In The Nature of a Lady, my heroine, Lady Elizabeth “Libby” Sinclair, is a naturalist. She not only loves nature–as in, being out in it and enjoying it–she loves studying nature. Her most prized possession is a microscope, and she spends much of her holiday on St. Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly out collecting specimens to study under magnification, or sketching the flora and fauna she sees.
One thing that causes her no small amount of anxiety is the fact that the world she sees–orderly, following rules, and capable of adaptation–seems at odd with the world of faith as it’s been taught to her–that the world is “mysterious,” and that scientists who suggest that aspects are capable of changing and adapting on their own are sacrilegious. Of course, leading the debate in that day and age were the works of scientists like Charles Darwin. It’s interesting to note that he was awarded the highest scientific honor in England…and that immediately upon publication, his theories split the church. Some thought they didn’t contradict the Bible at all, others thought his theories were of the devil. By the point of my story, it was still a hot topic, but most of the Church had decided that Darwin and his theories were ungodly.
Today, I simply want to take a look at the word most closely associated with him: evolution.
Did you know that evolution literally means “to unroll”? It’s from the days when a book (or more accurately, a scroll) was literally unrolled or unfurled to reveal more of itself, and hence more information, dating from around 1620. By the 1660s, it was used in mathematics and medicine to mean “a growth to maturity in an individual.” The word was first applied to species in 1832, by Charles Lyell.
What’s really fascinating is that Darwin only ever used the word ONCE. That’s right, one time, in the closing paragraph of The Origin of Species. He preferred the much clunkier phrase, “descent with modification.” I find it so interesting that the word that in our modern minds equates with Charles Darwin was a word he didn’t even like, LOL. It was other biologists who followed Darwin who began to use the word to describe changes within or between species.
Have you ever read The Origin of Species? I did in college, and I was surprised to learn that the controversial theories Darwin is known for aren’t actually present in his most famous work–those came later in other works. The Origin of Species talks mostly about evolution within a species (micro-evolution), which most people have no problem with.