Arts1301 - Evidence and Methodology in Darwin's Origin of the Species

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Critically assess the roles of evidence and methodology in Darwin’s argument for natural selection in Chapter 4 of the Origin of Species.
Darwin’s argument for natural selection in Chapter Four of ‘The Origin of Species’ is well-founded and convincing, due to the interweaving of both evidence and the methodology, which is of particular importance since this is the constituent upon which he represents his research data (evidence) and forms the basis of his argument. His theory is distinct from the others in the period, although similar ideas such as transmutation and extinction of species had been circulating while he fashioned his theory (and he does modify and incorporates some of these theories), Darwin’s uniqueness is likely a result of his ‘deviating’, attractive style of writing which provides a detailed, wide-ranging ‘complete package’ explanation of his theory founded upon common undisputable facts, whereas many previously proposed theories lacked evidence and less prominent arguments or methods of communication, therefore subject to criticism and sparking debate with the public and religious conservatives.

In regards to the methodology Darwin uses, the hypotheses and concepts he forms for his argument are established from observations made by other experts, as well as ‘thought experiments’ and also his own experiments to test his predictions, justifying his conclusions both through an inductive and deductive method using secondary and primary sources of evidence. Throughout the chapter (Chapter 4: Natural Selection; or survival of the fittest), Darwin mainly relies on the observations of other experts in the field, such examples from the Sexual Selection subchapter, in which the observations of Sir R. Heron on the female peacock’s attraction of male counterparts and M. Fabre observing certain insects that “have been seen to fight for a particular female, … (who) then retires with the conqueror” [1] supports his argument/hypothesis (the ‘victor’ or the best adapted in terms of attracting or fighting through natural selection, is “always allowed to breed” [2] in this particular section, asserting “Thus it is, as I believe, …, have been mainly caused by sexual selection” [3], demonstrating his inductive methods to back his hypothesis. Furthermore, the evidence he draws from expert sources also support his argument and their status within the scientific community assists in persuading readers. Additionally, the observations which Darwin uses are relatively ordinary and commonplace, for example the aforementioned sexual selection example, to both the amateurs in the field, that is, the general public (E.g. the lower class; farmers and breeders) as well as the respective professionals thus allowing both parties in the audience to understand and encourage his argument further. Note that the ‘usual’ means of providing evidence was through the Scientific Method, in use 200 years before Darwin, validates the hypothesis by designing a suitable experiment for testing, a deductive approach, so Darwin’s slightly aberrant inductive approach was to rationalise the empirical data to fit his argument. The prominence and influence of his inductive methodology are emphasised in his observations while visiting the Galapagos Islands, in particular of a collection of finches “which was in fact a closely related group of distinct species, all similar except for their bills” [4]. On examining the disparate use of the beak and food sources, Darwin asserts that natural selection had shaped “one species has been taken and modified for different ends”[5] and the inductive process in which arrives at his hypothesis is recurrent and persists in many (modern) secondary sources* describing Darwin’s theory.

Apart from pure inductive reasoning from the observations of other experts, Darwin also justifies a number of his conclusions utilising deductive methods, a more conformed ‘scientific-method’ approach where hypotheses are tested,...
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