Darwin, Ahead of His Time, Is Still Influential





Darwin’s theory of evolution has become the bedrock of modern biology. But for most of the theory’s existence since 1859, even biologists have ignored or vigorously opposed it, in whole or in part.

It is a testament to Darwin’s extraordinary insight that it took almost a century for biologists to understand the essential correctness of his views.

Biologists quickly accepted the idea of evolution, but for decades they rejected natural selection, the mechanism Darwin proposed for the evolutionary process. Until the mid-20th century they largely ignored sexual selection, a special aspect of natural selection that Darwin proposed to account for male ornaments like the peacock’s tail.

And biologists are still arguing about group-level selection, the idea that natural selection can operate at the level of groups as well as on individuals. Darwin proposed group selection — or something like it; scholars differ as to what he meant — to account for castes in ant societies and morality in people.


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