Malthus and Darwin

A few posts ago, I said that Malthus is dead: his ideas will never again be relevant for explaining a developed, and not-terribly-unequal, world - regardless of how much population grows.

This is not to say that Malthus was wrong at the time, or that his insights are not relevant in certain parts of the world today, or that his model was anything other than genius. This NYT article highlights another area where Malthus's thinking had a profound impact on: evolution through natural selection.

The tendency of population to grow faster than the food supply, keeping most people at the edge of starvation, was described by Thomas Malthus in a 1798 book, “An Essay on the Principle of Population.”

Malthus’s book is well known because it gave Darwin the idea of natural selection. Reading of the struggle for existence that Malthus predicted, Darwin wrote in his autobiography, “It at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed... Here then I had at last got a theory by which to work.”

by datacharmer | Tuesday, August 07, 2007
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