July 4th is, of course, Independence Day in the United States---but, to my way of thinking, all of July should be Independence Month for all biologists, everywhere.

Why? Because, sometime in mid-July, 1837 (the exact date is uncertain), Charles Darwin began Notebook D, sometimes called 'The Red Notebook.' While other notebooks contain his thoughts on common descent, a pattern he inferred from the geology and biogeography observed in his travels, it is Notebook D that contains the first statements of natural selection. By positing a natural cause for the diversity of life, Darwin eliminated teleology, and transformed much of what used to be called 'natural theology' (Paley's expression) into an independent science. Bravo, Charlie!

Darwin knew the import of what he was proposing. Very early in the 'Red Notebook', on pg. 26, he "exults: "Mine is a bold theory, which attempts to explain, or asserts to be explicable every instinct in animals." (quoted in Darwin: Discovering The Tree of Life, by Niles Eldredge, W.W. Norton, New York, 2005.)

Indeed! Happy Independence Month, Biologists!

(A detailed treatment of the notebooks, for specialists, can be found here.)

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