Talk:On the Origin of Species

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Incorrect and confusing dates in sections describing preparation of the book[edit]

I've just changed a date in the 'Time taken to publish' section from 1938 to 1958, assuming it was a typo. There's still something wrong though, it says: "By December 1858, Darwin had his basic theory of natural selection "by which to work", yet when Wallace's letter arrived on 18 June 1858 Darwin was still not ready to publish his theory".

"still wasn't ready" implies the letter arrived after he finished the "basic theory", but the dates say it happened before? Codemonkey87 (talk) 04:08, 15 September 2009 (UTC)

Clearly I meant 1838 and 1858.Codemonkey87 (talk) 04:08, 15 September 2009 (UTC)
It wasn't a typo. He had it all figured out, but waited to publish until he was about to be "scooped". Yeah hesitating for 20 years seems rather odd now from our perspective. Vsmith (talk) 04:15, 15 September 2009 (UTC)
See the inception section "By December 1838..... Darwin now had the framework of his theory of natural selection "by which to work",[26] but he was fully occupied with his career as a geologist and held off writing a sketch of his theory...." and the subsequent development section. He had the basic concept, but he didn't have it all figured out, and knew that a high level of evidence and detailed argument would be needed to convince his friends who were committed to the fixity of species. He had other priorities until 1854, but kept on working on researching and thinking about his "hobby". Even after 1854 his thinking changed and developed. "By 1856, his theory was much more sophisticated, with a mass of supporting evidence." . . dave souza, talk 04:36, 15 September 2009 (UTC)

From the Greeks to Darwin[edit]

Henry Fairfield Osborn 1898 book: From the Greeks to Darwin. THE SELECTIONISTS:

p.117 ".... It is rather a form of the Survival of the Fittest theory applied, not to entire organisms, but to the particles of which it is composed. Blind and ceaseless trials, such as those imagined by Em- pedocles, Democritus, and Lucretius, are made by these particles, impelled by their rude sensibility. As a sequel of many failures, finally a favourable combination is formed, which persists until a recom- bination is rendered necessary.......Morley (not knowing of Empedocles' hypothesis) speaks of as an anticipation of a famous modern theory, referring of course to * Natural Selection.' This is especially valuable because it affords another conclusive proof that the idea of the ' Survival of the Fittest ' must actually be traced back to Empedocles, six centuries before Christ. It is contained in an imaginary dialogue upon the teleological view of Nature between ' Saunderson ' and the ' Professor ' : " ... all the faulty combinations of matter disappeared, and that those individuals only survived whose mechanism implied no important misadaptation (contradiction), and who had the power of supporting and per- petuating themselves....." —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:59, 13 November 2009 (UTC)

"....The modern theory of Natural Selection was ex- pressed first by DR. W. C. WELLS, in 1813, then by St. Hilaire the elder, then by Matthew, in 1831, and finally, with considerably less clearness, if at all, by Naudin, in 1852. Darwin gives us references to the two English writers. That of Wells is the first statement of the theory of the survival, not simply of fittest organisms, as understood by previous writers, such as Buffon and Treviranus, but of or- ganisms surviving because of their possession of favourable variations in single characters. Wells' paper, read before the Royal Society in 1813, was entitled, " An Account of a White Female, part of whose Skin resembles that of a Negro " ; it was not published until iSiS. 1 He here recognizes the prin- ciple of Natural Selection, as applied to the races of men, and to the explanation of the origin of sin- gle characters...." —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 20:38, 13 November 2009 (UTC)

Surviving Copies/Manuscripts[edit]

Seeing as it was such a major book in impact, and the first edition had a print run of just over one thousand, shouldn't this article have a section regarding surviving copies, like which museums/libraries have them on archive? For example I lead you to where someone found a first edition copy in a garage sale and stored it in their toilet. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 04:24, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Clarification: it was stored, like much other lavatory reading material in many homes, on a bookcase, not in the actual toilet bowl.
If you have a source that discusses surviving 1st editions, other than one article describing one example, feel free to add it in. ~Amatulić (talk) 06:14, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
Libraries of older universities in English-speaking countries almost all have copies, as (I expect) do many in Germany and Holland. Especially worthy of note are:
University of Toronto Library
Library of the American Philosophical Society
These two libraries made special efforts to collect all first editions of Darwin and other significant authors on evolution. Naturally, all such material is kept secure, that is, not on open shelves. There may be several hundred copies still in private hands. One was offered (but not sold) for £80,000 at this summer's ABA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association) June Fair in London. It seemed a high price for a copy in only fair condition. The price of Darwin firsts have been inflated by creationism in the USA... Macdonald-ross (talk) 09:28, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
This may not be the right place to put the following information, but it may be helpful to readers for identifying a first printing of the first edition. The only difference is a misprint. The word "speceies" appears once, instead of "species" on page 20, line 11. This extra "e" multiplies the value of the volume some twenty-fold... FCR 15:45, 27 March 2013 (GMT) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)
That's mentioned, along with other clues, in Freeman which we cite: he notes as a simpler test it having two quotations only, from Whewell and Bacon, on the verso of the half-title leaf (p. [ii]). . dave souza, talk 16:48, 27 March 2013 (UTC)

Marr's documentary[edit]

An edit changed "merely" to "coyly" for the mention of the implications of human evolution, citing Andrew Marr (2009). "Body and Soul". Darwin's Dangerous Idea, part one. BBC Two. The programme was rather mixed, with dubious assertions, and dramatic rather than scholarly: I have it on video and can re-watch it, but don't think it's really an ideal reference. Also, a "Bibliography" subsection was introduced for the book or other references: think this goes against the MOS which uses the term for further reading. . dave souza, talk 10:02, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Well that's a disappointing take. I quite liked the documentary. It was much better than "Darwin's Brave New World", another three-part programme, which was overtly dramatic. Anyway, I see you didn't indicate any proper reasons for changing "coyly" back to "merely" in your edit summary here. I have partially reverted you, will look for a more scholarly reference tomorrow. Ottre 09:04, 28 November 2009 (UTC)
I at first reverted your edit because I thought coyly sounded too sly. However, after I did some more research I found, much to my surprise, that two perfectly reliable sources (James Costa in his Annotated Origin (2009) p. 488, and Quammen (2006)) p. 196 used the word "coy" to describe Darwin's brief allusion to human evolution. Quammen even called it that "famously coy remark". So I restored "coyly", however, I tweaked it to "had coyly only hinted" to work well with the "but" in the sentence. Maybe someday I will learn to research first and undo later.Rusty Cashman (talk) 14:38, 28 November 2009 (UTC)
Unfortunately, "coyly" suggests Darwin fluttering his eyelashes, and unlike Costa it's put rather out of context. Must retrieve my copy of Quammen, but I'm happier with "coy" than "coyly" so have summarised the context given by Browne as "Darwin deliberately avoided the subject, but in the final chapter dutifully included one coy hint that 'Light will be thrown on the origin of man'." She emphasises that "With profound deliberance.... He avoided talking about human origins" "The only words he allowed himself – and these out of a sense of duty that he must somewhere refer to human beings". In her Darwin's Origin of Species she makes a similar point on pages 76–77. Bowler in Charles Darwin: The Man and His Influence p. 124 is more explicit that "This is not the only reference to changes within the human race in the Origin of Species, but it is the one absolutely unequivocal statement of Darwin's belief that his theory will account for the origins of mankind from a lower form." though it would threaten the tradtional view. "He hoped to minimize the resulting outcry by refusing to discuss human origins in detail but felt that he had to include at least this brief indication of his beliefs." The term "coyly" doesn't spring to mind in that context. By the way, my original edit summary was "hanks, by "coyly" has overtones where "diplomatically" is equally appropriate, documentaries tend to exaggerate", "by" being a typo for "but". The diff above is the summary for removing the dubious reference, will watch it again but prefer these books as sources.[1] Will watch the Marr documentary again, but the "Jerry Doherty in Darwin's Garden" series was much better, worth looking out for. . . dave souza, talk 21:56, 1 December 2009 (UTC)
Just to be clear, if we can get rid of "coy" I'd be happier, it seems a loaded word and one that Browne and Bowler find unnecessary. Haven't found discussion of this detailed point in Desmond and Moore's books yet, may try later. As for documentaries, "What Darwin Didn't Know" with Prof Armand Marie Leroi narrating was excellent. Any idea which of the three Marr episodes has the famous remark? . . dave souza, talk 22:14, 1 December 2009 (UTC)
I agree. The word connotates the batting of eyelashes and does not seem like a "scientific" word, nor behavior that Darwin would engage in, from my point of view, looking at various dictionary definitions of the word. Also, its meaning seems to have changed over time. —mattisse (Talk) 22:26, 1 December 2009 (UTC)
After reading Quammen and Costa, especially Quammen I think they intended to imply a certain slyness in Darwin's oblique allusion in that he didn't want to make a big statement on an emotionally charged topic that would tend to distract attention away from his larger point, but he definately wanted to plant a seed. I am mostly happy with Dave's wording except for the word "dutiful" which doesn't have quite the sly connotation that the sources I am reading imply. I am going to tweak it a little more. I am not trying to be difficult but I don't care for having a resolved tag stuck on a debate I am participating in without being given a reasonable chance to respond... It will be reolved when we settle on wording we can agree on, not before. Rusty Cashman (talk) 02:59, 2 December 2009 (UTC)

Ok, I expanded it a little and I think made it a little more clear. I am hoping the result is consistent with what Dave drew from Browne, as well as with the 3 secondary sources I consulted (Costa, Quammen, and Larson), and I think it works well with the following sentence. I will avoid tempting fate by restoring the resolved template until Dave and Matisse have had a chance to take a pass.Rusty Cashman (talk) 04:03, 2 December 2009 (UTC)


This article is on the first page, isn't it supposed to be write-protected for most people? Currently seeing quite a lot of vandalism (and also non-vandalism questionable edits). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:31, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

The usual aim is to show that everyone can edit articles, but if the vandalism gets too much it can be semi-protected for a while, as happened earlier today. Thanks, dave souza, talk 10:37, 24 November 2009 (UTC)


Someone added 465 pages to the infobox: the first edition seems to have had 490 pages before the index, not sure how these things are counted. . . dave souza, talk 10:37, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Also note, 1859 was delinked in an edit, I've restored it as 1859 in science is specific, worth reviewing? . . dave souza, talk 11:30, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
No, that's fine. I suspect the editor took it to be the link to a year and removed it per mos/date, but you are linking it into the context of science during that year. SGGH ping! 11:44, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
Nope. There was a clue with my "delinked science year" summary. Anyway, as you say, it appears to be permissible. - Dudesleeper / Talk 12:45, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Background & Reception[edit]

Neither section seems to mention Patrick Matthew. Peter jackson (talk) 11:51, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Nor William Charles Wells – if these belong anywhere, it would be in the reference to the Historical sketch in #Title pages and introduction, in my opinion. Neither influenced the writing of the book, and Matthew had little effect on the reception, so should not be given undue weight. . dave souza, talk 12:05, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
These and other figures that had ideas that anticipated Darwin's concept of natural selection are discussed in history of evolutionary thought. I agree with Dave that none of them (except Wallace of course) had any impact on the writing or reception of Origin (other than to have their existence acknowledged in the historical sketch that appeared in the 3rd edition). Bowler (2003) is among several sources that address this issue in some depth. Rusty Cashman (talk) 02:48, 25 November 2009 (UTC)
After further consideration, I figure that this question is liable to be raised again in the future. Therefore I have added a brief mention of Matthew and Wells where Dave suggested.Rusty Cashman (talk) 04:57, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Happy 150th![edit]

Congratulations! :-) Cheers, Wassupwestcoast (talk) 13:22, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

Very glad[edit]

I'm so glad this article is on the front page. Maybe some of these creationists in denial will finally see the light. Well, here's to hoping anyway. Wikipediarules2221 20:41, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

  • You have a backwards -- hopefully, someday, evolutionists will realize that they believe in a fable that has its foundation in baseless deceit. Creationism (intelligent design, or whatever you want to call it) is the only logical/plausible theory. -- CTS  Talk   Contribs 21:33, 24 November 2009 (UTC)
    • Lets nip this in the bud before it gets out of hand. Wikipedia policy (see the banner at the top of this page) is that talk pages are for discussing the contents of the article itself and ways to improve it, not for general debates about the subject matter. Rusty Cashman (talk) 02:59, 25 November 2009 (UTC)
      • Haha, thanks for the laugh CTS, I needed that! Wikipediarules2221 06:33, 26 November 2009 (UTC)
        • Sorry, I'm not sure what you find so funny. Did you just finally realize the absurdity behind your sentiment?? Either way, you're welcome. Glad I could make you laugh. -- CTS  Talk   Contribs 17:37, 26 November 2009 (UTC)
Please think of the kittens. And the monkeys. And this thread.

This discussion thread not only fails to be relevant to the article, it also fails to bring up any arguments at all neither for nor against neither evolution nor creationism. Utterly pointless as it is, wouldn't it be best to simply let this poor thread die in peace? Have mercy on it. Please do not torture this defenseless thread. - Soulkeeper (talk) 08:57, 27 November 2009 (UTC)

Excellent work[edit]

The creationist/evolutionist squabble aside (like the above), this is an extremely well crafted article on an important encyclopedic topic. The editors (as well as the FAC contributors) who put so much time and effort to get this article up to FA standards in time for the 150th anniversary deserve the Wikipedia community's gratitude. This was of considerable service and benefit to the encyclopedia. Great job! AgneCheese/Wine 21:41, 24 November 2009 (UTC)

On the behalf of a number of other editors who have improved this article as well as myself, I thank you for the kind words. Rusty Cashman (talk) 03:03, 25 November 2009 (UTC)

Infobox ref[edit]

Don't know if the infobox requires a ref, I've changed it to the standard inline cite to Darwin 1859 p. iii rather than Facsimile of the 1st edition (1859) which seems to be a more informal version. If we keep an inline citation here, Freeman 1977 might be more informative as we already have a picture of the title page. . . dave souza, talk 17:10, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

You're right, that site is far more informative. Whenever possible cite a reliable source; I actually meant to put it up for the publication date of the first edition. Magafuzula (talk) 19:58, 7 March 2010 (UTC)

Ah, Freeman gives the definitive statement on that – with that in mind, I've added a cite to the publication date, and as a second thought have moved the title page cite to the title page image caption. Not terribly sure about these edits, other views welcome. . . dave souza, talk 21:35, 7 March 2010 (UTC)
But the image for the infobox should be the book cover. Don't know why, since indeed the title page is more informative, or a frontispiece (if present) is more attractive.Magafuzula (talk) 13:46, 10 March 2010 (UTC)
I think that must be a standard for more modern books where book covers show the title, author etc.. Many articles on old books show the title page, as this article does. Don't think we have an image of the cover, but if we did it would look like this which is completely uninformative. . . dave souza, talk 14:42, 10 March 2010 (UTC)

Tiberius Cornelis Winkler[edit]

The article on Tiberius Cornelis Winkler mentions that he translated the Origin of Species into Dutch in 1860 - four years earlier than the first Dutch edition mentioned here. Not being an expert on Darwin and his contemporaries, I'll leave it to others to assess the significance of this claim - but as it is verified by the sources I've added to the article on Winkler, I'll also add it here. Bahudhara (talk) 10:52, 27 April 2010 (UTC)

Looks righteous, thanks. . dave souza, talk 11:29, 27 April 2010 (UTC)

Variation and heredity[edit]

As the second paragraph in this section seemed to be more to do with the responses to the book than the section of the book itself, I've changed it using Costa and an article by Dawkins as sources.[2] The paragraph was referenced to Bowler (1989), which I don't have available, but a similar point is made in Bowler (2003) which I've cited for the point that blending inheritance would not be an issue in a population showing a range of small variations, such as differences in height, which would still be subject to natural selection. It also makes the point that Jenkins was thinking in terms of saltation rather than small variations, but the existing discussion of Jenkins seemed adequate without this level of detail. . dave souza, talk 17:27, 24 October 2010 (UTC)

Influence on Japan[edit]

Hung, K. C. (2009). "Alien Science, Indigenous Thought and Foreign Religion: Reconsidering the Reception of Darwinism in Japan". Intellectual History Review 19 (2): 231–250. doi:10.1080/17496970902981702. ISSN 1749-6977.  edit (free article, alternative link) provides a fascinating study of the introduction of Darwin's ideas to Japan in 1877, and the conplex interaction of these concepts with Japanese traditions and modernisation. Since the first translation came 15 years later, it doesn't fit directly into this article, but worth a look. . . dave souza, talk 12:24, 6 December 2010 (UTC)

Scientific literature?[edit]

Is labeling the book as "scientific literature" accurate? Darwin was not a scientist to begin with. Maiorem (talk) 00:23, 21 September 2011 (UTC)

You're evidently misinformed about Darwin. . . dave souza, talk 07:12, 21 September 2011 (UTC)
I urge you then to take a look at Darwin's credentials. He is a naturalist, not a scientist. What education has Darwin ever received to be a scientist? Maiorem (talk) 10:30, 21 September 2011 (UTC)
Thanks but opinions from editors are not suitable for use here. If you have a reliable source saying Darwin was not a scientist (LOL!), please present it. Otherwise, the issue should not be discussed further; see WP:NOTFORUM and WP:TPG. Johnuniq (talk) 11:04, 21 September 2011 (UTC)
And please realise that any source has to be at least equivalent to this impeccable source which notes that "Darwin, deeply studied in the sciences of his time, yet living somewhat independently from his colleagues, was able to think in new ways. ....... Darwin, as an unquestionably respectable authority in elite science, publicly threw his weight on the side of evolution". . . dave souza, talk 16:26, 21 September 2011 (UTC)
In which case I would direct you to Charles Darwin's education. Such claims as "Darwin, deeply studied in the sciences of his time" cannot be taken at face value. What scientific education did Darwin receive, if any? This is not an opinion, but an observation regarding the education of Charles Darwin and how people have incorrectly labeled him as a scientist despite him having never learned science. Maiorem (talk) 05:18, 22 September 2011 (UTC)
So, essentially your argument is that Wikipedia, an encyclopedia based on reliable sources, should not take the very large number of reliable sources that refer to Darwin as a scientist at face value because they have got it wrong. Good luck with that. Sean.hoyland - talk 05:51, 22 September 2011 (UTC)
So here's the question: what in Darwin's education qualified him to be a scientist? Maiorem (talk) 18:57, 22 September 2011 (UTC)
Plenty, and he continued to improve his qualifications after leaving university. Here's the question, Maiorem, have you a reliable source verifying these assertions you're making? . . dave souza, talk 19:45, 22 September 2011 (UTC)
I am noting the lack of any mention of his scientific education by reliable sources. All those sources can do is to assert that he is a scientist, and most reliable sources refer to him as a naturalist rather than a scientist. You mention "plenty", but can you provide even one example? Maiorem (talk) 20:32, 22 September 2011 (UTC)
Bear in mind that all undergraduate degrees at Cambridge are Bachelor of Arts, regardless of the field of study. The fact that he graduated with a B.A. rather than a B.Sc. can't be taken as a lack of Science education. (talk) 01:35, 24 November 2011 (UTC)
Regarding the original question about labeling the book as scientific literature, the answer is that the content of the book and the methodology described therein determine whether it is scientific literature, not necessarily any university credentials of the author. In Darwin's time it was possible to have scientific training and practice science without having a PhD (in fact, the PhD credential didn't even exist in England until after Darwin's death). ~Amatulić (talk) 20:37, 22 September 2011 (UTC)
Also, Maiorem, you seem to be unaware that natural history is part of science, and naturalists are scientists. . dave souza, talk 21:08, 22 September 2011 (UTC)

Darwin's sacred cause[edit]

Enjoyed the article. One minor comment: in the section on Inception of Darwin's theory it might be appropriate to make some mention of Desmond and Moore's recent work (Darwin's Sacred Cause : Race Slavery and the Quest for Human Origins. London: Allen Lane. ISBN 1-84614-035-8. ). These authors propose that Darwin's profound opposition to slavery, his pro-abolitionist views and his linked belief in 'common origins' of man led to the conception that there could be a common origin of all species. Desmond and Moore plausibly suggest that this controversial aspect was one factor in Darwin's tardiness in publishing. Adh (talk) 13:10, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

Thanks, Desmond and Moore are excellent at discussing the social background of the times, but both in this book and in their earlier Darwin they tend to be outliers among historians, arguing a case that isn't altogether accepted. We discuss various views about Darwin's tardiness in publishing in the Time taken to publish section, van Wyhe's research rather contradicts the "fear factor" which Desmond and Moore suggest as the cause of delay. Similarly, D&M are very informative about the anti-slavery movement and the development of racism in Britain, much less widespread than in the US. However we've got to be cautious about the extent to which this formed a basis for Darwin's views on common origins of all species, and as much as possible compare their detailed arguments to other historical accounts. It's certainly a lively book, but a lot of info to assimilate or summarise. . dave souza, talk 16:39, 5 March 2012 (UTC)

Political Influence[edit]

New addition lacking sources:

The work of Darwin has been used in the political arena to support racism and the superior race, colonialism, or the right of colonial powers to control less developed countries, etc.

This may be a common creationist claim, but it's questionable at best, and needs reliable sourcing before it goes in the article. It's also about Darwin rather than specifically about OTOoS. . . dave souza, talk 21:39, 7 June 2012 (UTC)

It also seemed to arrive as something of an uncontrolled landing into the article. Some attention to "…flow seamlessly with the present text. Wikipedia articles should not end up being a series of disjointed comments…" would also be needed. --Old Moonraker (talk) 21:53, 7 June 2012 (UTC)
Agreed. Some comment on the influence the book had on political and/or economic debates might be appropriate but it would have to come from a reliable source that provided balance and appropriate context. Also, to appear in this article the source would have to refer to affects of Origin specifically not to Darwin's work in general. Otherwise the place for it would be in Charles Darwin not here. Actually now that I look there is a pretty good discussion of this already in that aricle. See the "Evolutionary social movements" section. Rusty Cashman (talk) 08:11, 8 June 2012 (UTC)

IF this is a common claim needs to be here.[edit]

Of course that needs to be developed, but to remove it means that there is nothing to develop !!!!

It looks more the intenton of being "political coorect" and refuse to show some vievs ..... time to wondering why the article about the book lacks any reference to his political influence. If nothing is said it means that the article is severely biased

Milton (talk) 02:32, 9 June 2012 (UTC)

Verification needed, and we don't give undue weight to minority or fringe views. If the views are significant to coverage of the book, then reliable sources will have covered them with specific reference to the book: please present the sources and your proposals for text. . dave souza, talk 04:27, 9 June 2012 (UTC)
Actually this is already touched on in the reception section of this article. A slight expansion of what is there would probably cover it without attaching undue weight. I have a couple of sources, Bowler and Larson, that could be used for this, and I will take a stab. Rusty Cashman (talk) 00:54, 10 June 2012 (UTC)

I was bold and took my stab. Let the arrows fly :) Rusty Cashman (talk) 02:19, 10 June 2012 (UTC)

Have tried reading a few sources, there are aspects of this that seem a bit misleading: Darwin obviously didn't comment on humans in OtOOS, so it relates to his other writings. However there was immediate response from others, notably with common descent being cited to argue against the racist ideas of Agassiz and others (supported by the emerging Confederate side as the American civil war developed) that races were separate species, having been created or originated separately. See Ethnological Society of London#Split and merger for subsequent developments. Desmond and Moore go into great detail in Darwin's Sacred Cause, and touch on it in Darwin. We should also be cautious that Darwin did (in other writings) see natural selection as applying to human societies, but his view was opposed to racism while at the same time resigned to the reality of colonial societies having the advantage in warfare over native inhabitants: he regarded the Maoris as superior in being better adapted to the climate and place, but noted reports of them being brutally killed by settlers. . . dave souza, talk 18:35, 11 June 2012 (UTC)
I have added a sentence on Darwin's own views to the text in hopes of addressing your concerns. I think what we have now is fairly balanced given the fact that we don't have space in this article for a whole bunch of nuance on these topics, which could, and have filled many books. Rusty Cashman (talk) 19:22, 12 June 2012 (UTC)
Thanks, I'll try to see if I can put together a suggestion focussed more directly on the response to the book, but do appreciate that it has to be concise. . 19:38, 12 June 2012 (UTC)


Malthus' work: "An Essay on the Principle of Population" was said to give "statistical proof". I changed this to "theory". The Wikipedia page on this book by Malthus says: "This theory suggested that growing population rates would contribute to a rising supply of labour that would inevitably lower wages. In essence, Malthus feared that continued population growth would lend itself to poverty." And the Wikipedia page on Thomas Robert Malthus says: "Malthus has become widely known for his theories about population and its increase or decrease in response to various factors."

On neither page does it refer to "statistical" anything, and on both pages it refers to his writings as "theory". So shouldn't "theory" be used on this Origin of Species page also? Earlysda (talk) 06:31, 19 June 2012 (UTC)

The current wording is

In late September 1838, he started reading Thomas Malthus's An Essay on the Principle of Population with its statistical argument that human populations, if unrestrained, breed beyond their means and struggle to survive.

This is cited to van Wyhe, who quotes Browne describing Darwin as "'seeking information on human population statistics.' (Browne 1995, p. 385) Malthus argued that human population growth, unless somehow checked, would necessarily outstrip food production. Population growth was geometrical." and "The focus of this argument inspired Darwin."
A second cite goes to Larson, who on p. 68 writes "All species, including humans, reproduce at unsustainably high rates, Malthus asserted", quoting Malthus about this "law of nature". Larson calls it a "principle".
So far, we've got support for the issue being statistical, and for describing it as an argument. Browne pp. 386–7 goes over it in more detail, describing "Malthus's argument" and noting how "he calculated" presumed rates of population increase.
D&M pp. 264–5 describe the essay as a "polemic" welcomed by free traders in the 1830s, "But it was Malthus's statistics that struck Darwin with a vengeance in his primed state. Malthus calculated that, with the brakes off, mankind could double in a mere 25 years. But it did not double .... A struggle for resources slowed growth".
No support there for "theory". Perhaps we can rephrase this to link to geometric growth (a redirect to Exponential growth, a synonym for Malthusian growth model which is less explanatory) and put more emphasis on the struggle for resources. . . dave souza, talk 08:59, 19 June 2012 (UTC)
Quammen calls it "analysis". I agree with Earlysda that "statistical proof" was inappropriate. I realize that we need to be careful about interpreting primary sources, but when I realized a possible edit war was brewing last night I went back and read Malthus's essay. It is cleary not a "proof" in the way anyone familiar with mathematics would use the term, nor is it really an effort to propose what we would call a scientific theory. What it is (not surprising for an essay) is a polemic argument that uses some statistical concepts and evidence to support its conclusions. So "statistical argument" was what I came up with. I think that is well supported by the sources Dave found. Rusty Cashman (talk) 18:36, 19 June 2012 (UTC)
On the Wikipedia page for "An Essay on the Principle of Population" there is a footnote for "Online chapter MALTHUS AND THE EVOLUTIONISTS: THE COMMON CONTEXT OF BIOLOGICAL AND SOCIAL THEORY from Darwin's Metaphor: Nature's Place in Victorian Culture by Professor Robert M. Young (1985, 1988, 1994). Cambridge University Press". In that chapter it says: "According to John Burrow's Evolution and Society: A Study in Victorian Social Theory, Spencer, like Darwin and Wallace, drew his mechanism of evolution from Malthus' population theory." "In the 1844 Essay, he (Charles Darwin writes: It is the doctrine of Malthus applied in most cases with ten-fold force."
If what Charles Darwin described Malthus' work is to be used, that is fine. If we should use what the Wikipedia pages themselves on this subject say (supported by many references), that is fine. But to come up with original wording for this is against Wikipedia policies, isn't it? Earlysda (talk) 03:47, 20 June 2012 (UTC)

I am not following you. Dave cited several reliable secondary sources in his comments that justified "statistical argument". I made an argument from a primary source, which is admittedly less persuasive (but still more persuasive than what other Wikipedia articles happen to say), but it is always nice when you have agreement between secondary sources and a straightforward reading of a primary source. Do you have a specific reason for liking "theory" or disliking "statistical argument" other than what other Wikipedia articles say? Rusty Cashman (talk) 18:13, 20 June 2012 (UTC)

My point was not addressed by this reply. Earlysda (talk) 05:16, 24 June 2012 (UTC)
Your point is incorrect: Wikipedia policies require us to find our own wording which accurately shows the views published by experts in high quality sources on the topic. It's not a question of "original wording", your problem seems to be that you're proposing original research unsupported by modern scholarship on the topic, and trying to give primacy to other Wikpedia articles which are of course not reliable sources. . . dave souza, talk 20:23, 24 June 2012 (UTC)
Darwin's own word describing Malthus' work is "doctrine", and sources directly from the Wikipedia page on Malthus call his work "theory" multiple times. Yet somehow the phrase "statistical argument" which has been coined it seems on this Origin of Species Wikipedia page is not seen as original research? In addition to dissing other Wikipedia authors (who have done a very good job giving the facts about Malthus' theory), there is a disconnect with the English language going on here. Earlysda (talk) 06:25, 29 June 2012 (UTC)

Ok, I have checked multiple online sources. The terminology used is all over the place. UC Berkely says "Malthus's observation that in nature plants and animals produce far more offspring than can survive". Would you prefer that? Another refers to "Malthus's Law of Population Growth" would you like that one? Yet another site talks about the "central theme" of Malthus's work. As Dave said, the issue is not the exact word choice, but whether or not the meaning of the words accurately describes the topic and is consistent with the interpretation of expert secondary sources. "statistical argument" is a perfectly good concise description of Malthus's essay, and it is not contradicted by any source I am familiar with. Rusty Cashman (talk) 21:53, 30 June 2012 (UTC)

Confusion on translating[edit]

I am (partially) translating the article to Slovak. I do not understand (complex or compound) sentence from Nature and structure of Darwin's argument: "Later chapters provide evidence that evolution has occurred, supporting the idea of branching, adaptive evolution without directly proving that selection is the mechanism."

  1. Do later chapters provide supporting the idea of branching?
  2. Does evidence (that evolution has occurred) support the idea of branching?
  3. Does the idea of branching support evidence (that evolution has occurred)?

( And I am lost in 3rd part adaptive evolution without... - Which words does this part bind to? :-) --Ruwolf (talk) 19:09, 6 October 2013 (UTC)

  1. Yes, but note that "the idea of branching, adaptive evolution" is all one noun phrase. The comma separates two members of a list of adjectives. It could be replaced by 'and'. You might have thought that 'branching' was a noun.
  2. Yes
  3. That is not what this sentence says
It might clarify things to put a 'but' before 'without'. William Avery (talk) 20:20, 6 October 2013 (UTC)
Thank you very much for your explanation. --Ruwolf (talk) 20:34, 6 October 2013 (UTC)
You're welcome. I struggle with this kind of thing in German. William Avery (talk) 20:38, 6 October 2013 (UTC)

Ruwolf: I saw this as I passed by and don't know if the point has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere. But I would point out that the "origin of species" in the title is precisely this question of "branching", or speciation. A key question of the time was whether new species are created. (Alternately, are we stuck with only the ones Noah brought?) The first two chapters of Origin point out that change does happen ("Darwin's Law"). Darwin's key point was that accumulation of small changes over long periods of time could lead to differentiation of a population into separate species. Also: he wasn't proving "that evolution has occurred" (a rather broad concept), but providing an explanation (theory) of how speciation (an aspect of evolution) occurs, along with many observations in support of that theory. As the sentence you refer to isn't entirely clear on this I would suggest you need not — indeed, should not! — translate it it too precisely. ~ J. Johnson (JJ) (talk) 23:49, 3 December 2013 (UTC)

What about the Finches?[edit]

When I was taught evolution in 1972, in a high school in Sydney, Australia, we used the standard blue Harry Messel textbook. It was so long ago I no longer remember the name of the book, only that it was the Messel Science textbook. But in any case, it showed the different finches of the Galapagos. A different species on every island; and no two species on the same island. One in particular stands out, a finch that uses a tool - a cactus spine - to pry out insects. He (Messel) certainly gave the impression that these finches were "important" in Darwin's formulation of the theory.

This is what we were taught. And of course this book was used all over NSW. I suspect that that makes it a credible reference, yes??? So I wonder, why are the finches not mentioned here? (talk) 10:24, 24 November 2013 (UTC)

It's very briefly mentioned at On the Origin of Species#Inception of Darwin's theory. There is a whole article at Darwin's finches. Johnuniq (talk) 10:42, 24 November 2013 (UTC)

John, thanx for your quick reply. IMHO the mention is nowhere near enough. As I understand it, the finches were at least as important as the mockingbirds. If only I had that only Messel book to quote. (talk) 07:59, 25 November 2013 (UTC)

Thanks for your interest in this topic, while it's likely that you're right about Messel, scholarship on Darwin has developed considerably since 1972. For a description of the complex issues of the finches, it's worth reading Frank J. Sulloway's 1982 paper on "Darwin and His Finches: The Evolution of a Legend". As he says on p. 5, "Given the fame of this episode in Darwin’s life, there has been a surprising degree of misunderstanding and misinformation regarding these three questions. In fact, over the years Darwin’s finches have become the focus for a considerable legend in the history of science, one that ranks alongside other famous stories that celebrate the great triumphs of modem science."
Sulloway accurately notes on p. 12 that the first [and only] expression of doubt about species fixity in Darwin's notes during the Beagle voyage refers to the mockinbirds (and Falklands Foxes), and on pp. 20–23 Sulloway describes how in 1837 Darwin learnt from experts about the fossils he'd collected, the finches and, "More important still for Darwin’s evolutionary thinking", the mockingbirds.
Leading Darwin to recollect a year later "In July [1837] opened first note Book on "transmutation of Species". — Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March on character of S. American fossils — & species on Galapagos Archipelago. — These facts origin (especially latter) of all my views."[3] In his autobiography Darwin reaffirmed this in more detail, adding "the manner in which closely allied animals replace one another in proceeding southwards over the Continent",[4] which probably refers primarily to Rheas.
So, the outline coverage in this article about the book is reasonable, but we could consider adding more detail. . . dave souza, talk 11:45, 25 November 2013 (UTC)