Taxonomy was the foundation of Darwin's evolution

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Darwin's belief in branching evolution was based upon his familiarity with the taxonomy of his day. Facts from biogeography, embryology, and paleontology acquired deep significance because biologists had come to believe that natural classification expressed real relationships. Although Charles Darwin's presentation of his theory in the Origin of Species, as well as descriptions of Darwinism after the Modern Synthesis of the 1940s, imply that establishing the causal role of natural selection was essential to proving that evolution has occurred, this is contradicted by Darwin's personal experience and by his own words. It is helpful to compare the history and logical structure of Darwin's revolutionary theory to the Copernican Revolution, for the moving Earth was recognized long before Newton identified causes to explain its motion. Copernicus saw that fixing the Sun as the center of planetary motion explained the appearance of the heavens better than the Ptolemaic system did, and Darwin saw that branching evolution explains the "truly wonderful fact" that a hierarchy of nested groups appears natural.


Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto, 73 Queen's Park Crescent East, Toronto, Ontario M5S 1K7, Canada

Publication date: February 1, 2009

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