Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species. New York: P.F. Collier & son, 1909.
Darwin’s immediate conclusions from his first chapter, that each species [has] not been independently created, but [has] descended, like varieties, from other species” (60), belies the “Special Introduction” of this 150th Anniversary version, written by Ray Comfort, where he asks the reader to “confess your sins to God, put your trust in Jesus to save you, and you will pass from death to life” (49). It seems Darwin’s been hijacked completely by Christian proselytizers in disguise.
Darwin’s ability to persuade his audience of a very contentious origins explanation are partially due to the way he eases his reader into the concept of Natural Selection, beginning with Human selection in breeding domestic animals: “it must be assumed not only that half-civilized man succeeded in thoroughly domesticating several species, but that he intentionally or by chance picked out extraordinary abnormal species; and further, that these very species have since all become extinct or unknown” (70). Albiet these selected traits are superficial and more beneficial to mankind than to the species being bred, selection by man is a means of putting some varieties into dominance over others, resulting in desired traits. With this in mind, it is an easy transition from human selection to natural selection, which Darwin, still perhaps uncertain of the reader’s feelings at this point, begins by observing the varieties of nature, point especially towards dominance, that “the species which are already dominant will be the most likely to yield offspring which, though in some slight degree modified, will still inherit those advantages that enables their parents to become dominant over their compatriots” (85). Here then is the process of natural selection, which is not only “a power incessantly ready for action,” but is also “superior to man’s feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of art” (89).
By setting up his audience from human selection to natural selection, Darwin is suggesting that mankind has intervened in nature’s job of selecting progressing species, to the fault of the natural order. “Under domestication,” Darwin insists, “the whole organization becomes in some degree plastic” while nature allows a “preservation of favorable variations and the rejection of injurious variations”(98). Where mankind was mostly concerned with the appearances of a breed, nature “cares nothing for appearances, except in so far as they may be made useful to any being” (99). Mankind thus injures the species with decoration and ornament, while nature improves utility, fitness and survival skills. A third selective type to all this is sexual selection, which Darwin calls “not a struggle for existence, but…a struggle between the males for possession of the females; the result is not death to the unsuccessful competitor, but few offspring. Sexual selection is, therefore, less rigorous than natural selection” (101). The “vigorous” males in this case win over the females, by virtue of “special weapons” or plumage.
Under all these regimes of selection, it is by “great diversification of structure” that “the greatest amount of life can be supported” (114). Because natural selection works best on improving some varieties over others, the more diversity of types to withstand population “checks” the better. Modification of species, he adds, “will add to the beautiful and harmonious diversity of nature” (142). This value of diversity is beneficial to the individual, for it “gives rise to all the more important modifications of structure” (142).