Darwin's on the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition

Darwin's on the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition


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Darwin's on the Origin of Species: A Modern Rendition by Daniel Duzdevich

Charles Darwin’s most famous book On the Origin of Species is without question, one of the most important books ever written. While even the grandest works of Victorian English can prove difficult to modern readers, Darwin wrote his text in haste and under intense pressure. For an era in which Darwin is more talked about than read, Daniel Duzdevich offers a clear, modern English rendering of Darwin’s first edition. Neither an abridgement nor a summary, this version might best be described as a "translation" for contemporary English readers. A monument to reasoned insight, the Origin illustrates the value of extensive reflection, carefully gathered evidence, and sound scientific reasoning. By removing the linguistic barriers to understanding and appreciating the Origin, this edition aims to bring 21st-century readers into closer contact with Darwin’s revolutionary ideas.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253011701
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 02/01/2014
Pages: 352
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Daniel Duzdevich is a biologist, studying the interactions between proteins and DNA. Duzdevich received an award from the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans in 2012.

Olivia Judson is an evolutionary biologist and award-winning writer based at Imperial College, London. Her first book, Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation: The Definitive Guide to the Evolutionary Biology of Sex has been translated into more than 20 languages including Estonian, Korean and Turkish; it was also made into a television show. Since then, her writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the Guardian, the Financial Times, and National Geographic; for two years, she wrote a weekly online blog about evolutionary biology for the New York Times. She is presently working on her next book.

Read an Excerpt

Darwin's on the Origin of Species

A Modern Rendition

By Daniel Duzdevich

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2014 Daniel Duzdevich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-01170-1



IN CONSIDERING THE INDIVIDUALS OF A DOMESTICATED plant or animal variety, it is striking that they are generally more diverse than those belonging to varieties or species in the wild. The vast diversity of domesticated organisms, which have varied under many different climates and treatments, suggests that greater variability results from the conditions under which domestication occurs – conditions unlike those encountered by the parent species in the wild. This variability may partly be connected with excess food, as proposed by Andrew Knight. It seems clear that organisms must be exposed to a new environment over several generations for it to cause appreciable variation, and once organization begins to vary, it usually continues to do so for many generations. There is no case of a variable organism ceasing to be variable under domestication. Established domesticated plants such as wheat still often yield new varieties, and animals domesticated long ago are still capable of rapid improvement or modification.

It is disputed whether the causes of variation – whatever they may be – act during the early or late stage of embryonic development or at the instant of conception. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire's experiments show that unnatural treatment of the embryo causes monstrosities, which cannot be clearly differentiated from mere variations. I strongly suspect that variability is most frequently caused by effects on the egg or sperm before conception, mainly because of the remarkable influence of cultivation or confinement on the functions of the reproductive system, which appear far more susceptible to environmental changes than any other component of organization. Nothing is easier than taming an animal and nothing more difficult than getting it to reproduce in confinement, even when the male and female mate. This is generally attributed to impaired instincts, but many cultivated plants are vigorous yet do not seed. In some cases, minor changes, like a little more or less water at a particular period of growth, determine whether or not a plant will produce seeds. I will not go into the copious details I have collected on this curious subject, but to illustrate the strangeness of the rules that govern the reproduction of captive animals, consider that, with the exception of bears, carnivorous mammals, even from the tropics, breed freely in Britain under confinement, whereas carnivorous birds rarely lay fertile eggs. Many exotic plants have pollen as useless as that of the most sterile hybrids. Some domesticated plants and animals that are otherwise weak and sickly breed freely under confinement; but tame, long-lived, and healthy individuals taken young from the wild may have reproductive systems so seriously affected by unknown causes that they are nonfunctional. Unsurprisingly, then, when the reproductive system actually works under confinement, it does so irregularly, producing offspring that are different from the parents. Finally, some organisms breed under very unnatural conditions – like rabbits and ferrets kept in hutches – demonstrating that their reproductive systems have not been affected. So some organisms withstand domestication and vary only slightly, perhaps hardly more than in the wild.

Sterility is a horticultural nuisance, but variability, the source of all the choicest productions of the garden, shares a cause with sterility. There are many plants (called "sporting" plants by gardeners) that produce single buds or offshoots with novel characteristics, sometimes very different from the rest of the plant. Such buds can be propagated by grafting or other techniques, and sometimes by seed. These "sports" are rare in the wild but common under cultivation. In this case, manipulation of the parent affects a bud or offshoot but not the ovules or pollen. According to most physiologists, however, there is no essential difference between a bud and an ovule in the earliest stages of formation. Therefore, sports show that variability may be largely attributed to the effect on the ovules, pollen, or both by treatment of the parent prior to conception. In any case, these examples demonstrate that variation is not necessarily connected with the act of generation, as some authors have suggested.

Seedlings from the same fruit and young from the same litter sometimes differ considerably from each other even though both parent and offspring have apparently been exposed to the same conditions, as Müller has remarked. This shows how unimportant direct environmental effects are in comparison to the laws governing reproduction, growth, and inheritance. If the influence of environment were direct, then variation would be the same among offspring. Judging the extent to which heat, moisture, light, food, and other factors have an impact on variation is difficult. My impression is that such agents produce very little direct effect on animals, but apparently more on plants. (Mr. Buckman's recent experiments on plants are valuable here.) When all or nearly all individuals exposed to certain conditions are identically affected, the resultant changes appear to flow directly from the conditions. But in some cases opposite conditions generate similar structural changes. Nevertheless, some slight amount of change may be attributed to direct environmental action, as in certain cases of increased size from greater food intake, altered coloration from particular kinds of food and light, and perhaps the thickness of fur from climate.

Habit also has a deciding influence, as with the flowering period of plants transported from one climate to another. The effect is greater in animals. For example, I find that the wing bones of a domestic duck weigh less and the leg bones weigh more in proportion to the whole skeleton than do those of a wild duck. I presume this results from the domestic duck flying much less and walking more than its wild parent. The large inherited udders of cows and goats in countries where they are habitually milked is another example of the effect of use. There is no domestic animal that in some region does not have drooping ears. As suggested by some authors, this probably results from the disuse of ear muscles, the animals being rarely alarmed.

Many rules regulate variation; some of them can be dimly seen and will be briefly mentioned. Here I will only allude to "correlated growth." For example, a change in the embryo or larva often entails changes in the mature animal. With monstrosities, correlations between distinct parts are very curious. Breeders maintain that long limbs are often accompanied by an elongated head. Some correlations are whimsical; for example, cats with blue eyes are invariably deaf. There are many remarkable cases among plants and animals of coloration and constitutional peculiarities going together. Observations collected by Heusinger suggest that white sheep and pigs are affected differently by poisonous vegetables than individuals with coloration. Hairless dogs have imperfect teeth; long-haired and coarse-haired animals tend to have long or many horns; pigeons with feathered feet have skin between their outer toes; pigeons with short beaks have small feet, and those with long beaks have large feet. If humans select and augment a peculiarity, they will probably unintentionally modify other parts as a consequence of the mysterious rules of correlated growth.

The dimly seen or unknown rules of variation yield infinitely complex and diverse results. Treatises on some established domesticated plants, such as the hyacinth, potato, and even the dahlia, reveal a surprising number of slight structural and constitutional differences between varieties and subvarieties. The whole organization seems to have become plastic, with a tendency to depart somewhat from the parental type.

Variations that cannot be inherited are unimportant to this argument. What nevertheless remains is an endless number of diverse heritable structural deviations of both slight and considerable physiological importance. (Dr. Prosper Lucas's two-volume work is the best treatment of this subject.) The strong propensity for inheritance is known by breeders, whose fundamental belief is that "like produces like." (Only theoretical writers have thrown doubt on this principle.) When a commonly occurring deviation is observed in both parent and offspring, it may result from the same cause acting on both. But when a very rare deviation due to some extraordinary combination of circumstances appears, say, once in several million individuals all apparently exposed to the same conditions, and it reappears in an offspring, the mere doctrine of chance almost compels us to attribute its reappearance to inheritance. Everyone has heard of albinism, prickly skin, hairy bodies, and other such peculiar characteristics reappearing in several members of the same family. If strange and rare deviations really are heritable, then surely commonplace deviations are also heritable. Perhaps the correct view is to take inheritance of every characteristic as the rule and non-inheritance as the anomaly.

The laws of inheritance are unknown. It is unknown why some given peculiarity of individuals within the same species, or of individuals among different species, is sometimes inherited and sometimes not, why a child reverts to characteristics found in a grandparent or more remote ancestor, or why some peculiarities are inherited in a gender-dependent manner. Peculiarities appearing in the males of domestic breeds are often transmitted exclusively, or more strongly, to male progeny. A more important rule is that the age at which a peculiarity first appears tends to be the same in the parent and in its offspring (although sometimes earlier in the offspring). In many cases this cannot be otherwise. For example, the inherited peculiarities of cattle horns can appear only as the offspring mature, and peculiarities in the silkworm are known to appear at the corresponding caterpillar or cocoon stage. Hereditary diseases and some other examples suggest that this rule is generally applicable: even when there is no apparent reason for a peculiarity to appear at a particular stage, it tends to appear in the offspring at the same period of development as in the parent. This is very important to illuminating the rules of embryology. These remarks are, of course, confined to the first appearance of a peculiarity and not to its primary cause, which may have acted on the egg or sperm. If the offspring of a short-horned cow and a long-horned bull develops long horns, then it's clearly due to the sperm.

Naturalists often argue that when domestic varieties run wild, their characteristics gradually but surely revert to those found in the original stocks, and that, consequently, deductions drawn from domestic varieties cannot be applied to species in nature. I have tried without success to find the decisive facts on which this statement is so often and so boldly made; it would be very difficult to prove, because many established domestic varieties could not possibly survive in the wild. In many cases we do not know what the original stock was and could not tell whether or not reversion had ensued. It would also be necessary to turn loose only one variety to avoid the effects of intercrossing. Nevertheless, varieties sometimes do partially revert to the parental form. For example, if various strains of cabbage were cultivated in very poor soil for many generations, they would probably revert wholly or largely to the wild stock. (However, some effect would have to be attributed to the direct action of the poor soil.) Whether or not the experiment would succeed is not particularly important to the argument, because the experiment necessarily alters the environment. If a strong tendency for reversion – that is, a loss of acquired characteristics under constant conditions in a large population so that free crossing, by blending, checks slight deviations of structure – were demonstrated in domesticated varieties, I would grant that nothing deduced from domestic varieties would apply to species. But there is not a shadow of evidence in favor of this view. To assert that we could not breed cart and racehorses, long- and short-haired cattle, and poultry of various breeds, and cultivate edible vegetables for an almost infinite number of generations is contrary to all experience. When the environment changes in nature, variations and reversions probably do occur, but natural selection, as will be explained, determines how far such new characteristics are preserved.

As already mentioned, there is less uniformity of character among individuals of a domestic variety than among individuals of a true species. Also, domestic varieties of the same species often have a monstrous character, by which I mean that although they differ in some minor respects from one another and members of the same genus, they often differ extremely in some one part. With these exceptions and that of the perfect fertility of crossed varieties (discussed later), domestic varieties of the same species differ from one another in a manner similar to the way closely related species of the same genus differ in the wild. There are very few domestic varieties of plant or animal that have not been classified by some competent judges as just varieties and by others as descendants of distinct parent species; if there were any significant distinction between domestic varieties and species, this source of doubt would be less common. Contrary to frequently made assertions, I think domestic varieties differ from one another in generic characteristics, which naturalists disagree in defining because all such valuations are currently empirical. Given the following examination of the origin of genera, there is no reason to often expect generic differences in domesticated organisms.

Attempts to estimate the amount of structural difference between domestic varieties of the same species are hampered by our ignorance of whether they have descended from one parent species or several; it would be interesting to clear up this problem. For example, if it were shown that the greyhound, bloodhound, terrier, spaniel, and bulldog, which propagate their kind truly, are derived from a single species, the supposed immutability of the many closely related natural species (such as the foxes) would be brought under considerable doubt. I do not believe that all dog breeds have descended from one wild species (see below), but there is tentative or even strong evidence that some other domestic varieties have.

Humans are often assumed to have chosen for domestication those plants and animals that possess an extraordinary inherent tendency to vary and to withstand diverse climates. Although such capacities have added significantly to the value of many domesticated productions, how could primitive humans have possibly known when first taming an animal that it would vary in succeeding generations and endure other climates? The limited variability of the ass and the guinea fowl, and the low tolerance for warmth by the reindeer and for cold by the common camel did not prevent their domestication. If plants and animals equal in number and belonging to equally diverse classes and regions to existing domesticated organisms were taken from the wild and bred for an equal number of generations under domestication, they would vary on average as much as the parent species of already domesticated organisms have varied.

I think it is impossible to ascertain with complete certainty whether established domesticated plants and animals have descended from one or multiple species. Those who believe in the multiple origin of domestic animals argue mainly that ancient records, especially on the monuments of Egypt, reveal a great diversity of breeds, some of which resemble or are identical to existing ones. Even if this were found to be more strictly and generally true than I believe is the case, it suggests only that some of our breeds originated there four or five thousand years ago. Based on Mr. Horner's research, civilization advanced enough to manufacture pottery probably existed in the Nile valley thirteen or fourteen thousand years ago; it is not known how long before these ancient periods peoples like those of Tierra del Fuego or Australia, who possess a semidomesticated dog, may have existed in Egypt.

I think the whole subject must remain vague. Nevertheless, without going into details – but based on geographic and other considerations – I think it is likely that domestic dogs have descended from several wild species. I cannot form an opinion with respect to goats and sheep. Information about the habits, voice, constitution, and other features of humped Indian cattle, communicated to me by Mr. Blyth, indicate that it descended from a different stock than European cattle, which, in turn, have more than one parent, according to several judges. And for reasons I cannot cover here, I am doubtfully inclined to believe, in opposition to several authors, that all the varieties of horse have descended from one wild stock. Mr. Blyth – whose opinion I value highly, drawn as it is from his large and varied stores of knowledge – thinks that all poultry breeds have proceeded from the common wild Indian fowl. Duck and rabbit breeds, which differ considerably from one another in structure, have all descended from the common wild duck and rabbit.


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Table of Contents

Foreword by Olivia Judson
A Note to the Reader
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1859) by Charles Darwin
Chapter 1: Variation under Domestication
Chapter 2: Variation in Nature
Chapter 3: The Struggle for Existence
Chapter 4: Natural Selection
Chapter 5: Variation
Chapter 6: Difficulties with the Theory
Chapter 7: Instinct
Chapter 8: Hybrids
Chapter 9: The Imperfection of the Geological Record
Chapter 10: The Succession of Organisms in the Geological Record
Chapter 11: The Geographical Distribution of Life
Chapter 12: Geographical Distribution of Life, Continued
Chapter 13: Affinities between Organisms; Morphology, Embryology, and Rudimentary Organs
Chapter 14: Summary and Conclusion
Recommended Further Reading

What People are Saying About This

Columbia University - Walter Bock

Students have great difficulty understanding Darwin's Origin—as do many trained biologists. . . . Daniel Duzdevich's modern rendition of the 1859 text is a most useful addition to the general understanding of this major revision in biology. He has presented a full account of Darwin's ideas in the original and in a form that makes them far more understandable to the reader who is not a specialist in evolutionary theory.

author of The Annotated Origin - James T. Costa

There is a long tradition of 'translating' or retelling works in the humanities—Charles Lamb's prose versions of Shakespeare's plays and the multiple renderings of the Bible into modern English come immediately to mind. This book may be a first for a scientific work, where an attempt is made to translate a text almost line-by-line and preserve each point in the original. Duzdevich has done a nice job indeed. Even for those who have read the Origin many times, this retelling has the ability to change one's focus, so to speak, and in so doing reinvigorate elements of the original text.

Curator Emeritus, The American Museum of Natural History and author of Darwin: Discovering the Tree - Niles Eldredge

The first thing I learned in college is that every generation needs its own translation of Homer’s epics. I was taken aback, but soon saw the wisdom of that aphorism. A few years later, I struggled with Darwin’s Victorian prose; the language barrier posed by the original Origin of Species added to my doubts that I could wrap my untutored mind around the great man’s thoughts. Duzdevich’s rendering of Darwin’s epic into modern English is as meaningful a contribution as Lattimore’s then-modern translation of the Iliad. May this ‘translation’ attract many more readers to Darwin’s founding statement of evolution!

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