The first of a series of three articles by Dawkins to appear in The Guardian:
I am writing this on a boat (called the Beagle, as it happens) in the Galápagos archipelago, whose most famous inhabitants are the eponymous (in Spanish) giant tortoises, and whose most famous visitor is that giant of the mind, Charles Darwin. In his account of the voyage of the original Beagle, written long before the central idea of The Origin of Species condensed out of his brain, Darwin wrote of the Galápagos Islands:
“Most of the organic productions are aboriginal creations, found nowhere else; there is even a difference between the inhabitants of the different islands; yet all show a marked relationship with those of [South] America, though separated from that continent by an open space of ocean, between 500 and 600 miles in width. The archipelago is a little world within itself … Considering the small size of the islands, we feel the more astonished at the number of their aboriginal beings, and at their confined range … we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact – that mystery of mysteries – the first appearance of new beings on this earth.”
True to his pre-Darwinian education, the young Darwin was using “aboriginal creation” for what we would now call endemic species – evolved on the islands and found nowhere else. Nevertheless, Darwin already had more than a faint inkling of that great truth which, in his mighty maturity, he was to tell the world.