I was startled by the simplicity of the forumla. Stephen Jay Gould, the late eminent paleontologist, biologist and historian of science, summed up Darwin’s basic theory of natural selection so eloquently and so succinctly that it rocked me back on my heels. It was something even a diehard creationist could understand (assuming he or she wanted to try…)
First there are three basic facts Gould states about life and living creatures:
- All organisms produce more offspring than can possibly survive;
- All organisms within a species vary from one another;
- At least some of these variations will be inherited by offspring.
From these three, simple facts – easily proven by observation, research and analysis – Gould says the principles of natural selection, as Darwin postulated in 1859, can be inferred. These are:
- Since only some offspring will survive, on average these survivors will have those variations that are generally better adapted to survival in changing environments;
- Those offspring will inherit the favourable variations of their parents;
- Organisms of the next generation will be better adapted to local environments.
Simple, eh? I thought so, too. Next year will mark 160 years since Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was first published. I already have a bottle of wine aging for the celebration.
I came across this elegant description some years back, while reading Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea, by Carl Zimmer (Harper Collins, New York, 2001). The book is the companion to the PBS series on evolution. Gould wrote the introduction. I have yet to see the series (we don’t subscribe to TV) , but I enjoyed the 364-page book. It’s one of many such titles in my library.