On the Origin of Species | Study Guide

Charles Darwin

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On the Origin of Species | Chapter 7 : Miscellaneous Objections to the Theory of Natural Selection | Summary

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Summary

Darwin dedicates this chapter to addressing objections raised by scientists in previous versions of On the Origin of Species, this version being the last. He specifically addresses objections raised by three individuals: paleontologist Heinrich Bronn, botanist Karl Wilhelm von Nägeli, and zoologist St. George Jackson Mivart. In Darwin's opinion the "more serious objection" is the presence of traits that seemingly have no benefit to the specimen. Darwin addresses this issue throughout the previous chapter in depth. However, in this chapter he raises the idea of the "laws of growth," which include all non-environmental factors that influence natural selection. While he argues the theory of natural selection is the main source of variation in species, these other factors could be causing the variations seen by other researchers. He discusses again the idea of development toward perfection, as posited by Nägeli in his "doctrine of ... progressive development," and reiterates nature is not concerned with progression.

Darwin addresses Mivart's objections, such as the long neck of the giraffe, insects that "imitate various objects," and the formation of a prehensile tail, among others. In all cases Darwin reiterates arguments made in the previous chapters to lay these objections to rest. In his conclusion Darwin notes, "Almost all naturalists [including Mivart himself] admit evolution under some form." However, he notes the difference is in the degree to which other naturalists see evolution as being a driving force for variation and understanding how evolution is accomplished. Darwin is arguing evolution is the driving force for variation, and it is accomplished through natural selection. However, many individuals at the time saw creationism as the main factor in the creation of species.

Analysis

This chapter is largely a reiteration of many of Darwin's points made earlier in the book. In this case, however, he is responding to objections raised by members of the scientific community who had read earlier versions of On the Origin of Species. While he addresses objections raised by a variety of researchers, his main focus is on rebuffing Mivart's arguments.

Mivart was an English biologist and an outspoken critic of Darwin's theory of natural selection. Darwin notes he was thorough in "collecting all the objections which have ever been advanced by myself and others against the theory of natural selection." While Darwin believed all of the objections raised by Mivart are answered in the book, he goes on to discuss Mivart's numerous arguments in detail.

It is clear Darwin is attempting to stave off future critics and solidify his theory of natural selection. However, he argues his critics' objections are based on flawed logic. His frustration is apparent in the last paragraph of the chapter when he says the sudden transformations—in contrast to the slow process of natural selection—proposed by so many scientists lead to conclusions that "enter into the realms of miracle, and [leave] those of science."

In Darwin's discussion of the giraffe, he attempts to address Mivart's comment he would expect to see other giraffe-like creatures in other regions of the world if having a long neck was advantageous. Darwin's discussion of this topic alludes to the idea of "niches"—different animals filling different ecological roles. While Darwin did not use this term, today it is a common concept based on some of Darwin's initial arguments.

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