The concept was commonly used for centuries to represent order in nature, but it is dying. Except in school, where your kid is forced to learn it.
From Nathalie Gontier’s “Depicting the Tree of Life: the Philosophical and Historical Roots of Evolutionary Tree Diagrams” (Evolution: Education and Outreach, 19 August, 2011 ), we learn,
It is a popularly held view that Darwin was the first author to draw a phylogenetic tree diagram. However, as is the case with most popular beliefs, this one also does not hold true. Firstly, Darwin never called his diagram of common descent a tree. Secondly, even before Darwin, tree diagrams were used by a variety of philosophical, religious, and secular scholars to depict phenomena such as “logical relationships,” “affiliations,” “genealogical descent,” “affinity,” and “historical relatedness” between the elements portrayed on the tree. Moreover, historically, tree diagrams themselves can be grouped into a larger class of diagrams that were drawn to depict natural and/or divine order in the world. In this paper, we trace the historical roots and cultural meanings of these tree diagrams. It will be demonstrated that tree diagrams as we know them are the outgrowth of ancient philosophical attempts to find the “true order” o f the world, and to map the world “as it is” (ontologically), according to its true essence. This philosophical idea would begin a fascinating journey throughout Western European history. It lies at the foundation of the famous “scala naturae,” as well as religious and secular genealogical thinking, especially in regard to divine, familial (kinship), and linguistic pedigrees that were often depicted by tree images. These scala naturae would fuse with genealogical, pedigree thinking, and the trees that were the result of this blend would, from the nineteenth century onward, also include the element of time. The recognition of time would eventually lead to the recognition of evolution as a fact of nature, and subsequently, tree iconographies would come to represent exclusively the evolutionary descent of species.
Note: Below, Markf quotes an apparent such use from Origin of Species:
As buds give rise by growth to fresh buds, and these, if vigorous, branch out and overtop on all sides many a feebler branch, so by generation I believe it has been with the great Tree of Life, which fills with its dead and broken branches the crust of the earth, and covers the surface with its ever-branching and beautiful ramifications
Origin of Species Chapter 4 – summary.
For which, thanks. But peer-reviewed Gontier writes,”Darwin never called his diagram of common descent a tree” in a respected evolution education journal. UD News had no reason to doubt her accuracy. No wonder people complain about peer review. Seems another case of The Prophet Darwin getting rewritten, to show that he cannot be wrong, but – as it happens – some do remember his Sacred Words.
Besides which, there’s this pesky early illustration of a tree (left), so different from the circle depicted above, its scrawliness leaving no doubt that it was Darwin’s original conception. Below it is the version that – we are told by an education site – appeared in Origin.
File with: Ridiculous Darwin hagiography
Also: Mediaeval alchemists were real scientists, it turns out
Guy who DOESN’T support ID: Genomics has “overturned” Darwin’s iconic Tree of Life
Hat tip: Pos-Darwinista