of backlash from the Church, and it is true that some dismissed the book as heresy; but more liberal religious authorities were able to reconcile his theories with divinity.

What was undeniable was the book’s immediate success both as a scientific text and as a fixture of popular culture.

Also on this day

24 November 1972: the mysterious ‘DB Cooper’ hijacking

Today in 1972, a man calling himself Dan Cooper parachuted from a hijacked Northwest Airlines Boeing 727 with $200,00 in cash. He has never been found. Read more here.

  • Daniel Polar

    This is nothing but ‘Hypothesis ” there is no such thing as Evolution, there is only
    De-volution as scientifically and legally proved by Dr. Joseph Mastropaolo. Move on…….

    • Christopher R Weiss

      Yes, the next time you get a flu shot or need a third generation antibiotic, tell yourself this is “devolution.”

      How do you explain the massive changes in the biosphere over the last few billions of years? Life has seemingly gotten more complex over time. This doesn’t fit well with “devolution” very well, does it?

  • P. G. Ukridge

    Darwin’s book was recently voted #1 in terms of books that most influenced human conceptions of ourselves and history. And it deserves this honor. Once credible evidence was shown that people are just one of the transitory life forms that evolved on this planet, people could not longer believe that we are the product of a separate and unique creation by divinities. Darwin’s ideas continue to shape all aspects of the biological sciences today. Biographies of Darwin reveal his extraordinary passion for research, his lifelong joy in his marriage to Emma Wedgwood, and his great personal humility, honesty, and generosity. Well-played, Mr. Darwin.

  • theot58

    I have gone through Darwins book (twice) looking for evidence to support the wild assertion that from a single cell – a citizen (person) can emerge by the application of natural forces alone. THE EVIDENCE WAS NOT THERE.

    Darwin talks a lot about breeds of dogs, and finches etc but does not present any credible evidence that if left alone things get more ordered and complex.

    It is really poor science to teach Darwinian/macro evolution as a scientific fact – because the scientific evidence condemns it.

    We observe things decaying, falling apart, dying when natural forces are applied – THIS IS THE OPPOSITE OF MACRO EVOLUTION.

    Macro evolution is a popular myth.

    Dr John Sanford (Geneticist and inventor of the GeneGun) said :
    “The bottom line is that the primary axiom [of Darwinian/Macro evolution] is categorically false,

    you can’t create information with misspellings, not even if you use natural selection.”