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Thread: Darwin's first big mistake in the Origin of the Species

  1. #1 Darwin's first big mistake in the Origin of the Species 
    New Member schnautzr's Avatar
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    ''Origin of the Species'' by Charles Darwin is a very interesting read. Thanks to his works finally being opened up to the public domain, I am able to read the book online for free. I have so far read the first chapter and the beginning of the second. While his first chapter is very well-written, I must beg to differ with Darwin in his second chapter when he states:

    "From these remarks it will be seen that I look at the term species, as one arbitrarily given for the sake of convenience to a set of individuals closely resembling each other, and that it does not essentially differ from the term variety, which is given to less distinct and more fluctuating forms. The term variety, again, in comparison with mere individual differences, is also applied arbitrarily, and for mere convenience sake."
    This is the first major flaw I have found in his work. It is inconsistent with his first chapter, which explains that all domesticated pigeons are of one species, and when crossbred, the proper form of their species can be hatched, resembling its wild counterpart. This is only possible because they have genetic monstrosities and belong to separate varieties of the same species.

    Using this argument, one can gather that Darwin should assume the opposite of members of separate species. If, indeed, it is not possible to crossbreed two members of different species and come up with a species matching a common ancestor, then there is most definitely a difference between "species" and "variety". I imagine Darwin will build upon his notion and arrive at a conclusion which contradicts his own logic, as logical mistakes often lead to illogical conclusions.

    I realize that Darwin had the handicap of likely not understanding genetics as well as we do today, but his reasoning is still invalid.


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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    i think that in darwin's day, the notion of a species as a reproductively isolated group of individuals did not yet exist
    more often than not, species were seen as a variety on the theme of a platonic essence, not unlike what creationists nowadays call "kind"

    what darwin's (and wallace's) insight was that species are nothing but very pronounced varieties, and that there's a continuum between varieties and fully-fledged species
    this became very much in evidence for darwin during his work on barnacles where he cursed the ubiquity of variety in all aspects of existing species, which made his job as taxonomist very hard work indeed, attempting to decide what was a proper species and what a mere variety - on the other hand, the same cursed variety was a godsend for darwin in his role as an evolutionist, since this same variability was essential material for natural selection to work on


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    New Member schnautzr's Avatar
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    Even so, what would cause a "more strongly marked" trait to prevail? Technically speaking, Darwin should have dismissed the idea of the pouter, fantail, barb, et cetera as being Columba livia and classified them as different species, or even different genera, as he had earlier remarked any sensible naturalist should do, but defended quite well instead.
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    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    in the case of the pigeons, it's indeed the fact that they could interbreed to produce something resembling the wild ancestor
    however, i'm the first to admit that darwin's vision of what constituted a species has been fluctuating over time, and i don't think he ever settled on the same definition throughout his life
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    New Member schnautzr's Avatar
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    Well, I'm assuming the rest of the book is founded on this principle. Have scientists since agreed on a more sound explanation for evolution?
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard i_feel_tiredsleepy's Avatar
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    Darwin didn't know anything about genetics, Mendel was working at about the same time (a little bit earlier) but I don't believe Darwin had ever read any of his work.

    We can't even clearly define species today, I wouldn't expect Darwin to manage it well either
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  8. #7  
    WYSIWYG Moderator marnixR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by schnautzr
    Have scientists since agreed on a more sound explanation for evolution?
    the fact that it's not always easy to pinpoint where a variety becomes a fully-fledged species doesn't mean that the definition of a species as a reproductively isolate group of individuals is unsound
    in the majority of cases full isolation has been achieved, but there will always be a small number of forms caught in the evolutionary transition from variety to fully isolated species
    "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." (Philip K. Dick)
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  9. #8 Re: Darwin's first big mistake in the Origin of the Species 
    Moderator Moderator TheBiologista's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by schnautzr
    ''Origin of the Species'' by Charles Darwin is a very interesting read.
    Pedantic point, but it's called "The Origin of Species", "On the Origin of Species" or (if you like long titles) "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection". The title neatly summarises the point of the book, which explains the emergence of variation in life from a common ancestor.
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    Forum Cosmic Wizard spuriousmonkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by schnautzr
    Well, I'm assuming the rest of the book is founded on this principle. Have scientists since agreed on a more sound explanation for evolution?
    I think you are a bit confused.

    The definition of a species doesn't invalidate his work.

    There are multiple definitions of species currently being used and they are all valid for their purpose.

    So were Darwin's definitions.

    In fact, species do not really exist except as a concept. Like so many things in reality.
    "Kill them all and let God sort them out."

    - Arnaud Amalric

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