If you are among the scant 33% of U.S. adults who believe that humans and other living things evolved solely by a process of natural selection, it might be time to put your money where your mouth is.
No, this is not a political fundraising pitch. It’s a notice of the impending sale, by auction, of a piece of scientific history — a signed manuscript page from the concluding chapter of Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species.”
Written in the compressed, right-slanting script of Darwin himself, the sheet is numbered “245” in the upper right-hand corner, and would go on to become page 514 of the latest, 3rd edition of his landmark tome. It was likely written in 1859, when the English biologist was about 50 years old.
It is now in the hands of Nate D. Sanders, an expert in sports, historical and Hollywood memorabilia and the impresario of Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles. The page will be sold at auction on Thursday at 5 p.m. Pacific Time. Interested bidders may participate in the auction online.
Opening bid: $675,000. (Here’s an idea: Collect a penny from each of the estimated 82,629,584 adult Americans who, according to the Pew Research Center, embrace Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. If deep-pocketed collectors could be persuaded to contribute their pennies to this group effort as well, it could be OURS!)
On the page soon to go on the block, Darwin writes, “I have now recapitulated the chief facts and considerations, which have thoroughly convinced me that species have been modified, during a long course of descent, by the preservation or the natural selection of many successive slight favourable variations.”
The naturalist goes on the chide prospective critics: “It is no valid objection that science as yet throws no light on the far higher problem of the essence or origin of life,” he writes. “Who can explain what is the essence of attraction of gravity? No one now objects to following out the results consequent on this unknown element of attraction; notwithstanding that [Gottfried] Leibnitz formerly accused [Isaac] Newton of introducing ‘occult qualities & miracles into philosophy.’”
The page of handwritten text is in “very good to near fine condition,” with folds, light creasing, and a small spot of discoloration along the upper-right margin. (Perhaps a dribble from the naturalist’s teacup?)
The page coming to auction is likely from a November 1859 first-edition draft that was condensed from the original manuscript. Several years later, Darwin signed the page in his bold script and gave it to Hermann Kindt, editor of the ”Autographic Mirror.” Kindt thanked Darwin for the manuscript in a letter dated Oct. 23, 1865.
If a page of “On the Origin of Species” is not in your budget, perhaps a piece of Darwin’s subsequent publication would be of interest? A handwritten draft page from his book “Fertilisation of Orchids” also goes under the hammer in Thursday’s auction. Bidding begins at $95,000.
In that book, Darwin reasserts his hypothesis for evolution and describes the co-evolution of orchids and insects locked in complex interdependent relationships. The manuscript page features several words and phrases crossed out by Darwin. “Fertilisation of Orchids” was published in 1862.
If the market for Darwin’s manuscript pages were to be measured by Americans’ belief in his theory of evolution by natural selection (it’s not, by the way), prospects for the forthcoming auction would be pretty tepid. The Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study found that 34% of American adults believe humans have always existed in their present form. Another 62% say humans have evolved over time.
That 62% who believe human beings have evolved, however, break up into two principal groups: 33% of all respondents believe that evolution has come about through natural processes; a quarter of respondents believe evolution has been brought about by a supreme being.