On the Origin of Species

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This article is about Charles Darwin's book. For the Outer Limits episode of the same name, see Origin of Species (The Outer Limits).

Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (published 24 November 1859) is a seminal work in scientific literature and a landmark work in evolutionary biology.[1] The book's full title is On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. In the 6th edition of 1872 the title was changed to The Origin of Species.[2] It introduced the theory that populations evolve over the course of generations through a process of natural selection. Darwin's book contains a wealth of evidence that the diversity of life arose through a branching pattern of evolution and common descent – evidence which he had accumulated on the voyage of the Beagle in the 1830s and expanded through research, correspondence, and experiments after his return.[3]

The book is readable even for the non-specialist and attracted widespread interest on publication. The topic of evolution had been highly controversial during the first half of the 19th century, since transmutation of species contradicted the long accepted idea that species were unchanging parts of a designed hierarchy. It had been the subject of political and theological debates, with competing ideas of biology trying to explain new findings. Support for evolutionary ideas was already growing among a new generation of professional anatomists and the general public, but to a scientific establishment closely tied to the Church of England, science was part of natural theology. An older generation of naturalists found it very hard to accept that humans descended from animals.

The mass of evidence presented by a scientist of Darwin's eminence generated respectful discussion on scientific, philosophical, and religious grounds. The debate over the book would lead to widespread acceptance among educated people that evolution had occurred, and contributed significantly to the movement to professionalize British science by replacing natural theology with methodological naturalism and ending the Church's domination of the scientific community. The scientific theory of evolution has continued to evolve since Darwin's contributions, but natural selection remains the most widely accepted scientific explanation for the development of new species. Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus, political and religious challenges to the theory of evolution continue to this day in some countries.

Charles Robert Darwin FRS (12 February 1809 – 19 April 1882) was an English naturalist[I] who realised and presented compelling evidence that all species of life have evolved over time from common ancestors, through the process he called natural selection. The fact that evolution occurs became accepted by the scientific community and much of the general public in his lifetime, while his theory of natural selection came to be widely seen as the primary explanation of the process of evolution in the 1930s,[1] and now forms the basis of modern evolutionary theory. In modified form, Darwin’s scientific discovery is the unifying theory of the life sciences, providing logical explanation for the diversity of life.[2]

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