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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Charles Darwin Quotes > Natural Selection

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Charles Darwin
(12 Feb 1809 - 19 Apr 1882)

English naturalist who presented facts to support his theory of the mode of evolution whereby favourable variations would survive which he called 'Natural Selection' or 'Survival of the Fittest.'



All that we can do, is to keep steadily in mind that each organic being is striving to increase at a geometrical ratio; that each at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life, and to suffer great destruction. When we reflect on this struggle, we may console ourselves with the full belief, that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply.
— Charles Darwin
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 76.
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As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever branching and beautiful ramifications.
— Charles Darwin
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 119.
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As natural selection works solely by and for the good of each being, all corporeal and mental endowments will tend to progress towards perfection.
— Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1866), 577.
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But as my conclusions have lately been much misrepresented, and it has been stated that I attribute the modification of species exclusively to natural selection, I may be permitted to remark that in the first edition of this work, and subsequently, I placed in a most conspicuous position—namely, at the close of the Introduction—the following words: “I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.” This has been of no avail. Great is the power of steady misrepresentation; but the history of science shows that fortunately this power does not long endure.
— Charles Darwin
In The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection with additions and corrections from sixth and last English edition (1899), Vol. 2, 293.
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I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer's excellent expression of 'the survival of the fittest.' This, however, had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; and that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words, natural selection.
— Charles Darwin
Letter to A. R. Wallace July 1866. In Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1887), Vol. 3, 45-6.
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I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.
— Charles Darwin
from Origin of Species (1859, 1888), 49.
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It is interesting to contemplate an entangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent on each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. These laws, taken in the largest sense, being Growth with Reproduction; Inheritance which is almost implied by reproduction; Variability from the indirect and direct action of the external conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a Ratio of Increase so high as to lead to a Struggle for Life, and as a consequence to Natural Selection, entailing Divergence of Character and the Extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.
— Charles Darwin
Concluding remarks in final chapter, The Origin of Species (1859), 490. In the second edition, Darwin changed “breathed” to “breathed by the Creator”.
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It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest variations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life. We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the lapse of ages...
— Charles Darwin
The Origin of Species (1870), 80.
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On the theory of natural selection we can clearly understand the full meaning of that old canon in natural history, “Natura non facit saltum.” This canon, if we look only to the present inhabitants of the world, is not strictly correct, but if we include all those of past times, it must by my theory be strictly true.
— Charles Darwin
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 183.
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The more efficient causes of progress seem to consist of a good education during youth whilst the brain is impressible, and of a high standard of excellence, inculcated by the ablest and best men, embodied in the laws, customs and traditions of the nation, and enforced by public opinion. It should, however, be borne in mind, that the enforcement of public opinion depends on our appreciation of the approbation and disapprobation of others; and this appreciation is founded on our sympathy, which it can hardly be doubted was originally developed through natural selection as one of the most important elements of the social instincts.
— Charles Darwin
…...
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The Struggle for Existence amongst all organic beings throughout the world, which inevitably follows from their high geometrical powers of increase ... This is the doctrine of Malthus, applied to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms. As many more individuals of each species are born than can possibly survive; and as, consequently, there is a frequently recurring struggle for existence, it follows that any being, if it vary however slightly in any manner profitable to itself, under the complex and sometimes varying conditions of life, will have a better chance of surviving, and thus be naturally selected. From the strong principle of inheritance, any selected variety will tend to propagate its new and modified form.
— Charles Darwin
From On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection; or, The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (1861), 12.
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This preservation of favourable variations and the destruction of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection and would be left a fluctuating element.
— Charles Darwin
From Origin of Species (fifth edition, 1869), 81. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not added until the fifth edition (1869), and is absent from earlier editions. Also in the fifth edition, the word “destruction” replaced “rejection” used in the earlier editions (1859, 1860, 1861, 1866) to the fourth edition.
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Charles Darwin quote This…I call Natural Selection, or Survival of the Fittest
A grasshopper camouflaged in the grass. (source)
This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection and would be left a fluctuating element.
— Charles Darwin
From Origin of Species (first edition, 1859), 81. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not added until the fifth edition (1869), when also “rejection” was replaced with “destruction.”
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To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree. When it was first said that the sun stood still and the world turned round, the common sense of mankind declared the doctrine false; but the old saying of Vox populi, vox Dei, as every philosopher knows, cannot be trusted in science. Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a perfect and complex eye to one very imperfect and simple, each grade being useful to its possessor, can be shown to exist; if further, the eye does vary ever so slightly, and the variations be inherited, which is certainly the case; and if any variation or modification in the organ be ever useful to an animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, though insuperable by our imagination, can hardly be considered real.
— Charles Darwin
On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859, 1882), 143-144.
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With highly civilised nations continued progress depends in a subordinate degree on natural selection; for such nations do not supplant and exterminate one another as do savage tribes. Nevertheless the more intelligent members within the same community will succeed better in the long run than the inferior, and leave a more numerous progeny, and this is a form of natural selection.
— Charles Darwin
…...
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See also:
  • 12 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Darwin's birth.
  • Charles Darwin - Earthquake observation on 20 Feb 1835, during the voyage of the Beagle.
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Improving…a young naturalist” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Improving…a young naturalist” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Great is the power of steady misrepresentation” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Great is the power of steady misrepresentation” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “This…I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “This…I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Letter to Asa Gray - from Charles Darwin (5 Sep 1857).
  • From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books, by Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Charles Darwin.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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James Hutton
Alexander Fleming
Emile Durkheim
Benjamin Franklin
Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Hooke
Charles Kettering
- 20 -
Carl Sagan
James Maxwell
Marie Curie
Rene Descartes
Francis Crick
Hippocrates
Michael Faraday
Srinivasa Ramanujan
Francis Bacon
Galileo Galilei
- 10 -
Aristotle
John Watson
Rosalind Franklin
Michio Kaku
Isaac Asimov
Charles Darwin
Sigmund Freud
Albert Einstein
Florence Nightingale
Isaac Newton



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