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ETpro's avatar

Why didn't Charles Darwin use the word "evolution" in his original publication of On the Origin of Species?

Asked by ETpro (34145 points ) December 16th, 2013

Evolution did not appear anywhere on the pages of Darwin’s seminal work on how the variation in life came to be. Instead he used the term, descent with modification. Even the word “evolve’ occurs only once, as the closing word of the closing sentence, “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

The word, evolution, was certainly know to Darwin; so why do you think he was careful to avoid its use.

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5 Answers

thorninmud's avatar

According to this, Darwin “preferred ‘descent with modification’, in part because evolution already had been used in the 18c. homunculus theory of embryological development (first proposed under this name by Bonnet, 1762) and in part because it carried a sense of ‘progress’ not found in Darwin’s idea.”

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Perhaps Darwin was a Classic Darwinist, rather than a Neo Darwinist.

gondwanalon's avatar

Great question!
Did he leave out “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny” also? HA!

DWW25921's avatar

I think it’s as simple as the language itself. Over time words and meanings change. Such is true of any language. Perhaps the term “evolution” wasn’t as popular back then and he wanted his audience to understand him better by choosing more popular words? Does anyone speak on “Old English” anymore? Maybe it’s not that simple. That’s all I got and the first thing I thought of when I read your question.

ETpro's avatar

@thorninmud Spot on. His biggest problem was with the false idea of preordained progress to an ultimate goal of the Universe developing Humans.

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I am pretty sure Darwin was the quintessential Classic Darwinist

@gondwanalon Yes, and very deliberately so.

@DWW25921 Good guess, but it was quite the opposite. Back then the word was commonly used but it carried a connotation of purposeful unfolding that Darwin wished to avoid.

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