DarwinOnExtinction

In Chapter X ("On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings") in The Origin of Species Charles Darwin muses on the common difficulty people have in understanding and accepting the extinction of a species:

It is most difficult always to remember that the increase of every living being is constantly being checked by unperceived injurious agencies; and that these same unperceived agencies are amply sufficient to cause rarity, and finally extinction. We see in many cases in the more recent tertiary formations, that rarity precedes extinction; and we know that this has been the progress of events with those animals which have been exterminated, either locally or wholly, through man's agency. I may repeat what I published in 1845, namely, that to admit that species generally become rare before they become extinct — to feel no surprise at the rarity of a species, and yet to marvel greatly when it ceases to exist, is much the same as to admit that sickness in the individual is the forerunner of death — to feel no surprise at sickness, but when the sick man dies, to wonder and to suspect that he died by some unknown deed of violence.

... and a few pages later:

Thus, as it seems to me, the manner in which single species and whole groups of species become extinct, accords well with the theory of natural selection. We need not marvel at extinction; if we must marvel, let it be at our presumption in imagining for a moment that we understand the many complex contingencies, on which the existence of each species depends. If we forget for an instant, that each species tends to increase inordinately, and that some check is always in action, yet seldom perceived by us, the whole economy of nature will be utterly obscured. Whenever we can precisely say why this species is more abundant in individuals than that; why this species and not another can be naturalised in a given country; then, and not till then, we may justly feel surprise why we cannot account for the extinction of this particular species or group of species.


TopicScience - TopicLiterature - Datetag20061114


(correlates: DangerousSelves, DarwinOnTheStruggleForExistence, CoverUp, ...)