01 July 2008

It was 150 years ago today: natural selection unleashed

On 1 July 1858, Charles Darwin’s and Alfred Russel Wallace’s independently developed ideas on evolution by natural selection were made public for the first time before the Linnean Society in London.

Darwin had been developing his ideas for 20 years, but before that day he had revealed them only to a few close friends and correspondents, including the American botanist Asa Gray. Wallace, on the other hand, had come up with his version of natural selection, very much similar to that of Darwin's, a few months earlier while doing fieldwork in the Malay Archipelago and communicated it to Darwin in a now famous letter.

The presentation at the Linnean Society was initiated with a letter of introduction by Darwin’s close friends Charles Lyell and Joseph D. Hooker, opening with the words:

My Dear Sir, -- The accompanying papers, which we have the honour of communicating to the Linnean Society, and which all relate to the same subject, viz. the Laws which affect the Production of Varieties, Races, and Species, contain the results of the investigations of two indefatigable naturalists, Mr. Charles Darwin and Mr. Alfred Wallace.
This was followed by the reading of extracts from an unpublished essay Darwin had written in 1844, part of his 1857 letter explaining his ideas to Gray and the manuscript Wallace had sent to Darwin.

What better thing is there to do on July 1st than to learn about evolution? Read a book on evolution, teach someone about evolution, visit a natural history museum or take a hike in the woods or go to a sea shore to witness the products of evolution. And don’t forget to remember Darwin and Wallace, for, after all these years, their idea remains indefatigable.

D&W3

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