Popular wisdom (seemingly well beyond question – hence this month’s Sacred Bovine), says that Charles Darwin established and championed the scientific principle of evolution. But Darwin did not believe in evolution. Search the Origin of Species for the term. It’s not there. Only a fleeting reference in the very final words. In closing, Darwin celebrates the grandeur that “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” (italics added). Why? What does this apparent omission mean?

Resolving this historical puzzle provides important clues to the meaning of evolution – both as a term and as a concept – and to our inherent cognitive dispositions. And that, in turn, may help us interpret a wonderful new discovery about platypuses. Our journey will lead us through a few of Darwin’s books, other historically popular views of evolution, and some familiar misconceptions among biology students.

Ironically, the...

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