What Is Evolution?

Owing to this struggle for life, any variation, however slight and from whatever cause proceeding, if it be in any degree profitable to an individual of any species, in its infinitely complex relations to other organic beings and to external nature, will tend to the preservation of that individual, and will generally be inherited by its offspring. The offspring, also, will thus have a better chance of surviving, for, of the many individuals of any species which are periodically born, but a small number can survive. I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term of Natural Selection...

- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

Podcast of the Day

You could say that evolution was a pretty big leap—at first unsettling yet now an all-consuming way of explaining stuff. But can Darwin’s insight stretch as far as we’d like it to—even to explain things like art and culture? Australian philosopher Peter Godfrey-Smith is described as the go-to guy in the philosophy of biology, and he’s on the case of the big questions—from natural selection to the uniqueness of homo sapiens.

Listen to The Philosopher's Zone episode: Evolution—a rather large leap

Video of the Day

Short Article of the Day

Given its huge success in describing the natural world for the past 150 years, the theory of evolution is remarkably misunderstood. In a recent episode of the Australian series of “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here”, former cricket star Shane Warne questioned the theory – asking “if humans evolved from monkeys, why haven’t today’s monkeys evolved”?

Similarly, a head teacher from a primary school in the UK recently stated that evolution is a theory rather than a fact. This is despite the fact that children in the UK start learning about evolution in Year 6 (ten to 11-year-olds), and have further lessons throughout high school. While the theory of evolution is well accepted in the UK compared with the rest of the world, a survey in 2005 indicated that more than 20% of the country’s population was not sure about it, or did not accept it.

In contrast, there are not many people questioning the theory of relativity, or studies on the acceptance of the theory of relativity; possibly reflecting an acceptance that this is a matter for physicists to settle. Many studies have tried to determine why evolution is questioned so often by the general public, despite complete acceptance by scientists. Although no clear answer has been found, I suspect the common misconceptions described below have something to do with it...

Continue reading Paula Kover's article: The five most common misunderstandings about evolution

Further Reading

Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. Evolutionary processes give rise to biodiversity at every level of biological organisation, including the levels of species, individual organisms, and molecules.

Repeated formation of new species (speciation), change within species (anagenesis), and loss of species (extinction) throughout the evolutionary history of life on Earth are demonstrated by shared sets of morphological and biochemical traits, including shared DNA sequences. These shared traits are more similar among species that share a more recent common ancestor, and can be used to reconstruct a biological "tree of life" based on evolutionary relationships (phylogenetics), using both existing species and fossils. The fossil record includes a progression from early biogenic graphite, to microbial mat fossils, to fossilised multicellular organisms. Existing patterns of biodiversity have been shaped both by speciation and by extinction.

In the mid-19th century, Charles Darwin formulated the scientific theory of evolution by natural selection, published in his book On the Origin of Species (1859). Evolution by natural selection is a process first demonstrated by the observation that often, more offspring are produced than can possibly survive...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on Evolution

Bonus Webcomic

Evolving - xkcd

Related Topics

 Anthropology | Evolutionary Psychology | GeneticsThe Human Body | Science

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