I can recall learning about Charles Darwin, Natural Selection, and Evolution as far as back as probably the 7th grade. That was around ten years ago. Since then I have had many science classes that have discussed the subject, even some non-science classes. In the past when I have heard “Natural Selection” I have always thought it to mean survival of the fittest. This is because I have been taught that it means survival of the fittest. The idea can be expounded upon and discussed more in depth, but that is the cop out answer. I assumed that idea to be a summary or catch phrase that Charles Darwin had come up with.
This all changed this past week in my Animal Behavior class at the University of Oklahoma taught by Dr. Ingo Schlupp. While discussing the idea of “Natural Selection,” Professor Schlupp mentioned that the idea of “Survival of the fittest” commonly associated with Darwin was not something he actually even said. This was fairly surprising to me, and I was shocked that I believed this to be truth for so many years. I began to really question my entire understanding of Charles Darwin and “Natural Selection.”
From here I began to think of the Darwin Correspondence Project website (http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk) we have been working with in History of Science. I had the opportunity to discover the answer to my problems for myself. So, I began to dig around on the website. It took no time at all for me to discover that Dr. Schlupp was correct and that Charles Darwin had actually not been the person to coin the term “Survival of the fittest”. “Survival of the fittest” can actually be accredited to a man named Herbert Spencer. This is seen in the summary of a letter from Charles Darwin to Robert Tait a Scottish gynecological surgeon. Here is a link to a summary of the letter: (http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/?docId=letters/DCP-LETT-10406.xml;query=survival%20of%20the%20fittest;brand=default).
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher. He also studied Biology, Anthropology, and Sociology. He is accredited on several sites as being the man who coined the term “Survival of the Fittest”. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Herbert-Spencer
This was honestly a great lesson for me in discovering truth for myself. I feel like many times my generation just takes what we are told and does nothing with it. We need to investigate more, especially when we have so much knowledge at our fingertips with the internet. It has never been easier to access knowledge so there is no excuse!
Additionally, I really enjoyed the time I spent exploring the Darwin Correspondence Project website. I am in shock that there is so much of Darwin’s communication with other brilliant scientists on record. I particularly liked searching the database for the word “Species”. The pursuit for knowledge was so extravagant during the time period in which the letters were written. There were so many things being investigated and discovered. Scientists wanted to examine and describe every little detail. For example, reproduction was another word I searched, and Darwin had a lot of questions with the different methods of reproduction.
All in all this website revealed a generation pursuing knowledge. My experience with me accrediting “Survival of the fittest” to Charles Darwin throughout my entire life and recently finding out I was wrong coincided with this subject regarding the pursuit of knowledge. I fear our generation may become complacent, but there is so much more to be learned!
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