[ You can read the introduction here]
[Or you can just download the full PDF right here ⇒ darwin]
In 1859, Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection”, twenty-three years after the five-year voyage of the HMS Beagle. His ‘Law of Natural Selection’, which has been described, with a minimum of hyperbole, as ‘the greatest idea in the history of science’, was based primarily on studies of anatomy and the few fossils he had available. As a naturalist, Darwin wasn’t all that good. He had more training in theology and geology than biology. His record keeping was sloppy; he often failed to record exact locations; and he misidentified many species.
As a scientist, Darwin’s insights were extraordinary. The book that changed all of biology was published a quarter century before Gregor Mendel planted his peas, wrote down his laws of inheritance, and postulated discrete units of inheritance, half a century before Ronald Fisher and Sewall Wright worked out the math to bring Mendel and Darwin under the same umbrella, a century before James Watson and Francis Crick unwound the double helix, and another quarter century before we even started thinking about decoding the genome. All these advances point us in the same direction: In spite of everything he didn’t know, Darwin got it right.
So why do some intelligent people still find “Darwinism” objectionable and what is their case against it?
The ‘why’ part is understandable: Humans are not proud of their ancestors; they rarely invite them round to dinner (Douglas Adams). A little less facetiously and a little more accurately, Darwinism is controversial because people don’t want it to be true. We need to feel special, more than just one more life form among millions. It conflicts with deeply rooted religious beliefs and three-thousand-year-old folklore. Or for some, Natural Selection is simply so incredibly astounding that it boggles the imagination. It’s easier to just say, “Then a miracle happened.”
The ‘what’ part will take a bit longer.
For discussions more definitive than mine and to protect myself from allegations of plagiarism, I refer you to:
Nye, William (2014) Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Zimmer, Carl (2010) Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea. New York: Harper Collins.
Shermer, Michael (2006) Why Darwin Matters. New York: Henry Holt and Company.
Gould, Stephen Jay (1989) Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing.
For a discussion more seminal than almost anything else and to protect everyone from allegations of plagiarism, I refer you to:
Darwin, Charles (1859) On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street.
First, a metaphorical introduction to Darwin’s Greatest Idea.
 The Second Law of Thermodynamics also gets a lot of votes for the ‘goat’. The two will be called into a confrontation a little later in this treatise.
 It seemed to take another twenty years for anyone to actually read Mendel’s paper.