Darwiniana; Essays and Reviews Pertaining to Darwinism Informative Summary


This collection of essays explores the implications of Darwin’s theory of evolution, primarily focusing on its compatibility with natural theology. Asa Gray, a prominent botanist, argues that while Darwin’s theory of natural selection might be a powerful tool for explaining the diversification of species, it does not necessarily contradict the existence of a divine creator.

The essays examine various aspects of Darwin’s theory, including the struggle for existence, variation under domestication and nature, the gradual divergence of species, and the geological evidence supporting evolution. Gray also discusses the philosophical and theological objections to evolution, arguing that they do not undermine the arguments for design in nature. He emphasizes that the concept of natural selection does not exclude the notion of divine purpose in creation, but rather illuminates the way in which God may have chosen to work through the natural processes of variation and adaptation.

Key Findings:

  • Darwin’s theory of natural selection offers a plausible explanation for the diversification of species through the struggle for existence and the survival of the fittest.
  • While Darwin’s theory is compatible with atheism, Gray argues that it can be reconciled with a theistic view of the universe.
  • The evidence for design in nature, as seen in the intricate adaptations of organisms, is not invalidated by the concept of evolution.
  • The concept of natural selection is a powerful tool for explaining the order and adaptation observed in the natural world.


  • Natural Selection: This principle describes how organisms with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on those traits to their offspring. Over time, this process can lead to the gradual evolution of new species.
  • Variation: Organisms within a species are not identical. Variation is a crucial element of natural selection, providing the raw material for adaptation.
  • The Struggle for Existence: Resources are limited, and organisms constantly compete for food, space, and mates. This struggle drives natural selection, favoring those with traits that help them survive and reproduce.
  • Geological Evidence for Evolution: The fossil record provides evidence of the gradual change of species over time, supporting the theory of evolution.
  • Adaptation: Organisms evolve traits that allow them to better fit their environment and survive. These adaptations can be physical, behavioral, or physiological.
  • Theistic Evolution: Darwin’s theory of evolution does not necessarily contradict the existence of a divine creator. Gray argues that God may have used the process of evolution to bring about the diversity of life we see today.

Historical Context:

These essays were written in 1876, a time of significant debate regarding Darwin’s theory of evolution. The concept of natural selection was a radical departure from traditional beliefs about the fixity of species and the role of a divine creator. Gray’s work aimed to bridge the gap between scientific understanding and religious faith, showing that evolution could be reconciled with a theistic view of the universe.


  1. Domesticated plants and animals vary more widely than their wild counterparts. This is due to selective breeding practices by humans.
  2. Natural selection favors those individuals with advantageous traits. This can include physical features, behaviors, or physiological adaptations.
  3. The struggle for existence is a fundamental principle in nature. Organisms compete for limited resources like food, space, and mates.
  4. The fossil record provides evidence of the gradual change of species over time. This supports the theory of evolution.
  5. Rudimentary organs are evidence of evolutionary history. These are organs that are reduced or non-functional in some organisms but are present in their ancestors.
  6. Species of the same genus are not equally different from each other. This suggests a common origin and gradual divergence.
  7. The geographical distribution of species often reflects their evolutionary history. Species with common ancestors tend to be found in geographically proximate areas.
  8. Species can become extinct due to natural selection or environmental changes. This is a natural process that contributes to the diversification of life.
  9. The ancient Egyptians preserved cats, birds, and other animals that resemble modern species. This is used by some as evidence for the immutability of species, but Darwin argues that species can persist for long periods with minimal change.
  10. The geological record is incomplete and fragmented. This makes it difficult to find all the intermediate forms that evolution theory predicts.
  11. Instinct and structure can vary together in organisms. This suggests a coordinated evolution of both physical and behavioral traits.
  12. Acquired characteristics are not heritable. This is a fundamental principle of genetics and contradicts Lamarck’s theory of inheritance.
  13. The higher brute animals exhibit both instinct and intelligence. This refutes the idea that they are solely driven by instinct.
  14. The discovery of prehistoric flint tools in association with extinct animals provides evidence of human existence in earlier geological periods. This challenges the traditional view of a young Earth and a recent origin of humanity.
  15. The existence of “prophetic types” in the fossil record, where traits of a later species appear in an earlier one, supports the concept of gradual evolution. This suggests a gradual development of traits over time, rather than sudden, independent creations.
  16. The geographic distribution of certain plant and animal groups suggests a former connection between regions that are now separated. This supports the idea of species migrating and adapting to new environments.
  17. The vegetation of California is strikingly different from that of the Atlantic United States. This suggests a significant influence of climate and geographical isolation on the evolution of distinct flora.
  18. The similarity between the vegetation of Atlantic North America and Eastern Asia suggests a common origin and migration from the arctic region in earlier geological periods. This provides further support for the theory of evolution and the impact of climate change on species distribution.
  19. The discovery of fossil Sequoia and Taxodium in Arctic regions supports the idea of ancient forests flourishing in now desolate areas. This highlights the dramatic changes in climate and vegetation over geological time.
  20. The presence of fossils of magnolia, tulip tree, and sassafras in Arctic regions suggests that these trees once inhabited a much broader range. This further emphasizes the vast changes in species distribution and climate over geological time.


  1. The number of oak species known in the world is estimated to be around 300. De Candolle suggests that two-thirds of these may be “provisional species,” meaning their status is uncertain due to limited knowledge.
  2. The common oak (Quercus Robur) has 28 known varieties, all of which are spontaneous. This highlights the variability of species within a genus.
  3. The redwood forests of California cover a narrow belt about 300 miles in length. The “big tree” (Sequoia gigantea) is much more limited in distribution and numbers.
  4. The redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) is estimated to be a million times more numerous than the “big tree.” This difference in abundance is a reflection of the relative success of the two species under current conditions.
  5. The fossil record indicates that Sequoia and Taxodium, now restricted to North America, were widespread in the Arctic region and Europe during the Tertiary period. This highlights the vast changes in geographical distribution of species over time.
  6. The Gingko tree (Salisburia), now native to Japan, was once found throughout the Arctic region and even in the Rocky Mountain district. This demonstrates the significant changes in species distribution and survival over geological time.
  7. The fossil record suggests that the essential types of the present flora in North America were already present in the Cretaceous period. This highlights the long-term persistence of evolutionary lineages.


  1. Species: A group of organisms that are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.
  2. Variety: A distinct form within a species that differs in some recognizable characteristics.
  3. Race: A variety that is maintained through breeding and can be distinguished by certain traits.
  4. Natural Selection: The process by which organisms with advantageous traits are more likely to survive and reproduce, passing on those traits to their offspring.
  5. Adaptation: The process by which organisms evolve traits that allow them to better fit their environment and survive.
  6. Extinction: The complete disappearance of a species.
  7. Rudimentary Organ: A reduced or non-functional organ that is present in an organism but is a remnant of a more functional organ in its ancestors.
  8. Phyllotaxis: The arrangement of leaves on a stem.
  9. Type: A group of organisms that share a common plan of structure or organization.
  10. Genus: A group of closely related species.


  1. The domestic pigeon: Darwin uses the various breeds of domestic pigeons to illustrate the vast amount of variation that can occur within a species through selective breeding.
  2. The English carrier pigeon: This breed has been selectively bred for its large beak and long neck, traits that would not be advantageous in the wild.
  3. The Hanoverian and Old English rat: These two species of rats compete for the same resources, and the Hanoverian rat has outcompeted the Old English rat in many areas.
  4. The aurochs: This wild ancestor of domestic cattle is now extinct in the wild, but has survived under human care.
  5. The Scotch fir and cattle: Cattle grazing in certain areas can impact the survival and distribution of Scotch fir trees.
  6. The Galapagos finches: Darwin observed distinct species of finches on the Galapagos Islands, each adapted to a different food source. This example illustrates the role of natural selection in the diversification of species.
  7. The peppered moth: This example shows how a change in the environment, in this case, pollution, can lead to the selection of a different form within a species.
  8. The development of the eye: Darwin uses the eye as an example of a complex organ that could have evolved through gradual steps, each providing a slight advantage.
  9. The human races: Darwin argues that the different races of humans are simply varieties of a single species, which have diverged under different environmental conditions.
  10. The European oak (Quercus Robur): De Candolle uses the oak to illustrate the difficulty in defining species boundaries, as many forms exist that are intermediate between recognized species.


Asa Gray’s essays present a compelling argument for the compatibility of Darwin’s theory of evolution with a theistic view of the universe. Gray demonstrates that natural selection, while a powerful force driving the diversification of life, does not invalidate the arguments for design in nature. His work emphasizes that the natural world, with all its intricate adaptations and interconnectedness, is a testament to the wisdom and purpose of a divine creator, even if that purpose is revealed through the processes of evolution. Gray’s insights continue to be relevant today, offering a balanced and thoughtful perspective on the complex relationship between science and religion.

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