Wednesday, April 16, 2008


by Charles Darwin


When on board H.M.S. 'Beagle,' as naturalist, I was much struck with
certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America,
and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants
of that continent. These facts seemed to me to throw some light on the
origin of species--that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by
one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to
me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question
by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which
could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years' work I
allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short
notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions,
which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day
I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused
for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I
have not been hasty in coming to a decision.

My work is now nearly finished; but as it will take me two or three
more years to complete it, and as my health is far from strong, I have
been urged to publish this Abstract. I have more especially been
induced to do this, as Mr. Wallace, who is now studying the natural
history of the Malay archipelago, has arrived at almost exactly the
same general conclusions that I have on the origin of species. Last
year he sent to me a memoir on this subject, with a request that I
would forward it to Sir Charles Lyell, who sent it to the Linnean
Society, and it is published in the third volume of the Journal of
that Society. Sir C. Lyell and Dr. Hooker, who both knew of my
work--the latter having read my sketch of 1844--honoured me by
thinking it advisable to publish, with Mr. Wallace's excellent memoir,
some brief extracts from my manuscripts.

This Abstract, which I now publish, must necessarily be imperfect. I
cannot here give references and authorities for my several statements;
and I must trust to the reader reposing some confidence in my
accuracy. No doubt errors will have crept in, though I hope I have
always been cautious in trusting to good authorities alone. I can here
give only the general conclusions at which I have arrived, with a few
facts in illustration, but which, I hope, in most cases will suffice.
No one can feel more sensible than I do of the necessity of hereafter
publishing in detail all the facts, with references, on which my
conclusions have been grounded; and I hope in a future work to do
this. For I am well aware that scarcely a single point is discussed in
this volume on which facts cannot be adduced, often apparently leading
to conclusions directly opposite to those at which I have arrived. A
fair result can be obtained only by fully stating and balancing the
facts and arguments on both sides of each question; and this cannot
possibly be here done.

I much regret that want of space prevents my having the satisfaction
of acknowledging the generous assistance which I have received from
very many naturalists, some of them personally unknown to me. I
cannot, however, let this opportunity pass without expressing my deep
obligations to Dr. Hooker, who for the last fifteen years has aided me
in every possible way by his large stores of knowledge and his
excellent judgment.

In considering the Origin of Species, it is quite conceivable that a
naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, on
their embryological relations, their geographical distribution,
geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the
conclusion that each species had not been independently created, but
had descended, like varieties, from other species. Nevertheless, such
a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it
could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have
been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and
coadaptation which most justly excites our admiration. Naturalists
continually refer to external conditions, such as climate, food, etc.,
as the only possible cause of variation. In one very limited sense, as
we shall hereafter see, this may be true; but it is preposterous to
attribute to mere external conditions, the structure, for instance, of
the woodpecker, with its feet, tail, beak, and tongue, so admirably
adapted to catch insects under the bark of trees. In the case of the
misseltoe, which draws its nourishment from certain trees, which has
seeds that must be transported by certain birds, and which has flowers
with separate sexes absolutely requiring the agency of certain insects
to bring pollen from one flower to the other, it is equally
preposterous to account for the structure of this parasite, with its
relations to several distinct organic beings, by the effects of
external conditions, or of habit, or of the volition of the plant

The author of the 'Vestiges of Creation' would, I presume, say that,
after a certain unknown number of generations, some bird had given
birth to a woodpecker, and some plant to the misseltoe, and that these
had been produced perfect as we now see them; but this assumption
seems to me to be no explanation, for it leaves the case of the
coadaptations of organic beings to each other and to their physical
conditions of life, untouched and unexplained.

It is, therefore, of the highest importance to gain a clear insight
into the means of modification and coadaptation. At the commencement
of my observations it seemed to me probable that a careful study of
domesticated animals and of cultivated plants would offer the best
chance of making out this obscure problem. Nor have I been
disappointed; in this and in all other perplexing cases I have
invariably found that our knowledge, imperfect though it be, of
variation under domestication, afforded the best and safest clue. I
may venture to express my conviction of the high value of such
studies, although they have been very commonly neglected by

From these considerations, I shall devote the first chapter of this
Abstract to Variation under Domestication. We shall thus see that a
large amount of hereditary modification is at least possible, and,
what is equally or more important, we shall see how great is the power
of man in accumulating by his Selection successive slight variations.
I will then pass on to the variability of species in a state of
nature; but I shall, unfortunately, be compelled to treat this subject
far too briefly, as it can be treated properly only by giving long
catalogues of facts. We shall, however, be enabled to discuss what
circumstances are most favourable to variation. In the next chapter
the Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the
world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of
increase, will be treated of. This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied
to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals
of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as,
consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence,
it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner
profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying
conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus
be NATURALLY SELECTED. From the strong principle of inheritance, any
selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.

This fundamental subject of Natural Selection will be treated at some
length in the fourth chapter; and we shall then see how Natural
Selection almost inevitably causes much Extinction of the less
improved forms of life and induces what I have called Divergence of
Character. In the next chapter I shall discuss the complex and little
known laws of variation and of correlation of growth. In the four
succeeding chapters, the most apparent and gravest difficulties on the
theory will be given: namely, first, the difficulties of transitions,
or in understanding how a simple being or a simple organ can be
changed and perfected into a highly developed being or elaborately
constructed organ; secondly the subject of Instinct, or the mental
powers of animals, thirdly, Hybridism, or the infertility of species
and the fertility of varieties when intercrossed; and fourthly, the
imperfection of the Geological Record. In the next chapter I shall
consider the geological succession of organic beings throughout time;
in the eleventh and twelfth, their geographical distribution
throughout space; in the thirteenth, their classification or mutual
affinities, both when mature and in an embryonic condition. In the
last chapter I shall give a brief recapitulation of the whole work,
and a few concluding remarks.

No one ought to feel surprise at much remaining as yet unexplained in
regard to the origin of species and varieties, if he makes due
allowance for our profound ignorance in regard to the mutual relations
of all the beings which live around us. Who can explain why one
species ranges widely and is very numerous, and why another allied
species has a narrow range and is rare? Yet these relations are of the
highest importance, for they determine the present welfare, and, as I
believe, the future success and modification of every inhabitant of
this world. Still less do we know of the mutual relations of the
innumerable inhabitants of the world during the many past geological
epochs in its history. Although much remains obscure, and will long
remain obscure, I can entertain no doubt, after the most deliberate
study and dispassionate judgment of which I am capable, that the view
which most naturalists entertain, and which I formerly
entertained--namely, that each species has been independently
created--is erroneous. I am fully convinced that species are not
immutable; but that those belonging to what are called the same genera
are lineal descendants of some other and generally extinct species, in
the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are
the descendants of that species. Furthermore, I am convinced that
Natural Selection has been the main but not exclusive means of


  1. I refuse to believe that humans evolved from Q-berts... where are the Q-bert bones? Absolute heresy.

  2. darwin? outdated crap.....check the Galactic federation of light...or better yet...YOURSELF...about our true origin....(ask the annunaki)

  3. Grant...what an utterly useless comment....