Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
David Christopher LaneDavid Christopher Lane, Ph.D. Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession (New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
If there's a singular topic Integral students need to be educated on it is evolutionary theory, given their frequent but uninformed use of the term "evolution". These short biographical chapters about evolutionary theorists have been written by different philosophy students of professor David Christopher Lane. (FV)

Glimpses into the Life and Work of Great Thinkers in Evolutionary Biology

Charles Darwin

Ariel Stubbs

Charles Robert Darwin was a famous naturalist, geologist, and zoologist. He was born in Shrewsbury, England, on February 12, 1809, and died in Downe, England on April 19, 1882. Darwin and his five siblings were children to Robert Darwin, a wealthy doctor, and Susannah Darwin. His grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, was a physician and scientist who had also contributed to evolutionary ideas. Both sides of the family were Unitarian, though his mother's side adopted Anglicanism. When Darwin was eight years old, his mother passed away. Later in life, Darwin married Emma Wedgwood, his first cousin on his mother's side, and together had ten children, only seven surviving past their youth.

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin

In his younger years of education, Darwin did not enjoy the traditional teachings of literature and foreign language, but he was fascinated by science and the natural world, which his schools did not teach. Darwin's college education began when his father sent him to University of Edinburgh to study medicine in 1825. During his time there, he learned taxidermy from John Edmonstone, joined a student natural-history group that debated Christian concepts of science, assisted Robert Edmond Grant in his research on marine invertebrates, presented his own discovery on how the spores in oysters were actually leech eggs (1827), learned the classification of plants, and helped work on collections at the University Museum. None of this had to do with medicine—Darwin hated the boring lectures and graphic demonstrations—so Darwin's father transferred him to Christ's College, Cambridge in 1828, where Darwin was supposed to be studying for a Bachelor of Arts degree to become an Anglican country parson. There, Darwin spent his time riding and shooting, collecting beetles and drinking, but he was still able to further pursue his interests in science, particularly botany and zoology. He followed botany professor Reverend John Stevens Henslow, who believed studying natural science was another part of religious work. In 1831, Darwin finally earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, placing tenth amongst the other students. He then went on a trip to Wales to study geology under the Reverend Adam Sedgwick, another professor at the school.

Officially a graduate, Darwin sought to enter the world, ready for newer sights. At the suggestion of Henslow and the inspiration from Alexander von Humboldt (he had published Personal Narrative of Travels, which Darwin read), Darwin embarked on the Beagle, a ship that would travel along the coasts of South America and many islands. Though hired as the captain's mate and fellow, he eventually became the ship's naturalist.

Along the voyage, Darwin gathered many specimens of plant and animal life which would later contribute to his theory of evolution by natural selection. In Darwin's theory of evolution, all currently existing species descended from a common ancestor. His theory covers five simple ideas: “life has existed for a long time, offspring are overproduced, traits are inherited from parents, in each species exists individuals, and nature selects those with traits more apt for survival.”

  1. Life has existed for a vast amount of time. During his five-year-long trip on the Beagle, Darwin read Principles of Geology by Charles Lyell, a book that describes how the Earth slowly changes over long periods of time. Similarly, life on Earth also must have existed long enough to become what it is presently. Organisms must have passed through generations upon generations of gradual change and divergence to reach its current stage of diversity. These existing generations were likely ensured through the overproduction of offspring.
  2. Organisms produce more offspring than could realistically survive. This is to increase the chances of survival, as having more offspring helps counter the likeliness of mortality, whether by predators, disease, or other causes. Even if only some survive, the species can still go on. This allows the characteristics of predecessors to carry on—parent to child.
  3. Parents pass down their traits to their offspring. While heredity was not understood in Darwin's time, it was still known that children resemble their parents. This is applicable to all creatures; two horses produce a foal that looks like either parent, as would two humans produce a baby that carries either of their traits. Despite the inheritance of traits, this leads to variation within a species.
  4. Each individual within a species has their own trait variations. These variations could be barely noticeable or extremely apparent, but the differences separate one individual creature from another within the same species. No two creatures are exactly alike—similar, perhaps, but still different. These differences are what may prove to be beneficial to an individual in survival.

Each of these previous concepts serve for a deeper understanding for the final one:

  1. Nature selects those with traits more apt for survival. This is otherwise known as natural selection. In a world with limited resources, there are only so many that can survive. If an individual has a trait that gives it a slight advantage in survival, then that individual has a better chance of living long enough to reproduce. Individuals with less favorable traits for survival will have fewer opportunities to reproduce, less able to compete with those more fit to survive. By this process, characteristics better suited for a species' environment are passed down generation by generation, adapting a species to their surroundings.

The process of evolution by natural selection requires an extremely long-time frame to have reached the current stage of diversity, hence the concept that life has existed for many, many generations. The large amounts of offspring produced by an organism allows for a higher survival rate, and offspring that happen to be more fit to survive have even better chances. The offspring that live are able to carry on the traits that helped them survive, traits that were inherited from their parents. They are able to reproduce with other individuals in their species, who have their own variations that helped them to survive as well. Characteristics not as suitable to a species' environment eventually fall behind, leading to a generation of species without those characteristics—a generation more apt for survival. Applying how species branch out to other areas over time and would have also had to adapt to those different environments explains the diverse populations that are present today.

By introducing the idea that populations evolve through natural selection, Darwin revolutionized evolutionary thinking. His proposition of natural selection provided an explanation on how evolution happens, an explanation that has withstood many tests and challenges over the years. Despite the controversy that surrounds it, the theory still stands strong.

For further reading, consider The Voyage of the Beagle (published in 1839) by Charles Darwin. This book details the journey Charles Darwin embarked on around South America and the southern seas. Here, Darwin documents his five-year trip, writing about the different places he visited and the various species he encountered. The journal serves as a good way of understanding Charles Darwin's mind, as well as gives background to his other book, On the Origin of Species (published in 1859), as Darwin's trip on the Beagle was what led to his theory of evolution.

On the Origin of Species, which is one of the few great scientific books that can be read by both the specialist and non-specialist, is the book where Darwin introduced the idea of evolution through natural selection. It is also considered to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. In it, Darwin goes into depth about natural selection and its effects on how populations evolve, providing evidence from his time on the Beagle alongside other research. Another book by Darwin is The Descent of Man (published in 1871), where he describes how evolutionary theory applies to human evolution. He discusses the differences between human races, as well as the differences between the sexes. Darwin also details his theory of sexual selection and how females play a more dominant role in mate choice.

Further Reading

1. On the Origin of Species, John Murray, 24 November 1859.

2. The Descent of Man, John Murray, 24 February 1871.

3. The Voyage of the Beagle [Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle], 1839.

Reproduction of frontispiece by Robert Taylor Pritchett from the first Murray ill. ed., 1890: HMS Beagle in the Straits of Magellan at Monte Sarmiento in Chile.

MSAC Philosophy Group

The Evolutionary Scientists

The theory of evolution has a long history. However, it was not until Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace discovered that the wide variety of species we presently see were largely the result of natural selection did evolutionary studies have a solid, scientific basis. In the past one hundred and sixty years, a number of eminent biologists have contributed to our understanding of how complex life forms emerged from simpler, more rudimentary ones.
This small book provides a glimpse into the life and work of twenty-two outstanding evolutionary thinkers, ranging (in alphabetical order) from Jerry Coyne to Edward O. Wilson. This is by no means an exhaustive list since it is designed to show the wide diversity of scientists interested in evolutionary studies.
Each entry, written by a different author, describes the life and work of the evolutionist and why he is significant and what contributions he has made to the field. (MSAC Philosophy Group)

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