Essay by PaperNerd ContributorCollege, Undergraduate September 2001

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Darwin and Wallace were not the first to come up with the idea of evolution. Rather, they were the first to develop an effective mechanism for its operation, namely the principle of natural selection. This well documented theory, along with the later discovery of Mendel's earlier work in genetics, gave the theory of evolution great confidence in both the scientific and later lay communities. The theory of natural selection essentially eliminated the idea that human and natural development were directly (or theistically) shaped by god. It applied laws that had been in the past restricted to the physical world to the biological. Not only did this directly contradict the creation story in the bible, but also it damaged the dominant religious idea of the time of the natural or the universe at large as a fixed system. The idea that physical and organic nature might be constantly changing allowed people in the late nineteenth century to believe the society, values, customs, and beliefs should also change.

Darwin's theory of natural selection is, in its roots, surprisingly simple and logical. It starts with the idea that in a given group of organisms there will be both beneficial and harmful mutations over time. This less developed part of the theory was later reinforced with the knowledge of genetics from Mendel and further work by more modern scientists. Darwin proposed that in any given group the organisms who are best "˜adapted' to fit their environment have a greater chance to survive and multiply their genes. Therefor, as environments change and force change, of as abundant and significant mutations arise on their own over time, species will change. Darwin observed this phenomena first hand when he visited the islands of Galapagos in South America. There he observed a variety of finches, both on...