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Darwin's theories on evolution


Distinguishing Darwin's many theories
Ernst Mayr Scientist
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Usually, when people talk about Darwin's achievement they speak of Darwin's theory in the singular, and… this goes right on to the present day. Well, years ago I already pointed out that, actually, Darwin had published a whole number of theories and they're very different from each other and not only that, but his followers adapted and accepted some of these theories and not others. For instance, common descent was accepted by Huxley, but I think Lyell never was very comfortable with it; neither Lyell nor… TH Huxley accepted natural selection. And in the days right after the publication of The Origin, in other words in the 1860s, when somebody was called a Darwinian, what it meant was that he didn't believe that the world was created by God, but that the world had originated by natural means, that is what it meant at that time to be a Darwinian. If today you say somebody's a Darwinian it means that this person believes in natural selection. So, there has been a steady change. I… I published a book recently called One Long Argument which is the first summary and detailed discussion of Darwin's theories. If you go to the big biographies, of which one appears just about every year, big Darwin biographies, they tell you every last detail about his life and his illnesses and when he had a cold or not, but do you find a decent discussion of his theories? No, you won't, because these people are historians and they just don't feel qualified, and they are not qualified to discuss Darwin's… theories in detail. So, this rather small book of mine, One Long Argument, was the first really detailed treatment of Darwin's theories in the last… I don't know what, 50 years or more. And it is very important to distinguish these theories.

The late German-American biologist Ernst Mayr (1904-2005) was a leading light in the field of evolutionary biology, gaining a PhD at the age of 21. He was also a tropical explorer and ornithologist who undertook an expedition to New Guinea and collected several thousand bird skins. In 1931 he accepted a curatorial position at the American Museum of Natural History. During his time at the museum, aged 37, he published his seminal work 'Systematics and Origin of the Species' which integrated the theories of Darwin and Mendel and is considered one of his greatest works.

Listeners: Walter J. Bock

Walter J. Bock is Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Columbia University. He received his B.Sc. from Cornell and his M.A. and Ph.D. from Harvard. His research lies in the areas of organismal and evolutionary biology, with a special emphasis on functional and evolutionary morphology of the skeleto-muscular system, specifically the feeding apparatus of birds.

Tags: The Origin of Species, One Long Argument, Charles Darwin, TH Huxley, Charles Lyell

Duration: 2 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: October 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008