‘The keystone of our story is evolution by natural selection. In the 1830s, a young Charles Darwin travelled around the world on the HMS Beagle – inarguably, by the way, the most important beagle of all time; I apologise Snoopy but it’s true. Darwin had the rare and amazing opportunity to study a great variety of the world’s wildlife, and upon returning to England he discovered that a variety of Finches he had collected on the Galapagos Islands had beaks that were suddenly adapted to their different environments and food sources.
Darwin later combined this idea with the observation of how populations tend to overbreed and strain their resources; I mean, if there is competition for resources in an environment, animals with useful traits would survive and pass those traits on to their offspring; those who didn’t survive long enough to reproduce would have their traits wiped out from the evolutionary tree: natural selection.
We talk about someone who does “good science” and Darwin was a good scientist; he worked on his idea for two decades, systematically finding new evidence to support his case; and then, finally in 1859 he published On The Origin Of Species and it sent shockwaves around the world. The book offered an explanation for why so many species that seemed perfectly adapted to their environment could have been formed by a blind but elegant law of nature. Darwin’s theory was so elegant yet so effective that his colleague Thomas Huxley exclaimed “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!”
Sidenote: if you ever read On The Origin Of Species, try to get a first edition because in later editions, Darwin made a bunch of revisions in answer to some critics but he got it actually more right the first time.
Speaking of which, a bunch of the phrases only included in the later editions and commonly attributed to Darwin was “Survival of the fittest”, but that phrase was actually coined by Herbert Spencer, father of the more troubling Social Darwinism which tried to apply nature’s rather harsh laws to human social orders.’