On the Origin of Species - Chapter 1

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otseng
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On the Origin of Species - Chapter 1

Post #1

Post by otseng »

Let's start the book debate.

I'll throw out some initial questions. If you would like to add some more, feel free to add them.

What is Darwin's point of chapter 1?
Does well does he support his case?

Since we don't have a thread for the introduction, any comments about it can be included here.

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Post #2

Post by otseng »

I like this quote at the beginning of the work:

"To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both."
- Bacon

In chapter 1, Darwin's main point is that plants and animals under domestication demonstrate descent with modification. The evidence is clear on this. So, this serves as a strong argument to open up the book.

In the chapter, he lays the foundation of his theory. Only inheritable changes are important, the changes are random, and that through man "selecting" what he wishes, the animals/plants can be molded through successive generations to something different from the original stock. "Breeders habitually speak of an animal's organisation as something quite plastic, which they can model almost as they please."

He acknowledges that he does not know the cause of the modifications and offers some possible causes (changes in reproductive system).

He brings up the concept "correlation of growth". Though I'm not entirely clear what he means by this. My take is that a change at one place can affect a change at another place.

Overall, I think he presents his case well in chapter 1.

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Post #3

Post by Goat »

otseng wrote:I like this quote at the beginning of the work:

"To conclude, therefore, let no man upon a weak conceit of sobriety or an ill-applied moderation think or maintain that a man can search too far, or be too well studied in the book of God's word, or the book of God's works, divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficience in both."
- Bacon

In chapter 1, Darwin's main point is that plants and animals under domestication demonstrate descent with modification. The evidence is clear on this. So, this serves as a strong argument to open up the book.

In the chapter, he lays the foundation of his theory. Only inheritable changes are important, the changes are random, and that through man "selecting" what he wishes, the animals/plants can be molded through successive generations to something different from the original stock. "Breeders habitually speak of an animal's organisation as something quite plastic, which they can model almost as they please."

He acknowledges that he does not know the cause of the modifications and offers some possible causes (changes in reproductive system).

He brings up the concept "correlation of growth". Though I'm not entirely clear what he means by this. My take is that a change at one place can affect a change at another place.

Overall, I think he presents his case well in chapter 1.
Another point he brings up is that under domestication, animals that might appear weak and sickly compared to the more robust animals , but can reproduce well do better than really strong animals that just don't breed in captivity. In the first chapter, he ties the 'fitness' of the animal to the ability to successfully reproduce.

I did find his style to be a bit stuffy and rambling. Of course, I find even most novels written in that time period to be stuffy too.
“What do you think science is? There is nothing magical about science. It is simply a systematic way for carefully and thoroughly observing nature and using consistent logic to evaluate results. So which part of that exactly do you disagree with? Do you disagree with being thorough? Using careful observation? Being systematic? Or using consistent logic?�

Steven Novella

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Post #4

Post by Jester »

otseng wrote:Overall, I think he presents his case well in chapter 1.
I'll agree with that.
My biggest issue is with the matter of cross-breeding. He seems to insist that crossing two species can only result in features that are a compromise between the equivellent features of the parents. I'll grant that this is probably the case the vast overwhelming majority of the time, but it did seem a bit oversimplified.
We must continually ask ourselves whether victory has become more central to our goals than truth.

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Post #5

Post by Nilloc James »

I'll agree with that.
My biggest issue is with the matter of cross-breeding. He seems to insist that crossing two species can only result in features that are a compromise between the equivellent features of the parents. I'll grant that this is probably the case the vast overwhelming majority of the time, but it did seem a bit oversimplified.
I think he purposfully simplified in order to avoid problems over specifics or the occasional exeption to rules he lays out.

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Post #6

Post by Jester »

I'll agree with that.
My biggest issue is with the matter of cross-breeding. He seems to insist that crossing two species can only result in features that are a compromise between the equivellent features of the parents. I'll grant that this is probably the case the vast overwhelming majority of the time, but it did seem a bit oversimplified.
Nilloc James wrote:I think he purposfully simplified in order to avoid problems over specifics or the occasional exeption to rules he lays out.
That sounds reasonable enough, I suppose this would be necessary at some points.
We must continually ask ourselves whether victory has become more central to our goals than truth.

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Post #7

Post by otseng »

I've started a thread for chapter 2.

This chapter, as well as all chapters, will remain open until we have finished the entire book. Feel free to add to this thread until then.

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Post #8

Post by kiwimac »

Sorry folks, hadn't caught up with the fact this had started.

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Post #9

Post by Greenbeard »

otseng wrote:...He brings up the concept "correlation of growth". Though I'm not entirely clear what he means by this. My take is that a change at one place can affect a change at another place...
I don't know if he was implying that one change would 'affect' another change, but simply noting that certain characteristics seemed to consistently appear together. Similar to pleiotropy, but of course he didn't have genetics. So he was referring either to pleiotropic effects or multiple gene correlations having the same result - in his eyes a consistent association or coincidence of one inherited characteristic with others.

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Post #10

Post by Greenbeard »

I think there are several points which either come into play later or speak to the validity of natural selection or its application to speciation.

One is the availability of variation. The point that variation never seems to be exhausted is important. Both wild populations and fully domesticated (as in altered) animals still show almost complete plasticity whenever new or more selective pressure is applied.

On page 14 Darwin brings up the subject of reversion of characters to aboriginal condition. This point shouldn’t be overlooked – it is directly related to his main argument about speciation. At the time, the prevailing notion was that a species had an essence, and apparently there were many of the opinion that all this variation was only temporary, and that domestication and other modifications would, in the end, simply revert back to the original ‘type.’ Darwin provides page after page of evidence supporting his ideas, and points out that the notion of ‘reversion to type’ is most often presented without any evidence whatsoever. It is simply stated as an assumption, or declared with no support. This is a key point in the consideration of whether natural selection can lead to speciation, in my opinion.

Another pertinent point is that the variation we see in domestication is of at least as great a magnitude as would be necessary in speciation. It is great that he always makes the weakest case possible, then states both what would undermine his idea and what would make it stronger. For instance, he doubts that all dogs came from one species, but makes the argument that this would provide even better evidence that natural selection could result in speciation. We now know this to be true! And I think the point is pretty undeniable that the various dog breeds are far more distinct than the various foxes we consider to be obviously different ‘species.’ His point is that artificial selection has already lead to far greater changes than would even be required to explain natural speciation.

Finally, many pages are filled with evidence that the many ‘varieties’ of domestic plants and animals are descendents of one or very few original species. The tendency now is to say ‘so what?’ but apparently at the time many people were contending that the dozens of unique varieties were each from a distinct original species. Darwin’s arguments against the extreme improbability of this are pretty persuasive.

I think those are some of the main points of this chapter.
Matt

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